The holiday season is a time for festivity; people gathering together for eating, drinking and the exchange of cards and gifts. It is also time for Christmas Beers, which are categorized as seasonal styles. Christmas beers have been made all over Europe for many years. Germany, England , Belgium and Austria come to mind immediately. Here in the United States Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing was the first to brew Christmas Ale. Our Special Ale was one of many firsts for Mr. Maytag. He brewed the first Porter made in this country since the onset of prohibition in 1972 and the first Barley wine ever in 1974. But let us get back to Christmas, Anchor is still brewing Christmas Ale and has been slightly altering the recipe annually since 1987.

Christmas beers tend to be big, dark and flavorful. Sometimes spices are evident and sometimes not. The style is very broad but the all tend to be enjoyable in colder weather. The American craft beer industry has embraced this style in a big way. There are many classic Holiday beers made here in California. Sierra Nevada Celebration is one that is awaited by many a beer lover for its big hop character. Anderson Valley Brewing calls theirs Winter Solstice it is touched with vanilla. Lagunator from Lagunitas in Petaluma is also big, dark, slightly sweet and balanced with hops. Jolly Roger from Drakes Brewing, Russian River Winter Warmer, Marin Brewing’s Hoppy Holidaze and Wintertime Ale from North Coast are also notable selections. Oregon has it’s classics also, Pyramid Snow Cap, Jubelale from Deschutes and Fullsail Wassail to name a few. This year there are over a hundred made all across the country.

In Germany the Doppelbock style is the Holiday beer, these are dark malty lagers with a nice mouth feel. In Belgium Fantome Noel, Delirium Noel, De Dolle Winter Nacht and Noel from Abbey Affligem are just a few available here. From England Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome and Fuller’s Old Winter Ale.

As far as pairing this style with food, these big beers match well with the foods normally consumed during the holidays, Hearty winter soups, roasts, robust foods and big desserts call for beers in the same mode. 

All the local multi-taps, pubs and microbreweries have these beers on tap or in bottles this time of year. So get on out there and try something new you just might find something you like but were not aware of it.


Chef Bruce