We Tasted and Ranked 25 of the Best Christmas Beers

From cookie-inspired stouts to winter IPAs, these beers will make your holiday meal merry and bright

Updated December 14, 2023 2:15 pm
We'd be thrilled to find any of these in our stockings this year.
We'd be thrilled to find any of these in our stockings this year.
Danica Killelea

It’s mid-December, which means it’s crunch time. There are gifts to be purchased, travel plans to be finalized and a seemingly never-ending to-do list to tackle before Christmas. You’d be forgiven, then, if securing the right beer for your holiday meal is pretty low on your priority list.

Fortunately, here at InsideHook, we’re big on Christmas beers, and we’ve put them all to the test to make your grocery shopping a breeze this Dec. 25. Looking for something dark and boozy that’ll have your guests feeling a little extra merry? We’ve got you. Prefer a more citrusy, subtle seasonal? Look no further. We rounded up as many Christmas beers and winter warmers we could get our hands on, and nine InsideHook staffers tasted them all, awarding each one a score out of a possible five points. We then tallied up the points to determine our final ranking. Check out which ones we’re hoping to find under our tree this year — and which ones had us saying “bah humbug” — below.

Southern Tier

25. Southern Tier 2XMAS Ale (16.5 points)

ABV: 8.0%

This spiced double ale from New York’s Southern Tier was inspired by Glögg, the Swedish mulled wine traditionally consumed around Christmastime. To mimic those mulled wine flavors, it’s brewed with fig paste, orange peel, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and ginger root. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of our tasters found that particular combination of spices to be simply too much for a beer — five of them specifically described its flavor as “like drinking a scented candle.”

New Belgium

24. New Belgium Holiday Ale (18 points)

ABV: 7.5%

New Belgium’s winter seasonal is supposed to feature cranberry, orange, cinnamon and spice, but the majority of our tasters found it to be too thin. Most of them commented that the cranberry in particular was almost completely imperceptible, and one even went so far as to write that it “tastes a little bit like barf.” Still, despite all that, it won one taster over, who found it to be “heavy on the cranberry” and summed it up with “Papa like.”

Bronx Brewery

23. Bronx Brewery Jingle Jangle Christmas Ale (19.5 points)

ABV: 6.1%

This copper ale from Bronx Brewery is aged with amburana wood during conditioning, and while some of our tasters found it to be fairly middle-of-the-road (“not great, but not bad,” one wrote), others picked up on an odd aftertaste. One identified it as being slightly metallic-tasting, while another wrote that it “tastes like a radiator.”


22. Narragansett Holiday Ale (20 points)

ABV: 8.4%

If there’s one thing all of our tasters could agree on about this Rhode Island brewery’s annual holiday ale, it’s that it absolutely does not drink like it’s 8.4% ABV. Our resident beer novice wrote that “it tastes like a beer I could actually finish,” while the craft beer enthusiasts among us weren’t wild about its coriander flavor and felt it tasted more like your average macro brew. As one put it bluntly, “The strong ABV is hidden, but the mediocre taste comes through.”

Sycamore Brewing

ABV: 8.1%

Sycamore’s Christmas Cookie Winter Ale fared very well in our rankings (more on that below), but surprisingly, we had to dock its barrel-aged cousin a few points for not tasting especially barrel-aged. Most of our tasters could barely taste the barrel, with one describing it as “thin” and noting that “the barrel just comes across as light vanilla.” But of course, no two palates are alike, and another taster lamented the fact that — to his taste, at least — the barrel flavor was too strong. “Was a bit of a violent aftershock,” he wrote. “Bring back the halcyon days of the non-barrel!”

Breckenridge Brewery

20. Breckenridge Brewery Christmas Ale (22.5 points)

ABV: 7.1%

Breckenridge’s Christmas Ale is a chocolate-y, malty winter warmer that the majority of our tasters found to be inoffensive. That said, it didn’t do much to stand out from the pack, either. Five out of our nine tasters wrote that they found it to be too flat, and while a few praised it for being well-balanced, no one rated it higher than a 3.5 out of five.


19. Elysian BiFrost (23 points)

ABV: 8.3%

How you feel about Elysian’s winter seasonal will likely depend entirely on what your idea of a “Christmas beer” entails. If you’re looking for something more traditional, dark and spiced, this probably won’t do it for you. But if you’re open to holiday flavor profiles including something crisp and citrusy, you’ll likely be pleased. As such, our tasters were split pretty evenly down the middle on this one, with some lamenting its lack of more overtly festive flavors and others applauding the way its subtle taste “sneaks up on you.”

Brooklyn Brewery

18. Brooklyn Winter IPA (24.5 points)

ABV: 7.0%

Most of our tasters agreed that this red IPA from Brooklyn Brewery is a solid, pleasant beer, but they had a hard time picking up on what exactly makes it particularly wintery. There’s definitely a nice piney aroma on the nose, but the flavor of the beer itself is another story. “No discernible Christmas notes,” wrote one taster, while another admitted that it “has nothing to do with Christmas, but that’s fine.” If you’re looking for a more subtle seasonal brew this time of year, this one’s for you.

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17. Karbach Yule Shoot Your Eye Out (25 points)

ABV: 5.6%

Named for the holiday classic A Christmas Story, Yule Shoot Your Eye Out’s whimsical can design earned high praise from our tasters. (Who doesn’t love a leg lamp?) Of course, that didn’t factor at all into its actual point total, but it still put up a respectable showing. Words like “light” and “bright” were used by nearly every taster to describe it, and one who rated it especially highly praised it for being “sessionable, not too heavy” and “just bright enough.” In other words, it’s much safer than the BB gun Ralphie finds under his tree in the movie.


14. (three-way tie) Shiner Holiday Cheer (26.5 points)

ABV: 5.4%

Generally speaking, when a brewer decides to incorporate a fruity flavor into a Christmas beer, it’s either cranberry or some sort of citrus. Shiner’s holiday offering, on the other hand, takes a bit of a big swing. It’s a Dunkelweizen brewed with peaches and pecans, and when it came to the former, our tasters either loved it or hated it. The main critique was that the stone fruit didn’t exactly evoke anything wintery. “Not sure how this has anything to do with Christmas,” wrote one, while another who gave it high marks admitted that, “I would drink it in the summer by the pool.”

Sam Adams

14. (three-way tie) Sam Adams Holiday White Ale (26.5 points)

ABV: 5.8%

Most of our tasters found this holiday offering from Sam Adams to be crisp, citrusy and sessionable, but, like the Shiner beer it wound up tying with, some found it to be lacking a sufficient amount of traditional Christmas flavors. As one naysayer reminded us, “Christmas is no time for a wheat beer.”


14. (three-way tie) Troegs Mad Elf (26.5 points)

ABV: 11.0%

This beer’s got a reputation as a bit of a Christmas classic, but it’s divisive among craft beer fans. Folks either love it or hate it, depending entirely on how sweet and boozy they prefer their brews to be. If your answer is “very,” Mad Elf is for you. Some of our tasters loved the fact that it’s brewed with cherries and honey, with one noting that it’d taste delicious poured over ice cream. But others picked up on a slight medicinal flavor, with several writing that it tasted like cough syrup.


13. Abita Office Party Holiday Stout (27.5 points)

ABV: 6.8%

A 6.8% ABV is nothing to sneeze at, but compared to some of the boozier holiday beers on this list, it’s pretty tame. Perhaps that’s why so many of our tasters singled out Office Party for being smooth and sessionable. (Be careful if you’re throwing back more than a couple of these at an actual office party, though. It’ll sneak up on you.) It also earned points for being well-balanced. It’s brewed with oats, pale, caramel and chocolate malts and finished with cocoa nibs, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg; of those flavors, the nutmeg comes through most strongly, but nothing feels cloying or overpowering. Overall, it’s a very solid stout with just the right amount of a festive twist.


12. Brouwerij Huyghe Delirium Noel (28 points)

ABV: 10.0%

This Belgian Dark Strong Ale is brewed specifically for Christmas and the New Year, and it even looks festive, pouring a nice reddish copper color. It’s top fermented and bottle-conditioned, and it fared well with our tasters for essentially being a slightly less intense version of Troegs’ Mad Elf: like that beer, it’s got a nice cherry flavor, and it’s malty and sweet, though never cloying.

St. Bernardus

11. St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (28.5 points)

ABV: 10%

At 10% ABV, this dark, malty Belgian quad was one of the booziest beers we tasted, but as some of us noted, it absolutely doesn’t drink like it. It’s got some hints of chocolate, but the flavor our tasters picked up on most overwhelmingly was banana. Most found that it paired nicely with the cocoa flavors, but one taster in particular (who still rated the beer highly) picked up some different fruits: “Has some tropical notes, and I also get some orange,” she wrote.


10. Victory Merry Monkey (29 points)

ABV: 10.0%

This Belgian-style holiday ale offers a festive spin on Victory’s beloved Golden Monkey, taking that brew’s flavor profile and adding cranberry, orange peel, cinnamon and nutmeg. It earned high marks from our tasters for its complexity as well as how effectively it nailed the holiday flavors. Some singled out the cranberry in particular as being especially pleasant, while one summed it up thusly: “Tastes like Christmas.”

Sycamore Brewing

ABV: 7.5%

It’s obvious from the get-go what a beer that calls itself Christmas Cookie is setting out to do, and all we can say about this one is “mission accomplished.” This winter ale tastes exactly like drinking a Christmas cookie. Our tasters for the most part picked up on a strong gingerbread flavor, though one claimed it tasted like apple cider. It elicited plenty of positive comments like “incredible” and “delish.” “Wow, tastes exactly like a Christmas cookie,” one taster wrote. “I love it.”


8. (tie) Bell’s Christmas Ale (29.5 points)

ABV: 7.5%

This traditional Scotch ale is another Christmas classic. This year’s edition is rich and malty with a hint of caramel, and it was a hit with most of our tasters, who pointed out how smooth and well-balanced it was. “Beautiful taste,” one wrote. “It’s doing it for me,” another admitted. Still, it wouldn’t be the holidays without some disagreement, and one Scrooge in particular found that it “has a bit of an armpit taste going on.”

Great Lakes Brewing

7. Great Lakes Christmas Ale (31 points)

ABV: 7.5%

This Midwest favorite has a sterling reputation as one of the best Christmas beers out there — it’s a six-time medal winner at the World Beer Championships — and it lived up to the hype in our tasting. It’s brewed with fresh honey, cinnamon and ginger, and in this year’s batch, the ginger in particular came through loud and clear, giving it a strong spiciness that feels festive but never cloying.

Two Roads

6. Two Roads Holiday Ale (31.5 points)

ABV: 7.3%

Two Roads’ Holiday Ale is inspired by the French Biere de Noel style — a subset of the Biere de Garde category of farmhouse ales that translates to “Christmas Beer.” It’s malty, but not overly sweet; instead, there’s a nice, toasty nuttiness to it, with hints of caramel. Our tasters were shocked to discover it’s 7.3% ABV; most found it to be light and surprisingly sessionable for a Christmas beer.

Anderson Valley

5. Anderson Valley Winter Solstice (33 points)

ABV: 6.9%

This popular winter warmer proved why it’s such a perennial favorite in our tasting. “This smells almost savory, like stuffing with chestnuts and cinnamon,” one taster wrote. “This is so well-balanced and lovely, sophisticated but fun.” Even the beer novices among us praised its “nice, fresh taste” and pleasant spice profile. As one summed it up, “Flavorful, bold and smooth…no complaints here.”

Wicked Weed

4. Wicked Weed Milk & Cookies (36 points)

ABV: 8.7%

Like the other cookie-inspired beer on this list, Wicked Weed’s Milk & Cookies accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. It’s a milk stout brewed with golden raisins, cinnamon and vanilla, and it pours an interesting purple-ish color that also helps call to mind a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies left out for Santa. Most of our tasters loved the way the raisin cut some of the sweetness and prevented it from becoming cloying, while one questioned the choice of cookie flavor. (If you’re not a fan of oatmeal raisin — or raisins in general — you might want to try something else.)

Dogfish Head

3. Dogfish Head Pennsylvania Tuxedo (37 points)

ABV: 8.5%

This year saw the tragic demise of Anchor’s beloved Christmas Ale (and, sadly, Anchor as a whole). But if you’re someone who prefers your Christmas beers to be piney and resinous like the late, great Anchor, Dogfish Head’s Pennsylvania Tuxedo is a suitable replacement. It’s brewed with spruce tips, which means it smells great and essentially tastes like drinking a Christmas tree. What’s more festive than that?

Wicked Weed

2. Wicked Weed Dr. Dank Jack Frost (37.5 points)

ABV: 8.0%

Wicked Weed’s other seasonal offering takes things in an entirely different direction, swapping cookie-inspired sweetness for the bold hoppiness of a double IPA. Dr. Dank Jack Frost is, in fact, as dank as its name suggests, simultaneously piney and citrusy with just the slightest hint of honey to balance it out and make it feel festive. It was universally beloved by our tasters, and the only thing that kept it from snagging the top spot was that it’s not glaringly Christmas-y. As one put it, “I’d drink this in July.”


1. BrewDog It’s A Beaut (38 points)

ABV: 7.5%

BrewDog’s Christmas Vacation-inspired beer is a pecan and toffee stout, and it is, in fact, a beaut. The toffee in particular comes through loud and clear, making it the perfect thing to toss back while you’re having dessert. (As one taster wrote, “It’s sweet, but not too sweet.”) It even managed to convert a few of us who are typically wary of the style: “Not a stout guy,” wrote one. “This made me a believer.” It’s a Christmas miracle!


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