Try These Twelve Beers of Christmas

Our suggestions for local and national holiday beers to liven up the holidays.

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Christmas beers are a yearly tradition that actually has some history behind them. As Don Russell notes in his book, Christmas Beer, The Cheeriest, Tastiest and Most Unusual Holiday Brews, Christmas beers have a legacy that goes back to the Middle Ages and maybe even before Christmas itself.

Today, Christmas beers are often dark beers, brewed with spices and strong malty character, but since Christmas beers are more of a tradition than a style, there’s something out there for everyone.

Here are twelve of our favorite wintertime brews:

Locally, Tröegs Mad Elf is the beer that gets the majority of hoopla each year. The ale changes up its exact recipe annually but is always brewed with honey and cherries. It’s a strong beer that isn’t to be trifled with, weighing in with a boozy alcohol by volume of 11%. It also makes you feel a different kind of buzzed. We’re not sure why, but we like it. With Troegs new brewery in Hershey, it’s a lot easier to find bottles of Mad Elf. For something more elusive, track down a vintage keg of Mad Elf or even Naked Elf, a minimalist version of Mad Elf that is missing the cherries, honey and chocolate malt.

A similar beer to Mad Elf is Great Lakes Christmas Ale. Known to Cleveland fanatics as Christmas Crack, this dangerously drinkable beer is brewed with honey, cinnamon and for a little kick, fresh ginger.

Anchor has been brewing a Christmas ale for 40-years now, the longest continuously brewed, craft seasonal in the United States. Each year the recipe and the tree on the label change. Check out this video and you’ll be excited to give it a try.

Another beer that changes its label every year is Sly Fox Christmas Ale. One of the few Christmas beers available in cans, you’ll find traditional mulling spices in this year’s variety; look for ginger, clove, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg. The beer makes an ideal companion for cookie baking.

Hop heads aren’t left with a stocking of coal when it comes to Christmas beers. Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale is packed with fresh Cascade and Centennial hops and yet comes across as rather drinkable.

Victory Brewing Company plays tricks with your tongue with its Winter Cheers. The wheat ale is at its heart an hefeweizen but offers spice through its yeast instead of adding nutmeg, cinnamon or allspice. It’s a pretty cool trick and a beer that won’t burn you out after a single glass.

Belgium of course brews holiday beers, the most famous of which might be Saint Bernardus Christmas Ale. The Belgian quadrupel is as dark as Belgian chocolate, malty without being too sweet, and boozy with a 10% alcohol by volume. Get it for someone you love.

Another Belgian holiday ale that would be a welcome stocking stuffer is St-Feuillien Cuvée de Noël, the smooth and dark Belgian ale is spiced but always well balanced.

Weyerbacher, whose year-round Blithering Idiot (11.1%), Merry Monks (9.3%) and Tiny (11.8%) all pair well with cold weather and hot fires throws a bit of a curve ball with its Winter Ale. weighing in at just 5.6% ABV, the chocolate notes of the malt, the roasty flavors and dry finish make this a really solid choice when the Belgians feel too pricy.

Germany deserves a spot on this list and we nominate Mahr’s Christmas Bock. Available on draft at Brauhaus Schmitz, this balanced bock beer is hoppier than what’s typical for the style and goes down smooth.

California’s The Bruery is in its seventh year of winter beers, this one is Seven Swans a Swimming and yes last year was Six Geese a Laying. The highly touted beer brewed in Anaheim is a straight up Belgian-style quadrupel, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find hints of raisin, apricots, burnt caramel and roasted nuts. Just be careful, it packs a wallop.

For our final beer, we offer Gingerbread Jesus. The beer is a collaboration with a Roxborough priest. Reverend Kirk Berlenbach of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church and the beer blog, This Priest Walks into a Bar has collaborated with Barren Hill Brewery to create a Belgian Dubbel brewed with molasses, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. (9%ABV). It was tapped last night and won’t last forever.

Look for these beers at any Foodery location or other bottle shops where fine beers are sold. Looking for a beer on tap? You cannot beat Philly Tap Finder.