By Bob Townsend
December and January mark a joyous time for beer lovers, with an abundance of winter seasonals and special holiday offerings available at package stores, growler shops and beer bars.
Here’s a sampling of classic craft, international and local beers to brighten your celebrations.
Anchor Christmas Ale — Brewed every year since 1975, this is the granddaddy of American craft Christmas beers. The secret recipe changes every year, along with the artful label. But it’s always offered as a celebration of the season, exhibiting earthy flavors and subtle spiced aromas that linger in a creamy body with notes that range from pine and toffee to hints of honey.
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout — This all-time favorite winter seasonal, first brewed in 1994, is a celebrated American take on the Russian imperial stout style. There’s no chocolate added. Its dark cacao aroma and flavor is achieved through the blending of six malts and using three mashes. Best of all, it ages beautifully, and makes a gift that keeps on giving.
Sierra Nevada Celebration — Now that IPA has become the craft beer equivalent of lager, Celebration doesn’t seem so big and bold anymore. But this fresh hop beer, first brewed in 1981, is one of the earliest examples of an American-style IPA. And it remains one of the few hop-forward holiday beers, making it a refreshing change of pace from strong and spicy seasonals.
Gouden Carolus Christmas Noel — A longtime brewery tradition that was revived in 2002, this strong, dark, ruby-red Belgian ale is brewed in August and left to rest before it’s bottled for the holidays. Its complexity is derived from a formula of six different kinds of herbs and spices and three different kinds of hops. Rich and refined with a delicious caramel candy essence.
Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale — A winter ale that conjures Shakespeare and Dickens is just the thing for bringing a bit of English tradition to the holiday season. Enjoy the amber color, creamy head, and floral aromas of Fuggle and Golding hops balanced by caramel malt flavors and the brewery’s distinctive fruity note in the finish. A sipper for a session at the pub.
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale — A big, dark seasonal produced in the classic quadrupel style of Belgium’s best abbey and Trappist breweries, but with a holiday spirit. The signature aroma of the St. Bernardus house yeast strain, notable in the popular St. Bernardus Abt 12, gives way to spicy, minty flavors, with a warming alcohol presence, and a sweet touch of candy sugar.
Three Taverns Feest Noel — What does an American craft brewery known for Belgian-style beers do for the holidays? Make a big, bold Belgian-style quadrupel with dark roasted malts and imported Belgian dark candy sugar, spiced with cardamom, allspice and clove, and presented in a classic 750-milliliter bottle. Also available on draft for beer bar merrymaking.
SweetWater Festive Ale — Atlanta’s iconic spiced winter warmer is back in six-packs and on draft, though I do sort of miss those festive red wax-topped bombers of yesteryear. Dark and roasty with a forward malt character, it features a blend of Centennial and Golding hops topped off with the distinct holiday flavors of cinnamon and mace. Perfect for fireside sipping.
Creature Comforts Koko Buni — Though the name evokes the Easter bunny, this popular but hard-to-find beer is back this year as a seasonal offering, available in mid-December in 6-packs and on draft. The creamy milk porter is flavored with toasted coconut, and local coffee and cocoa nibs, making it a sweet treat. Try it with a Condor Chocolates Koko Buni Bon Bons.