Without a doubt, the holiday season is made all the merrier with a pint in hand, and with wintry favorites again making their way to market, there’s no better time to scoop up a bottle or two. With styles ranging from classic Belgian strong ales to recipes that change year to year, the flavors of these festive releases are the ideal match for the decadent foods and overall merriment of the season, and they make perfect gifts for your beer-loving friends. Here are 20 favorites worth checking out.
Opwijk, Belgium, 9% ABV
Like a kid anxiously anticipating Santa, Belgian beer enthusiasts wait each year for the release of Affligem Noël. Brewed by monks from an abbey that was founded in 1074, this bottle-conditioned strong ale is a flavorful mix of rum-soaked raisins, orange-scented chocolate and Christmas spices. Pleasingly dry with a strong malty backbone, this Flemish dark ale is assertively festive alongside the traditional holiday fare. The 9% alcohol also makes it a good candidate for cellaring, so pick up a few bottles each year and start a new holiday tradition.
Anchor Christmas Ale
San Francisco, Calif., ABV varies
For more than three decades, Anchor Brewing has released this top-secret winter warmer to eagerly awaiting fans each November. The recipe changes with every vintage, as does the flavor profile—which has offered everything from Christmas tree to Christmas spice—and although this brew typically hovers around 6% alcohol, it ages gracefully, taking on refined whiskey-like notes after as little as one year.
Avery Old Jubelation
Boulder, Colo., 8.3% ABV
Crack open this English strong ale and be rewarded with notes of roasted hazelnuts and a hint of toffee—a warming combo perfectly suited to cooler weather. Plus, its assertively malty backbone and higher ABV make it a great candidate for cellaring.
Boulevard Nutcracker Ale
Kansas City, Mo., 5.8% ABV
This mahogany-colored ale offers malty, molasses flavors that are nicely balanced by welcoming cinnamon spice and citrus hop bitterness on the finish. A classic example of the wintertime style.
Brasserie Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux
Leuze-Pipaix, Belgium, 9.5% ABV
Originally brewed as a gift for their best customers, this saison’s name translates to best wishes from the brewery. Notes of lemon peel, clove and white pepper along with a secondary bottle fermentation offer loads of depth and complexity.
Bend, Ore., 6.7% ABV
This venerable holiday seasonal stays true to the classic winter warmer style with crystal malt sweetness, dark fruit flavors and a touch of alcohol on the finish that warms you like a wool blanket.
De Dolle Stille Nacht
Esen, Belgium, 12% ABV
Its whimsical label may be what fist catches your eye, but this Belgian strong ale is serious. Notes of dried apricot, honey-roasted pears and creamy malts mingle with a subtle hint of spice. The high ABV can withstand a few years in the cellar, but it’s just as captivating when opened upon its release every December.
De Ranke Père Nöel
Wevelgem, Belgium, 7% ABV
Eschewing the notion that Christmas beers should be sticky-sweet, this refreshingly dry ale strikes a crowd-pleasing balance between complex malts and spicy hops. Even friendlier is its larger-format availability—all the way up to the three-liter jeroboam.
Fantôme de Noel
Soy, Belgium, 10% ABV
This wintry saison warms you to the core with loads of holiday spices—think coriander, clover and black pepper—and a strong dried fruit presence throughout. Deep and rich with the Belgian style’s trademark tang, this brew comes in at a whopping, yet almost imperceptible, 10-percent ABV.
Full Sail Wassail
Hood River, Ore., 7% ABV
This knockout winter warmer has been a brewing tradition for Full Sail for more than two decades and keeps on pleasing with its mix of toasty malts and Pacific Northwest hops.
Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws
Portland, Ore., 11.5 % ABV
This bottle-conditioned barleywine combines the English style’s traditional maltiness with a hallmark West Coast hoppiness for a bold yet balanced brew that finishes with a subtle, wildflower honey sweetness. Special-order the 3-liter jeroboam and score the perfect holiday gift for the beer geek in your life.
Saratoga Springs, N.Y., ABV varies,
A self-proclaimed “chosen beer,” the tongue-in-cheek Jewbelation series from Shmaltz Brewing is a perennial holiday favorite. Each year they build off of the previous vintage’s recipe, adding one more hop variety and one new malt to the kettle. This year’s 16th-anniversary edition features 16 hops, 16 malts and 16% alcohol. At some point they’ll run out of options, so enjoy it while you can.
New Belgium Frambozen
Fort Collins, Colo., 6.5% ABV
Released every Thanksgiving, this malty brown ale is fermented with juice from fresh Pacific Northwest raspberries. It pairs perfectly with everything on the holiday menu, from meaty mains to decadent desserts.
Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve
Newport, Ore., 6% ABV
A double-hopped version of their St. Rogue Red, this potent sipper from Rogue uses estate-grown barley for rich roasted malt notes that mingle with a piney finish.
Vorchdorf, Austria, 14% ABV
Perhaps the most widely adored holiday beers, Samichlaus is a Bavarian doppelbock brewed each year on December 6 and allowed to slowly ferment before being bottled and released the following year. Sweet notes of raisins, toffee and plums mingle with loads of warming spice.
Leuze-Pipaix, Belgium, 12% ABV
Brewed by Brasserie Dubuisson, which has been in operation since the mid-18th century, this holiday is warm and inviting, with flavors of malt, caramel and nuts and a touch of dry spice on the finish. Sip it slightly warmer than fridge-temp to fully allow all of the flavors to shine.
Sierra Nevada Celebration
Chico, Calif. 6.8% ABV
For many domestic craft beer enthusiasts, the holidays are signaled by the annual appearance of Sierra Nevada’s Celebration in stores and on taps across the country. A sessionable holiday seasonal, this delicious IPA balances citrusy hop flavors with a roasty-toasty malt finish. Perfect for enjoying alongside a heavy holiday meal of roast turkey and all the trimmings.
St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel
Le Roeulx, Belgium, 9% ABV
Aged for several months before its annual holiday release, this strong dark ale offers a smooth, full body and festive flavors of raisins, figs, chocolate and cinnamon. Pair this one with strong cheeses, bread pudding or roasted duck.
Three Floyds Alpha Klaus
Munster, Ind., 6% ABV
Nothing says wintertime like an inky black porter with a pillowy white head, and this sensational sipper cloaks you in rich notes of milk chocolate, fresh-brewed coffee and subtle hop bitterness on the finish.
Tröegs Mad Elf
Harrisburg, Penn., 11% ABV
This Belgian-style strong ale is festive from first pour with its rich, cranberry-red hue, but it doesn’t stop there, offering notes of sweet, dark fruits mixed with a hint of cocoa. Its high ABV makes it an especially good match for rich holiday meals like maple-glazed ham or a holiday goose.