Eggnog is great once, MAYBE twice, during the holiday season. Mulled wine is pleasant if you are at an outdoor Christmas market in the snow and cold, but not worth the effort to make at home. So what beverage has the distinctive flavors and smells of the winter holidays without all the dairy and sugar?
Beer, of course.
But the craft beer revolution has produced so many competitors that it is tough to choose which six-pack to bring to your holiday party. Luckily we at The Social Man have conducted some very important research in this area and selected six winter seasonals that are worth buying. This list favors brewers that have national distribution over smaller regional productions, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the selections below.
1. Shiner Cheer
As a Texan, it would be sacrilege for me to begin this list with anything other than Shiner’s holiday staple. Designed with Texas “winter” in mind, Cheer is a versatile holiday beer that is equally enjoyable outside over the grill on a warm December day or in by a crackling fire on colder nights.
Cheer is a Dunkelweizen, which is a darker variety of the more popular Heferweizen, a wheat beer hailing from southern Germany known for its low bitterness and complex hops. It features sweet fruity notes (mostly peach), but is never cloying or overwhelming the way some fruit-based beers can be. While a bit too rich to be a session beer, Cheer is inexpensive compared to other holiday seasonals and light enough that you can put back a couple before reaching for a blander beverage.
2. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
Anyone familiar with the beer scene shouldn’t be surprised that Sierra Nevada went with an IPA for their holiday offering. The Celebration Ale is a highly-rated fan favorite beer from the California brewery that warms hearts and stomachs when it reappears in groceries stores each November.
With an alcohol content of 6.8% this beer is stronger than the Shiner Cheer. It has a strong pine needle smell that will compliment your Christmas tree and holiday decorations. This is a hoppy, bitter, boozy beer, so if that’s not your kind of thing then look elsewhere. For those who do enjoy IPA’s, this is the best seasonal for you.
3. Full Sail Wassail
I am lucky enough to have been able to visit and tour the Full Sail brewery, which sits on the Columbia River Gorge on the border separating Oregon from Washington. Ever since then I’ve always made an effort to try out Full Sail’s offerings, which are available in grocery stores all across the US for a reasonable price.
Full Sail’s holiday season is the Wassail, a “winter warmer” that is dark in color and lighter on the distinctive spices added to most winter beers. Just because it isn’t a spice bomb doesn’t mean it’s a bland beer, though. The Wassail has a full-bodied malt flavor with an edge of fresh hops that are pronounced without being bitter. If you have never tried a winter-warmer style beer before, then the Wassail is an excellent place to start.
4. Unibroue La Résolution
Coming in at a dizzying 10% ABV and a hefty price tag, this world renown Quebec brewery’s winter special is better for a special occasion than a casual beverage for aTuesday night basketball game.
La Résolution is a dry, spicy Belgian-style ale with dominant notes of chocolate and coffee, rounded out by holiday spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. If you prefer tamer beers, than Unibroue’s offering won’t be for you, but those initiated into the world of trappists and tripels should consider this for their holiday beer splurge.
5. Avery Old Jubilation
This Colorado classic has been available to beer lovers for more than a decade now, its popularity deriving from its broad appeal and classic taste. Old Jubilation is an English Strong Ale that forgoes the distinctive in-your-face profiles that most winter beers offer, and as a result, becomes distinctive in its refined simplicity.
This hazy mahogany ale harkens back to beers of Christmas’ past with its simple but perfectly blended hazelnut and toffee flavors. Old Jubilation is just the kind of beer you’d want to eat with a nice rack of lamb in a cozy inn. This is a beer I go back to again and again throughout the winter.
6. Karbach Yule Shoot Your Eye Out
This is a shameless plug for a Houston favorite, but is totally worth getting if you spot it in your liquor store’s beer cooler. Karbach’s Winter Warmer emphasizes ginger more than other seasonal beers, but the ginger notes blend seamlessly with a mix of cardamom, orange, cocoa, and cinnamon. As with all Karbach offerings, it comes in a flashy can with a festive design.
Tried any of the beers on the list? What’s your favorite winter seasonal?