VinePair is ringing in the Holiday Cheers with a spotlight on the bottles we’re gifting (and hoping to receive) and a look inside some of our favorite holiday traditions and recipes — from elevated eggnog to all things bubbly. Plus, we’ll be reflecting on the past year in the beverage industry and shifting our focus to the drinks trends we expect to see in 2022.
Almost any self-respecting beer drinker will agree that Oktoberfest kicks off the most exciting time of year for beer. After festbier-flavored festivities fade into pumpkin beer debates, December drinking arrives in full swing, as brewers swoop in with liquid odes to the cold — white and red ales, dark lagers and sweet stouts, and yes, even winter IPAs — with piney hops, caramel-scented grains, and a little extra love to soften winter’s icy edge.
Like any temporary romance, craft beer’s cuffing season can be superficial. But at its best, it comes in the form of roasty stouts, chocolaty porters, and caramel-malted ales that evoke the familiar aromas of a bakery or zippy, citrusy spices. Whether offering dessert-flavored decadence or sessionable fireside sips, these beers add richness to our palates, tables, and experiences throughout the holiday season.
So pull up Beer Menus, Drizly, Total Wine or a beer retailer nearby and give yourself the gift of winter brews old and new, from the category-defining classics to the style-defying surprises below.
Chico, Calif. And Mills River, N.C.
Celebration fresh-hop IPA has been around since the early 1980s, and still hits its targets. It’s piney and resinous (courtesy of freshly plucked and preserved Cascade and Centennial hops); it’s boldly bitter but balanced with caramel malt sweetness; and its food-friendly heft stands up to rich and savory dishes. A favorite among American craft brewers since its inception decades ago, Celebration is an unofficial requirement for any craft beer drinker in winter.
Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig
The revival of Old Fezziwig this year caught our attention, and we’re glad we tracked the ol’ boy down. The yuletide seasonal that teases devotees with its on-again, off-again production over the years is a nostalgic and noteworthy bottle. A classic winter warmer, it pours mahogany in the glass, smells of barleywine — cooked fruit, caramel malt syrup, cherry liqueur, and sweet rye bread — but feels light on the palate, meaning it’s safe to share a few. Dark fruit continues on the palate, which hits bitter, but comes with soft baking spices and a tingling finish.
Brouwerij St.Bernardus produces world-class Belgian strong ales in a dazzling array of dark to golden colors and yeast-driven flavors. This winter ale is a traditional Belgian quadrupel, coffee-colored with a creamy foam. Spiced aromas reminiscent of dark fruit, brown sugar, and herbs add to the complexity and luxuriously smooth texture on the palate.
Sweet, decadent, and superlative, Prairie’s Bomb! imperial stout aged on coffee, cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and chili peppers gets extra seasonal treatment with the addition of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. This beer is pastry stout decadence at its best.
We were amazed and delighted to see this specialty limited-release barrel-aged imperial stout from Brooklyn Brewery show up in a can this year. An imperial stout aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels, Black Ops is a whiskey lover’s treat: vanilla-laced toasted oak overlays roasty, bitter dark chocolate notes, with a warming bourbon finish.
Though technically released in August, Alesmith Speedway Stout is a seasonal necessity and anticipated winter treat for this author and stout lovers across the country. This special edition gets cozy with Mexican dark chocolate, Mexican coffee, and sea salt, combining spiced mocha and espresso with baker’s chocolate and even a little fruit melting into the finish.
Cloudy white peach in the glass with a wheat-y and herbal aroma, Super Spruce opens up on the nose with layers of rosemary, minty pine, and oyster shells. It’s not too tart, but a nice, soft and citrusy gose with prickly bitterness and a lemon-juice finish.
We feel about this beer like we feel about our latest literary tome: It’s near impossible to put down. Sticky-sweet chocolate, dark-roast espresso, and a hint of smoke create an indulgent drink that is yet as crushable as a chocolate-chip cookie. Its sweetness is never too heavy, but snaps like a bean-to-bar chocolate bar. Its grain bill is a symphony: Chocolate malt and roasted barley play their complementary parts, while flaked oats soften the bitter edges.
Bohemian at its core, this Brooklyn-made Czech dark lager is among the most delicious drinks we’ve tasted this winter. It’s chocolaty, bready, and roasty with a silky-smooth texture, as irresistible as a milkshake yet clean and crisp as a lager.