Also check out our Let’s Talk Beer Styles: Christmas Beers companion piece, where we dive into the history of Christmas/winter seasonal beer styles.
The first holiday season I was at Paste was in 2014, and we tasted 31 Christmas beers. By the time the holiday season rolled around in 2015, our beer coverage and press contacts had expanded greatly, and we blind-tasted a much more robust 71.
Well, it’s another year later. And now we have 104. Dear lord, people.
As these blind tastings continue to grow larger and larger, and we hear a wonderful array of feedback from both breweries and readers, I find myself reflecting on a few things. First, how fortunate we are to have an opportunity to do this. And second, how much I’ve learned about tasting in the last few years. If I came into Paste with a pretty experienced palate, it’s now a palate that has been drilled with military or scientific rigor. Over the course of 2016, I’ve probably blind-tasted nearly 1,000 beers in the name of “work” … and 247 IPAs in August alone. It’s dizzying, or maybe that’s just the booze.
The Christmas/holiday beer tasting, though, is one that predates my time at Paste, and it’s the tasting that probably means the most to the people who founded this company. As a group of guys who are uniformly passionate about big, malty, boozy, Belgian-y beers, they look forward to this one all year round. So let’s get into it.
A Note on Beer Acquisition
Like every other blind-tasting at Paste, we acquire these beers in a variety of ways. Most are sent in directly by the breweries when we send out a call for that style. Others we’re able to purchase directly because they’re available in Georgia. In the end, we’re at the mercy of press contacts and seasonal availability. Sometimes, we simply can’t get a beer that we know we should have. This year (and last year as well), one of those beers was the great Corsendonk Christmas Ale from Belgium, which for some reason still hasn’t arrived in the Atlanta market as I type this. Others, like Scaldis Noel, we were only lucky enough to acquire on the last day of tasting. For whatever reason, perhaps due to lack of demand, the classic Belgians in particular seem to not be arriving in our market as often as they once did.
A Note on Beer Selection For This Tasting
There’s no other way to say it, so I’ll just say it: The beers in this tasting don’t make a whole lot of sense. In past years, we limited it only to “Christmas” beers that specifically featured the holiday. That, however, would eliminate the likes of Sierra Nevada Celebration or any of the other beers featuring “snow” and “winter” themes … so we expanded the criteria. Ultimately, I accepted anything with holiday or winter theming, or even specific mentions of them in the beer description. If it was described as being for the holidays or winter on the package, then it’s in this tasting. The end result is rather schizophrenic, but we’ll be back to tasting a single style next month (non-barrel aged imperial stout!).
Rules and Procedure
— There was no ABV limit for this tasting, for obvious reasons. And for the reasons explained above, there was no limit on which styles were acceptable.
— There was no limit of entries per brewery. The beers were separated into daily blind tastings that approximated a sample size of the entire field.
— Tasters included professional beer writers, brewery owners, multiple professional brewers and beer reps. Awesome, style-appropriate glassware is from Spiegelau.
— Beers were judged completely blind by how enjoyable they were as individual experiences and given scores of 1-100, which were then averaged. Entries were judged by how much we enjoyed them for whatever reason, not by how well they fit any kind of preconceived style guidelines. As such, this is not a BJCP tasting.
The Field: Christmas/Winter Beers #104-31
The biggest trend I’ve noticed in these winter tastings for the last few years is that it has become harder for the “standard” winter warmers and Christmas ales to stand out. Sure, many of them are tasty, and serve their purpose, but any time we have a specific style that makes up a vast chunk of the entries, it’s harder for one to really catch the attention of the tasters or rise above. There are a whole lot of spiced beers here; brews that taste like ginger snaps or snickerdoodles or oatmeal raisin cookies. A handful of those types of beers were able to rise into the top 30, but a lot of them are here in The Field. And you’ll no doubt notice that many of the big Belgian ales and barrel-aged beers made the final, but observe that not ALL of them did. Although objectivity in rating is difficult when comparing so many different types of styles, we tried our best to treat them all alike.
The beers below in The Field are simply listed in alphabetical order, and are thus not ranked. I repeat: These beers are not ranked.
Alaskan Brewing Co. Winter Ale
Bell’s Christmas Ale
Bell’s Winter White Ale
Boneyard Beer Co. Backbone Chocolate Espresso Stout
Boulder Beer Co. Killer Penguin
Boulder Beer Co. Slope Style Winter IPA
Brew Kettle Winter Warmer
Brooklyn Brewery Insulated
The Bruery 9 Ladies Dancing
Canton Brewing Co. Winter Beer
Capital Brewery Schwarz in a Box
Capital Brewery Winter Skal
Coronado Snowy Plover Winter IPA
Double Mountain Fa La La La La
Drake’s Brewing Jolly Rodger Winter Warmer
Elysian Brewing Co. Bifrost Winter Ale
Evolution Southern Pecan Pie Imperial Brown Ale
Fat Head’s Holly Jolly Christmas Ale
Fiction Beer Co. Wintry Emblem
Fort Collins Brewery Sled God
Fremont Brewing Co. Bonfire Ale
Fremont Brewing Co. Winter Ale
Full Sail Brewery Session Fest
Full Sail Brewery Shortest Day CDA
Full Sail Brewery Wassail
Full Sail Brewery Wreck the Halls
Golden Road Back Home Gingerbread Stout
Grand Teton Brewing Co. Coming Holiday Ale
Great Lakes Brewing Co. Christmas Ale
Great Lakes Brewing Co. Bourbon Barrel Aged Christmas Ale
Great Raft Brewing Awkward Uncle
Harpoon Brewery UFO Winter Blonde
Heavy Seas Winter Storm
Highland Brewing Co. Cold Mountain
Indeed Brewing Co. Old Friend
Iron Hill Reindeer’s Revenge
Karbach Yule Shoot Your Eye Out
Lakefront Brewery Brandy Barrel Spiced Winter Lager
MadTree Brewing Thundersnow
New Belgium Accumulation
New Belgium Anne Francoise
New Holland Brewing Cabin Fever
Ommegang Lovely, Dark and Deep
pFriem Belgian Christmas Ale
Point Beer Snow Pilot
Red Hare Brewing Berry Belgian Waffle
Revolution Brewing Co. Fistmas
Rogue Ales Santa’s Private Reserve
Rogue Ales Yellow Snow IPA
Saint Arnold Sailing Santa
Sam Adams Hopflake
Sam Adams White Christmas
Sam Adams Winter Lager
Samuel Smith Winter Ale
SanTan Brewing Co/ Winter Warmer
Schlafly Christmas Ale
Sebago Brewing Slick Nick
Second Self Beer Co. JunIPA
Shmaltz Brewing Hanukkah Beer
Sierra Nevada Christmas Jam
Silver City Brewery Wonderland Winter Lager
Sixpoint Global Warmer
Sixpoint “Old Ale”
Summit Winter Ale
SweetWater Festive Ale
Third Street Brewhouse Sugar Shack
Troegs Blizzard of Hops
21st Amendment Fireside Chat
Two Brothers Brewing Co. Peppermint Porter
Two Roads Brewing Co. Holiday Ale
Uinta Brewing Rise & Pine
Warped Wing Esther’s Little Secret
Wormtown Brewery Blizzard of ‘78
Yards Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce
Next: The finals! Christmas/winter beers #’s 30-1