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11 Christmas Ales Ranked

November 26, 2011  |  8:06am
11 Christmas Ales Ranked

Like colored lights, carols and official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifles, we don’t like to talk about Christmas beers until Thanksgiving is out of the way. Sure, we’ll drink them year-round if you’re offering, but this is truly the season for the dark, malty, potent holiday beers that make our noël so joyeux.

We bought 11 beers at Decatur’s wonderful craft beer store, Ale Yeah so our selection was only limited to breweries that distribute in Georgia. Still, that left some amazing Christmas ales. Here they are, ranked for your holiday shopping convenience.

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11. Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve
City: Newport, Ore.
ABV: 6%
Style: Red Ale
Key ingredient: Hops
Perfect for: Santa to put in your stocking if you’ve been naughty
The verdict: This is not a bad beer for a hoppy red ale, but it’s certainly done nothing to deserve Santa’s visage on the label. This is about as Christmas-y as baseball on a hot summer’s day.

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10. Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale Brown Shugga Substitute
City: Petaluma, Calif.
ABV: 7.9%
Style: IPA
Key ingredient: Brown sugar
Perfect for: Christmas shopping (on Dec. 26)
The verdict: Props to Lagunitas to owning their mistakes, but Domino’s did that too, and there’s still nothing good about their pizza. Lagunitas, since it makes really great beer that people like to buy, didn’t have room at the brewery to make their regular Christmas ale. The Brown Shugga Substitute has hints of spices and, of course, brown sugar, but we look forward to their regularly scheduled holiday beer in 2012.

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9. Sierra Nevada Celebration
City: Chico, Calif.
ABV: 6.8%
Style: IPA
Key ingredient: West Coast Hops
Perfect for: People who hate winter
The verdict: I know several people who refer to this as their favorite Christmas ale, but those people 1. are zealous hop-heads and 2. apparently don’t like Christmas ale. Sierra Nevada plays to its strength with an IPA, whose citrus notes recall your Christmas days back in Miami with the pink-frosted tree, singing carols along the beach.

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8. Sweetwater Festive
City: Atlanta
ABV: 8.5%
Style: Winter Warmer
Key ingredient: Cinnamon
Perfect for: When you start thinking Christmas has been overdone.
The verdict: As a winter warmer, this gets closer to the holiday spirit without the bold flavor of some of the higher-gravity beers on the list.

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7. Bell’s Christmas Ale
City: Kalamazoo, Mich.
ABV: 5.4%
Style: Scottish Ale
Key ingredient: Roasted caramel malt
Perfect for: All 12 days of Christmas
The verdict: This low-gravity is smooth, mild and well-balanced while still hinting at those Christmas flavors.

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6. Anchor Merry Christmas & Happy New Year
City: San Fransisco
ABV: 5.5%
Style: Winter Warmer
Key ingredient: Whatever makes it smell like pine
Perfect for: Decorating the Christmas tree without knocking it over
The verdict: Another easy-going session beer, Anchor coaxes a lot of flavor out of a little bit of alcohol. It also works as a really enjoyable greeting card.

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5. Port Santa’s Little Helper (Bourbon-Barrel Aged)
City: San Marcos, Calif.
ABV: 12%
Style: Imperial Stout
Key ingredient: That’d be the bourbon barrels
Perfect for: Earning your way onto the naughty list
The verdict: This boozy-smelling, boozy-tasting beer has enormous flavor and quickly turned our beer tasting into a beer tasting party.

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4. Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper
City: Copenhagen, Denmark
ABV: 10.9%
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Key ingredient: Smoked malts
Perfect for: A Christmas party with no food
The verdict: Brewed with spices and what taste like smoked malts, Mikkeller has a big enough flavor to drink while mixing with the office staff, even if the boss didn’t spring for food.

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3. Scaldis Noël
City: Leuze-Pipaix, Belgium
ABV: 12%
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Key ingredient: Belgian candi sugar
Perfect for: After mom and dad have completed their Christmas Eve tasks
The verdict: Bottles of Scaldis Noël are visions of sugar plums that I have dancing in my head on Dec. 24. Extreme sweet, malty flavors make this more like dessert than beer.

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2. Corsendonk Christmas
City: Oud-Turnhout, Belgium
ABV: 8.5%
Style: Belgian Strong Ale
Key ingredient: Santa’s magic
Perfect for: The official beer of the North Pole
The verdict: The most Christmas-y of Christmas ales, this is the archetypal beer—just the right amount of spices, Belgian candi sugar and caramel malt. This is what we mean when we say “Christmas beer.”

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1. St. Bernardus Christmas
City: Watou, Belgium
ABV: 10%
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Key ingredient: Christmas spices
Perfect for: Drinking with people you love. No, really love.
The verdict: Simply one of the best beers in the world, the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is dark as the richest Belgian chocolate, malty without being too sweet, with a perfect frothy head. At 10% abv, just one of these will make for a very merry Christmas season.

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