’Tis the season for robust Christmas ales.
But which one? Store shelves mock craft beer shoppers with the sheer variety of porters, stouts, barleywines, dark ales and more this holiday season. Everyone wants to look smart when they reveal the six-pack they picked up for the Christmas dinner table or their beer snob relative unwraps that special gift.
Here’s a few tips to make sure that happens:
Don’t be that guy who brings Blue Moon to the party. Just don’t.
A run-of-the-mill grocery store will have a decent selection, but I would advise heading to a local bottleshop and getting some solid recommendations.
A 22-ounce bottle is always fun and a uniform six-pack can work, but my advice would be to grab a collection of different holiday beers and make a mix for variety (see below).
IPAs — especially hazy, New England-style IPAs — are completely fine for the Christmas table.
The ABV point for most Christmas-style ales usually hits double digits, so my game plan is to usually select a big bottle or two of great winter beers and then grab a few cans or bottles of more sessionable fair, like a pale ale or lager.
In hopes of creating the best holiday six-pack, I reached out to a number of Snohomish County bottleshop owners for suggestions on their favorite beers to adorn the Christmas table. Here’s what they said (plus one of my favorites):
Barren Wood, Skookum Brewery
Josh and Mara Arnold, Josh’s Taps & Caps Bottleshop
“I love Skookum’s Barren Wood. It’s only been around a few years, but I get super excited when it’s released. It’s a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine. Smells of caramel, toffee and bourbon. It’s perfect for the wet, cold nights we get in the Washington winters.”
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, Brouwerij St. Bernardus, NV
Chris and Lyna Pepper, Ale Spike Bottleshop
“I’ve always loved the quad-style of Belgian beers with their flavors of dark sugars, dark fruits and the warming alcohol. This Christmas ale takes it up a notch by adding delicious holiday spices. Perfect for sipping on a cold winter night, by a warm fire and sharing with someone you love.”
Santa’s Little Helper, Port Brewing
Eric Schaffer, The Hop and Hound Bottleshop
“One of my favorite holiday beers is Santa’s Little Helper from Port Brewing in San Marcos, California. It’s a big, 10.5 percent imperial stout with dark malt flavors (think chocolate and coffee) and a fantastic smooth, slightly sweet finish. I’ve heard it pairs well with fruitcake. I think it’s best if properly cellared for one to two years. Even better is stepping up to the bourbon barrel-aged version coming in at 12 percent.”
Barrel-aged B-Bomb, Fremont Brewing
Shane McDaniel, Norm’s Market Keg & Bottleshop
“Fremont’s Barrel-aged B-Bomb is my favorite winter warmer. The complex notes of coffee, oak, bourbon, cacao and leather distinctively represent what a perfect winter beer should taste like. Plus, this beer falls into my favorite and most important category: It’s local.”
Falalalala, Double Mountain Brewing
Colin and Danielle Lothrop, Toggle’s Bottleshop
“It’s beautifully hoppy and has a big nose of floral, piney spice. It’s bold and delicious; a perfect distraction from the holiday chaos.”
Belgian Christmas Ale, Pfriem Family Brewers
Few breweries make Belgian ales as well as Pfriem, and I imagine this beer is exactly what Christmas in Belgium would taste like. Complex, sweet and smooth, this Belgian dubbel has notes of toffee, chocolate and citrus, and is tasty enough to knock Old St. Nick off his sleigh.