Berrong on Beer - Brews for a hoppy holiday
December 16th, 2011
09:05 AM ET
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Nathan Berrong works at CNN's satellite desk and this is the fourth installment of his beer column. He Tweets at @nathanberrong and logs beers at Untappd. Drink up.

Everyone has their own way of welcoming Christmas. For some, it’s putting up a tree or shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. For me, and beer nerds around the world, it’s purchasing the first of many Christmas and winter-release beers. These beers are made to please the taste buds and warm the body from the cold temperatures outside.

Traditionally, this is accomplished from adding spices like cinnamon and nutmeg or adding bitter ingredients like coffee and dark chocolate. Some brewers have bucked this trend and instead of brewing the more traditional Christmas-style beers, they brew their own interpretations of them, which include styles like IPAs or wheat beers. Regardless of the style, these are the beers I look most forward to coming out each year.

Below, I have selected 11 winter only-release beers that include a wide range of styles. Although they’re not all Christmas-specific beers, each one of them would make a stellar last-minute gift or to enjoy with family and friends around the holiday table. I’ve also included one at the end that’s brewed by our fellow Jewish brethren. Most of the beers I’ve selected are heavy beers and contain a good amount of alcohol. Because of this, drink these beers somewhere between cellar temperature and room temperature or around 55 – 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Enjoy.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale
I consider this the staple of all Christmas beers, not only because of its literal name, but also because it embodies everything a good Christmas beer should be - complex in flavor, beautiful in sight and pairs exceptionally well with food (especially holiday foods like ham, turkey, and sweet potatoes). The taste of the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is mostly dark fruits like figs and raisons and has a touch of caramel that warms up as it goes down. Truly delicious.

N’ice Chouffe (pictured)
This is probably my favorite Christmas beer and is easily the one I look most forward to coming out each holiday season. The Achouffe (translates to “gnome”) brewery is obsessed with gnomes and puts them on all of their bottles, glasses, and signage. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something awfully winter wonderland-esque about gnomes which is why I love drinking this beer when it’s extra cold outside. N’ice Chouffe is brewed with thyme and curaçao and has flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg with a strong alcohol presence. At 10% ABV, it’s sure to warm up even the coldest of hearts.

Gouden Carolus Noel
The history of Het Anker, the brewery who makes Gouden Carolus, dates all the way back to 1471 when a group of religious women, called Beguines, began brewing beer. Different styles of beer were brewed according to the seasons but in 1964 they stopped production of their Christmas beer. Someone at the brewery wised up (thankfully) and in 2002 they brought back their Christmas beer to the delight of beer geeks everywhere. This beer pours a dark red color and is brewed with six different kinds of secret herbs and spices, but I would bet one of them is anise due to the strong licorice flavor that’s present.

Corsendonk Christmas
This holiday release from the Corsendonk brewery is a little lighter in body than it’s Belgian friends listed above, but what it lacks in body it makes up for in taste. It’s flavor can be subtle at first, but the more you drink it, the more you begin to taste the complexity of everything going on in this dark ale. It’s brewed with roasted malts and a touch of coriander and makes for a great beer now or stored away to be enjoyed years later.

The Bruery Four Calling Birds
When the Bruery began in 2008, they started a tradition that has become one of the most talked about beer releases each year. It’s their "12 Days of Christmas" project, which started with Partridge in a Pear Tree (if you have one of these you can part with, get in touch with me ASAP!) and will end in 2019 with 12 Drummers Drumming. The idea is to keep one of each release, or as close to it as possible, and then in 2019 have the most amazing beer party, tasting each of the 12 beers in the series. This year’s offering is brewed with gingerbread spices in the style of a winter warmer. I haven’t tasted this one yet but if it’s anything like ones before it, it will be outstanding.

Karl Strauss Two Tortugas
Karl Strauss follows in the footsteps of The Bruery with its second installment in their own 12 Days series, but with a twist. Instead of naming each beer after the literal 12 Days of Christmas, Karl Strauss names their beers after something related to their home, San Diego. The first was last year’s “Parrot in Palm Tree” and this year’s release is the Spanish word for turtles, Tortuga. This one has a syrupy mouthfeel with a strong toffee presence and is brewed in the quadrupel style. And if you need any more reason to check it out, it won a Bronze medal at this year’s Great American Beer Festival!

Odell Isolation Ale
Odell Brewery is located in Fort Collins, Colorado, so they know a thing or two about cold weather. This beer isn’t specific to Christmas per se, but it is specifically meant to be enjoyed in colder temperatures. It’s brewed in the style of a winter warmer and has a malty caramel and toast flavor with a subtle hop finish. At 6% ABV it’s one of the few on this list you can drink quickly, but why rush a great thing?

Sierra Nevada Celebration
It goes without saying that Sierra Nevada knows what it’s doing when it comes to IPAs and this one is no different. It’s my favorite IPA of theirs and although India Pale Ales are usually associated with spring and summer, this one totally works as their Christmas/winter release. I think that's because of all of the pine flavors and aromas that come through with this beer, and it’s also extremely crisp, just like walking outside on a cold winter morning. This one should be served colder than the rest because it’s an IPA, which can taste a little skunky if it gets too warm. Serve this one around 45 degrees.

Bell’s Winter White
This winter-only release is brewed in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but relies heavily on the wheat-loving Belgians for its taste. It’s brewed with Belgian yeast and contains barley and wheat malts, which give it a banana- and clove-like taste and aroma. When poured into a glass the beer has a murky appearance and is sure to please wheat beer fans everywhere. This one also deviates from the norm of winter beers not only because of its style, but also because it doesn’t contain any spices. Some of the best beers in the world are ones that do not play by the rules and this beer is a testament to that.

Dogfish Head Chicory Stout
Sam Calagione, founder and President of Dogfish Head, is probably the most famous and recognizable person in the beer world today. This is due large in part to the short-lived Discovery Channel show, "Brew Masters", but also because of Sam’s creativity in his beers and his passion for championing beer in America, not only on the streets, but also in Washington. On top of all that, he’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet. When this guy brews beer, people pay attention. And people have been paying attention to his winter release, Chicory Stout, since 1995. This is a stout like no other and is brewed with chicory, organic Mexican coffee, St. John’s wart and licorice root. All of these together make for a bitter coffee and dark chocolate taste with a touch of smokiness. It rules!

Shmaltz Jewbelation 15
I don’t want to leave out my Jewish brothers and sisters, so here’s a beer just for you (although this beer is really for anyone with discerning taste buds). The Shmaltz brewery began brewing “chosen” beer 15 years ago and starting in year 8, they released their first Jewbelation anniversary beer with 8 different malts, 8 different hops, and clocking in at 8% ABV. They’ve continued this routine ever since and this year’s Jewbelation is their most ambitious and arguably the best. It has an intense malt flavor which overpowers the 15 different hops varieties in the beer. It goes down very smooth and hides its alcohol extremely well, so be careful as you sip on this one. Shalom.

Do you have any holiday traditions that include beer? Maybe my list didn’t include your favorite Christmas or winter beer? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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Filed under: Beer • Berrong on Beer • Bite • Christmas • Hanukkah • Holidays • HolidayShopping • Sip

soundoff (176 Responses)
  1. YounanMarketingAndManagementAssociationsInc,Int'l Intst'r

    I scientifically worked out that if you put a neutralizing tube stick of a certain gas – maybe pure oxygen you can diffuse the high alcohol factor in various liquor including beer, whiskey, scotch, rye, vodka, wine, etc. while maintaining a good flavor, so you can have instant non or low alcohol beer out of any beer brand without buying that one or two specially made non-alcoholic beer, which was my invention – stolen ages ago for all non-alcoholic beverages. now the opposite may occur because i am sometimes fogged on my chemistry mixes. and it may combust to do that, and that is why may certain heavy drinkers combust, if they have a lung problem after being on a bout of drinking and they use an oxygen tank to clear their lungs. but i have to think that out more. when analyzing it a few weeks ago or less i arrived at the conclusion of another energy power source for automotive transportation travels. there is more to it. prior to i was reviewing my earthquake causing theories of geological chemistry factors. Given that there is oil everywhere no matter where you go but some countries don't extrude or drill the oil out for marketing and others do it heavily the oil may be getting unbalancedly drawn away from another directly unused or undrilled area leaving a vacuum or pockets of void subterranean layers that may fill with other elements of energy resources – the various other 5 or less of 6 gases or energy sources that mix and create explosions and implosions and cave-ins causing earthquakes. i came to that conclusion based on where earthquakes have been occurring in comparison to where a lot of heavy oil extrusion is done in nearby country regions. As i stated decades ago about those marbles near calfornia of bad resource problems that needed mining in the offshore areas which i drew psychicly on my old wall map which is back on my wall now at my new location in my bigger kitchen office computer table wall area. – 83 approx. drilling of the area needed to be done to release the geological layer pressure in the fissuring earth to stop the earth tremors and quakeing which they did eventually but they installed poorly designed bad technology expertise wells everywhere which erupt often in fires in the california state. the expert oil companies did not do the work and therefore a bad hazard condition of another kind resulted. reversing to the diffusion formula instrument of alcohol in drinks somewhere in that is the creation of wood alcohol fuel in better efficient form from not only tree wood but woody plant waste material as harvested grain and corn remains and such. that re-inforces my man made fossilized fuel oil. except fossilized animal matter is supposed to get introduced into the production formula as well somehow but i have to finish my theorizing and proofing of factors of analysis and some lab work. in my home lab which i know how to use for home lab work verification. without needed those big big research laboratories. now if no explosion occurs in the more fire frictioning kind but the oxygenation of the alcoholic drink does diffuse the alcohol in a slower harmless way by just fizzing it out the top of the glass, just like speeding up how a beer bottle or drink left uncovered or even when covered goes flat after a certain time. same with soda pop. it needs to be made to go flat in its alcoholic strength faster so the flavor is preserved and maybe some alcohol is left in it but not much and some carbonation where beer is tested is preserved. In production of alcoholic drinks of all kinds it is difficult to guage the levels of fermentation as compared to levels of alcohol to maintain that taste sensation result for each alcoholic beverage product. It is too costly in otherwords to do that for every product, it would mean doubling or trippling facilities, plus there is no retail storage shelf space to handle those. so voila a solution for the consumer to do that for themselves at their table if they desire for every drink or for their second or third or all night drinks whereby they just want something tasteful to drink without the drunkenness factors and sickness damage factors and driving ability impairment. theresa noelle younan ymma-iii interpole galactica younan research management

    December 19, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  2. ChesapeakePirate

    Clipper City's seasonal Winter Storm is one of my favorites this time of year. My Dad got his idea of what Christmas should be from Dickens, I think, and no English celebration is complete without an ESB. This one is exceptional.

    December 19, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  3. kieke

    my favorite holiday beer... shiner holiday cheer, try you wont be dissapointed

    December 19, 2011 at 7:22 am |
  4. Snorlax

    Wow, but you people are all alcoholics. Sad really.

    December 19, 2011 at 6:46 am |
    • Sirius Bohnerr

      What's sadder is that you don't see that they aren't all alcoholics.

      December 19, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • YouMadBro

      Hey Stupid, not EVERYONE who drinks is an Alcoholic....jeez this is 2011, you have the internet...I thought you would at least know this...morons never cease to amuse me.

      December 19, 2011 at 8:28 am |
    • AA Recovering

      It is not that sad really. I'm sure you have some vices we could disparage about too.

      December 19, 2011 at 8:51 am |
  5. Woody

    Jolly Pumpkin (from Dexter, Michigan) Noel de Calabaza is an obvious omission from this list. My hands down favorite for three years running. P.S the name is Jolly Pumpkin but it is not a "pumpkin" beer.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:43 am |
  6. K.L

    Great Lakes Christmas Ale! A few friends tried it for the first time this year and their first reaction was: "I didn't know you could bottle Christmas." so delish. I hope to see it on the list next year.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
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