The only authority for all things beer…
I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving with your loved ones (or favorite bartender)! It is time for theBeerAuthority’s 2015 Winter Brews Rankings! As usual, I wanted to get the list out early enough to enjoy the entire cold month of December with some really good beer.
Again, keep in mind there are many, many excellent beers that are released late Fall through late Winter such as Deschutes Abyss; Goose Island BCBS (and variants);Great Lakes Blackout Stout, Bell’s Expedition Stout; Victory Storm King Imperial Stout; Firestone Walker Anniversary Stout, and many more. The main thing here is that I am looking for the bona fide winter warmer beers (think “Christmas“). The stellar beers that I listed above can definitely be enjoyed year round very easily.
Just like when I first started out with my winter rankings back in 2010 – we’ll go with the same ranking format as follows:
3 – excellent
2.5 – very good
2 – satisfactory
1.5 – could be better
1 – don’t bother
Top 20 Overall
Great Divide Hibernation
Southern Tier Old Man Winter
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale
Corsendonk Christmas Ale
Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper
Hardywood Gingerman Bread Stout (Barrel Aged GBS also available)
Eggenberg Samichlaus Bier
Ommegang Adoration Special Winter Ale
Southern Tier 2xmas
Lagunitas Brown Sugga
Laurelwood Vinter Varmer
Hair of the Dog Doggyclaws
Oakshire III Tempered Gnome
Pelican Stormwatcher’s Winterfest
Fremont Brewing Bourbon Abominable Winter Ale
Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Captain Lawrence Nor’ Easter
Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas
Sweetwater Festive Ale
3 – Excellent
Eggenberg Samichlaus– (Vorchdorf, Austria) Samichlaus is brewed once a year on December 6, and is aged for 10 months before bottling. This specialty lager is perhaps the rarest in the world, which can be aged for many years. They actually have a Mass to bless the beer. There is literally a chapel in the brewery, and they have a priest come in. A truly unique 14 percent alcohol-by-volume Doppelbock from Austria. Samichlaus packs a boozy malt and fruit-accented punch. Definitely not for folks who like lighter beers.
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (Watou, Belgium) – St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is the youngest descendant in the illustrious family of delicious Abbey Ales by Brewery St. Bernardus. This specialty beer of 10% alc. vol. is characterized by its deep dark color, with a creamy, thick head and a full, almost velvety taste with a fruity nose.
Ommegang Adoration Special Winter Ale (Cooperstown, NY) – A very good Belgian strong dark ale I had on draft several times and many bottles. It is brewed in the authentic style of Belgian winter, or noel beer, is dark, strong, malty and assertively spiced brewed with coriander, cardamom, mace, grains of paradise, and sweet orange peel.
2.5 – Very good
Great Divide Hibernation (Denver, CO)– This beer is Colorado’s original English-style strong ale — it has been Great Divide’s winter seasonal each year since 1995. Hibernation’s massive flavors are so intense that it requires over three months of aging each year. This lengthy aging process gives Hibernation its revered malty richness, complex hop profile and hearty warming character, which is perfect for a cold night.
Smuttynose Winter Ale (Portsmouth, NH)– This ale is a full-bodied, amber beer brewed with a special Trappist ale yeast. Stylistically reminiscent of a Belgian Abbey Double, it features fruity aromas and flavor, balanced by soft Crystal hops. Warming, mellow & pleasantly complex.
Southern Tier Old Man Winter (Lakewood, NY) – Taste is well-balanced with a good amount of malt and hop character. I’m sure cellaring it for a few months to a year would lessen the hop impact and bring more of the malts forward. Slight hints of caramel, raisins, and even currants in there. This is the beer I’m gonna want after shoveling in the snow in a bitter wintery night.
Evil Twin Christmas Eve At A New York City Hotel Room (Copenhagen, Denmark)- Going against the grain on this one – Aromatics of sweet wonders of caramael, toffee, dark fruit, and figs. The flavors mirror just exactly the way the aromas indicated. A very smooth and sticky mouthfeel. I would definitely seek this one out again especially on a cold wintery night when I’m in a mood for a malty winter warmer with beautiful complexity. Oh and I love the name!
Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale (Petaluma, CA) – Replacement to Lagunitas Brown Sugga in 2011 due to capacity failure for the most anticipated brew at this time of the year. This amazing IPA ended up to be one of the most popular and delicious beers of the season. They followed production by a Lagunitas Sucks Leftovers batch to meet ongoing demand. The brewery supposedly claims to make this a year-round beer in 2013 forward. Let’s hope so!
Dark Horse 4 Elf (Marshall, MI) – A very nice winter warmer – Aromas of nutmeg, brown sugar, cinnamon, and some orange. The flavor is not as delicious as the aromas suggest, yet a very good ale especially as it warms up!
Laurelwood Vinter Varmer (Portland, OR) – This strong ale is as rich and complex as it is drinkable. A blend of six malts and four hops creates an ale with deep carmel character, spicy hop flavor and a dry roasty finish. It’s spelled differently because it’s Vonderful. I cannot say if this brew still exists however…
Goose Island Christmas Ale (Chicago, IL) – A nice comeback in 2011 and the same can be said for 2012 – delicious dark mahogany nut brown ale that hits the back of your taste buds in high holiday fashion with the usual spices.
Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas (Akron, OH) – Filled with seasonal flavors from generous amounts of toasted and caramel malts, mixed with equally generous amounts of honey, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
Wasatch Winterfest (Salt Lake City, UT) – A rich amber ale with caramel malt flavors and a large hop presence. Brewed with the finest Northwestern pale and caramel malts then generously hopped with Columbus and Amarillo hops. A surprise beer for me from Wasatch.
Nørrebro Julebryg (København, Denmark) – A unique, deep copper colored ale with a “secret blend” of Christmas spices. The beer is full bodied with a complex, spicy aroma, rich and sweetish flavors that ends in a slightly bitter finish.
Hoppin’ Frog Christmas Ale (Akron, OH) – Phenomenal arsenal of christmas aromatics – heavy cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, and a hint of Christmas tree pine. Hands down the spiciest beer aroma-wise I’ve encountered. Flavor is rich in it’s christmas spice glory. A bit too sweet to be considered a solid winter warmer but barely cracks the top 20 in this category nonetheless.
The Bruery 4 Calling Birds (Placentia, CA) – A Belgian style dark ale brewed with spices. The fourth verse of The Bruery’s Twelve Beers of Christmas saga incorporates gingerbread-like spice into a rich and robust dark ale. I really liked this one!
Three Floyds Alpha Klaus (Munster, IN) – Alpha King’s festive cousin. A big malty porter brewed with English chocolate malt, Mexican sugar and of course, tons of strange American hops from 3F.
Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper (Copenhagen, Denmark) – Great winter warmer that seems to change each passing year. Full of dark fruits and chocolate flavor.
Gouden Carolus Noel (Mechelen, Belgium) – I found the flavor to be overwhelmed in alcohol and most of the attributes could not be enjoyed. The palate was rather thin as well. Based on the rank, I was disappointed. It did have a nice smell and finish, but not enough to warrant a higher personal ranking. I was kind of surprised that the “bros” (founder) of beeradvocate ranked it “poor” at 69 points…
Schlafly Christmas Ale (Maplewood, MO) – A very nice Christmas beer from Missouri made with orange peel, cloves, and spicy hops. If you are a fan of a lighter pilsner style, but want something with a bit more festive umph, this is a great selection! Schlafly does a very nice job with their pumpkin beer (one of my top 5 in that category).
Great Lakes Christmas Ale (Cleveland, OH) – This beer has a lot going on, and is definitely one to sip and mull over. Sour, malt, and spice characteristics mingle beautifully, and it is far less sweet and syrupy than the ABV would imply.
Lagunitas Brown Sugga (Placentia, CA) – Finally returned in 2012… A nice brown sugar beer that smells wonderous. Sweet, slight caramel and candied fruit with some citrus hop aroma. Hop bitterness up front leads into tasty candy sweetness.
RJ Rockers First Snow (Spartanburg, SC) – The surprise sleeper beer of this bunch! This hearty American pale ale contains a rich blend of spices that warms the soul on a cold winter’s night.
Boulder Never Summer Ale (Boulder, CO) – This beer is a bold new look at winter beers: gutsy, full-bodied and an aggressive fusion of secret spices. Like the first run of the day, this ale is deep and clean, crisp and drinkable, perfectly blended for a smooth ride.
N’Ice Chouffe – (Achouffe, Belgium) This deep dark Belgium winter warmer is rich in taste, spicy, full of complex fruity, berrylike, vinous flavors that are complimented by malt overtones.
2 – Satisfactory
Note: What I mean by “satisfactory” is equivalent to a B grade beer; they are considered good and solid beers.
Troegs Mad Elf – A very popular winter beer across the country. I thought this beer packed a punchful of interesting flavors. This is probably too sweet and not a sipping beer over the fire place as much I’d like. Not for the conservative drinker. A solid christmas beer nonetheless!
Ninkaski Sleigh’r – A delicious Northwest seasonal brewed with Winter in mind. A dark double alt, malty, nourishing and delicious, it’s sure to keep the cold weather at bay.
Avery Old Jubilation – Solid winter warmer classic – just lacks the complexiness characteristics I was looking for. Bit of hazelnuts, mochca, toffee. No spices, just a blend of five speciality malts. The brewery claims this brew can be cellarable for 3+ years.
Boulevard Nutcracker Winter Ale – This hearty, warming brew from Kansas is a classic winter ale, deep amber in color, with hints of molasses balanced by the “spiciness” of freshly harvested “wet” Chinook hops.
Midnight Sun Monk’s Mistress – Mesmerizing Monk’s Mistress seduces your senses at first sip. This Alaskan daunting beauty and intriguing flavor fully captivate your attention. Belgian yeast adds character and complexity.
Lazy Boy Mistletoe Bliss – A brown ale from Washington State on steroids! Kissed with hints of cinnamon, spice and oranges to warm those cold winter nights.
Goose Island Mild Winter – Toffee brown, medium-bodied, with a creamy head and an aroma of raisins and freshly baked dark bread. Mild Winter’s rich caramel malt and spicy rye flavors. Very mellow shit.
Sam Adams Holiday Porter – A very good American porter out of the Sam Adams Winter varietal pack. Brewed with generous portions of Caramel, Munich and Chocolate malt.
Sam Adams Old Fezziwig – Another Sam Adams varietal favorite and a favorite of many in the “original” winter brew category. Hints of toffee, ginger, nutmeg, cranberry, cumins, citrus, and roasty malts in the nose and flavors.
Deschutes Jubelale Winter Warmer – Jubelale is classified as a “Strong Ale” or an “English Olde Ale,” and has ties to the traditional Celebration Ales of England. This beer from Oregon is characterized by a very large malt body and pronounced bitterness, Jubelale contains five different varieties of hops and a good amount of caramel. Lacks some oompah. I cannot justify this beer for being ranked so high in beer circles.
Odell Isolation – Was disappointed with this one as I expected more out of one of my favorite breweries. Amber in color, sweet, and malty. The ingredients just didn’t work together.
Pyramid Snowcap – A rich, full-bodied winter warmer crafted in the British tradition of holiday beers. This deep mahogany colored brew balances complex fruit flavors with a refreshingly smooth texture.
Struise Tsjeeses – Belgian strong pale ale with aromas of malt, sweet breads, yeast, and caramels. The flavor offers caramel and butterscotch candies with additional notes of Belgian yeast and bready malt. I would recommend the Reserva over this one.
AleSmith YuleSmith (winter) – Another high rated beer in beer circles, but aroma is not as big as the taste suggests, however, nose is caramel, floral, citrus, hops, malt, and light spices. Taste picks up some mildly biter hops, a variety of spices, roasted malts, and a sweet caramel blend. Medium
De Dolle Stille Nacht – Complex aromas of sweet malt, white candy, and a hint of tangerine fill out the fruit flavors. Then some leather and wood lend a certain sophistication to the nose; strong caramel hints at a sweet beer to follow with the first sip. The alcohol is predominant, which is understandable, for 12% ABV. I came to this beer with high hopes, and I’m not disappointed. It loses a few points on the palate – I’m not big on beer with heavy sediments floating around. It was an interesting experience now that I’ve had with De Dolle beers – seems like their beers have a tendency to bang out big foamy heads and complex flavors worth deliberating over.
Sierra Nevada Celebration – Kinda disappointed in this one again (draft in 2012), and still doesn’t cut it for me despite it’s high ranking and desirability. It is a nice IPA but cannot get my head around this one as a “winter warmer”. Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale is the exception and is a far much better IPA than this one IMO.
Cascade Lakes Santa’s Little Helper – This beer from Oregon has an intriguing malt profile and an ample amount of Northwest hops, this beer is sure to tingle your taste buds.
Thiriez Biere de Noel – This Bière de Noël from France is a beautiful red-gold wheat beer — with quite subtle all-spice and orange peel added. The result is a slightly tart, wonderfully effervescent, and quite refreshing festive brew — a perfect alternative to Champagne, for the true beer lover.
21st Amendment Fireside Chat Winter Ale (San Francisco, CA) – This canned dark brown beer with flavors of sweet spices and roasted nuts makes a great winter warmer to drink by, nothing other, than the fireplace! The Fireside Chat’s packaging does feature a kick-ass picture of FDR chillin by the radio.
Santa’s Butt – An interesting U.K. brew, this Porter is defined by chocolate malt flavors and an easy drinking quaffability. Once banned in Maine and New York for its reference to Santa’s derrière.
And the rest…
Rouge Santa’s Reserve
St. Arnold Christmas
Lagerheads Winter Mischief
Anderson Valley Winter Solstice – Packed with some christmas-y natural flavors. Probably more of a desert beer!
Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine Ale
Full Sail Wreck the Halls
Full Sail Wassail
Mahr’s Christmas Bock
Penn St. Nikolaus
Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome
Lancaster Winter Warmer
Ayinger Weizen– Bock Too much of a summer beer for me, but very good. Reminds me of a Weisnenhanpher Hefeweizen.
Bell’s Christmas Ale – An interesting and flavorous Christmas beer.
Bell’s Winter White Ale
Blue Moon Winter Ale
Flying Fish Grand Cru Winter
Flying Fish K9 Winter Ale
Geants Noel – Good but not enough to make the upper tier cut.
Gordon Biersch WinterBock
Heavy Seas Winter Storm
Heavy Seas Yule Tide
Rouge Yellow Snow IPA
1.5 – Could be better
Anchor Christmas / New Years – Probably going to be shunned for this low ranking of this very popular holiday brew. I still can’t get their recipe down for 2011 and 2012. Just not my winter brew of choice just like the Sierra Nevada Celebration. Just too many better ones out there.
Nogne O Winter Ale (God Jul) – Rich, complex taste of caramel. This is a strong, dark and rather sweet Christmas Beer that was somewhat disappointing to me regardless of it’s high rating.
Breckenridge Christmas Ale
Southern Tier Krampus
New Belgium 2 degrees Below
Harpoon Winter Warmer
BridgePort Ebenezer Ale
Big Sky Powder Hound
Bell’s Consecrator Dopplebock
Blue Mountain Lights Out Holiday
Delirium Noel – A disappointing beer from the Delirium pipeline.
Leinkugel’s Fireside Nut Brown
Magic Hat Howl Winter
New Holland Cabin Fever Brown Ale
Scaldis Noel (Bush de Noël) – Too much sediments for my taste.
Shelton Brothers Pickled Santa
1 – Don’t bother
Port City Tidings
Bateman’s Rosey Nosey
Long Trail Hibernator
Sam Adams Winter Lager
Saranac Season’s Best
Star Hill The Gift
Stoudts Winter Ale
0 – Avoid
Alaskan Winter (I prefer the Wasatch from Alaskan over this one)
Abita Christmas Ale
Brooklyn Winter Ale
Michelob Winter Bourbon Cask Ale – Stick to Michelob Ultra, please.
St. George Winter Scotch Ale
Well, there you have it, so check back again next season for more fine holiday imbibe ideas.