We understand if you’re not feeling particularly festive this year. 2020 has been undeniably terrible — so much so, in fact, that many of us will be spending the holidays alone this year, unable to travel due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A Christmas beer can feel almost quaint at a moment like this, a relic from the “Before Times” that calls to mind all the crowded bars and merriment we’re missing out on this December.
Still, the argument could be made that we need these beers now more than ever to get us through what’s sure to be the harshest winter (emotionally, if not weather-wise) in a long time. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some of the most intriguing new Christmas/holiday beers this year, as well as the 2020 batches of some ever-changing returning favorites.
Anchor Christmas Ale (2020)
This year’s variant of this legendary Christmas beer happens to have both the highest ABV in its 46-year history as well as the darkest color — it’s a deep brown, almost-black winter warmer. In a lot of ways, it’s extremely fitting for 2020: it’s a dark beer for dark times, and the added booziness is necessary after the year we’ve had. Anchor is always secretive about what exactly goes into each year’s recipe, but there’s definitely some chocolate maltiness and woodsy spicing that calls to mind the trees on its label. Overall, it’s extremely well-balanced — the perfect way to put 2020 in the rearview mirror.
Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve (2020)
Like Anchor, Rogue changes up the recipe for its annual holiday release every year, and the 2020 edition of Santa’s Private Reserve is a peppermint bark milk stout. I have to admit I was worried this one was going to taste cloyingly sweet like the festive treat it draws its inspiration from, but it’s surprisingly mint-forward and light on the chocolate flavors (though not too light … you can still pick up on them). Instead you get a refreshing, seasonally-appropriate flavor that accomplishes what it set out to do without being heavy-handed about it.
Clausthaler Santa Clausthaler NA
When we think of Christmas beers, we tend to think of something dark, heavy and boozy to warm us up and get us feeling that holiday cheer. It’s tough to achieve dark and heavy in a non-alcoholic beer (and you can obviously forget about boozy), which makes an NA Christmas beer a bit of a big swing. But Clausthaler’s perfectly-named limited-edition Santa Clausthaler is surprisingly tasty; it’s a 50/50 blend of Clausthaler Original and cranberry-cinnamon flavors, perfect for those who plan on ushering in Dry January a little early.
Golden Road Brewing Christmas Cart
Golden Road’s new limited-edition holiday version of its Fruit Cart series is a wheat ale brewed with cherries and spices — nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and allspice, to be exact. You definitely get a lot of that spice, both flavorwise and on the nose, to the point where it overpowers the cherry. Eleven months out of the year, that’d be a disappointment, but Christmastime is all about those spices, and Christmas Cart almost feels like the lighter, beer version of a mulled wine.
21st Amendment Fireside Chat (10th anniversary release)
This year 21st Amendment released a special 10th anniversary version of its holiday seasonal to celebrate a decade of the popular English-style Strong Ale, and it’s tasty as ever. It’s brewed with eight different malts and cocoa nibs from TCHO Chocolate in San Francisco, giving it a rich, chocolatey flavor with subtle traces of spice.
Harpoon From Nova Scotia With Love
We love a beer with a backstory, and Harpoon’s new barrel-aged holiday offering is a collaboration with Big Spruce Brewing that pays tribute to the tree gifted annually to the people of Boston from the people of Nova Scotia and lit in Boston Common to remember the support the city showed the Canadian province after the 1917 Halifax Explosion. It’s got a complex flavor that features hints of vanilla, caramel, dried fruit and, of course, some woodiness to call to mind the tree it draws its inspiration from.
Tröegs Grand Cacao
Tröegs is better known for its other Christmas beer, Mad Elf, but new this year is Grand Cacao, a chocolate stout that comes in the brewery’s Most Wonderful Beer of the Year seasonal sampler pack. It’s made with chocolate malt, caramel malt and roasted barley, as well as vanilla, Peruvian cacao nibs and milk sugar for a touch of sweetness. What more could you want this time of year?
Victory Merry Monkey
Merry Monkey is Victory’s new seasonal variant on its flagship Golden Monkey ale, and it manages to put a nice festive spin on Golden Monkey’s flavor profile. It’s a Belgian-style ale brewed with cranberry, orange peel, cinnamon and nutmeg, and despite the fact that it’s 10% ABV, it feels surprisingly drinkable — so be sure to watch how many you’re tossing back before Christmas dinner.
Guinness Imperial Gingerbread Stout
You probably weren’t aware that Guinness makes anything besides its famous dark, dry Irish stout (which my dad affectionately refers to as “a loaf of bread in a can”). This year, however, the brand announced a new barrel-aged imperial gingerbread spiced stout for the holidays. As you might expect, it’s boozy, and in addition to the ginger flavor, you’ll get notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.
Deschutes Jubelale (2020)
Deschutes’ winter seasonal is now in its 32nd year, and the 2020 batch is proof of why it’s such an enduring favorite. You get a lot of toffee on the nose, and that comes through in the flavor profile as well, along with cocoa and spices.
Prairie Christmas Bomb! (2020)
Prairie’s barrel-aged imperial stout is another holiday staple — a perennial favorite — and like in years past, this batch is best served as a dessert beer to savor slowly as you sit by the fire or watch the family open presents. It’s a big beer, not just because it’s 13%: it’s got a very thick mouthfeel, and flavorwise it’s a complex mixture of chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla, toffee and roasted malt.
Sam Adams Holiday White Ale
This new holiday limited release from the Boston brewery stands out among all the imperial stouts and allspice bombs this year. It’s a white, hazy ale, made with orange peel, cinnamon and nutmeg, and that citrusy flavor makes it a crisp, refreshing change from some of the heavier, darker beers we tend to see this time of year. It still feels festive thanks to the spices it utilizes, but it’s a solid choice for those who aren’t completely sold on Christmas this year.
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