“Christmas beer” means a lot of things to a lot of people. Sure, you probably inherently think of some kind of amber, spiced winter warmer when you see the words “Christmas ale” on a label, but this isn’t always the case. More and more, breweries are exploring the boundaries outside of the traditional when it comes to their Christmastime seasonal releases. There are still winter warmers (and plenty of big Belgian ales) galore on the shelves at this time of year, but they’re now regularly joined by everything from wintry IPAs to holiday-appropriate kettle sours. Hell, we even had a pilsner or two in this tasting, somehow.
Which is all to say: One really can’t afford to go into a blind tasting of Christmas beers with a strong, preconceived notion of what “Christmas beer” means. Because we’re judging these beers on a basis of “What do we want to continue drinking?” rather than “how holiday appropriate are they?”, the goal is to give every beer—be it a lager, Belgian ale or imperial stout—the same fair shake.
In the end, the expansion of this field has been good for craft beer—part of the industry’s slow and steady journey away from stereotyped “seasonal” styles, toward an acknowledgement that many craft beer drinkers want to drink all styles, all year round.
So with that said, let’s get to the ranking!
A Note on Beer Acquisition
As in most of our blind tastings at Paste, the vast majority of these Christmas beers were sent directly to the office by the breweries that choose to participate, with additional beers acquired by us via locally available purchases and the occasional trade. We always do our best to reach out to breweries we’re aware of that make exemplary versions of particular styles, but things always do slip through the cracks. We apologize for a few significant omissions that we couldn’t acquire, either due to seasonality or market shortages. There will never be a “perfect” tasting lineup, much as we continue to try.
Apologies to Troegs in particular, whose classic Mad Elf arrived too late to make the last day of tasting.
Rules and Procedure
- This is a tasting of Christmas and winter beers, largely determined by how the breweries chose to label their products. The rules for entry were broad—as long as they had some kind of holiday or winter theming, we accepted them. There was no ABV limit. When in doubt, we simply allow a brewery’s marketing to define a beer’s style, and expect them to stick to the designation they’ve chosen.
- There was a limit of two 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, brewmasters and beer reps. Awesome, Paste-branded 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-style tasting.
The Field: Christmas Beers #103-31
I hate to say it, but the traditional “Christmas ale” or winter warmer can have a hard time standing out in this particular blind tasting. Especially when they’re going up against some kind of exemplary barrel-aged beer or classic Belgian Christmas ales, the milder winter warmers have their work cut out for them. And as a result, you’ll probably find a fair number of them in The Field, including yearly staples such as the genre-defining Anchor Christmas Ale.
I also might as well not sugar-coat the fact that there are some bad beers in here. As with pumpkin beers, Christmas ales do tend to invite the occasional artificially flavored mess. We tasted a handful of beers in this tasting that were syrupy sweet or overly spiced abominations, and some others that were just confused in terms of what they were meant to be or who they were meant to appeal to. The Christmas beer tasting always tends to be something of a minefield in that way. But of course, there are also plenty of excellent beers here in The Field, as there always are.
As always, I’ll remind you that the beers listed below are simply presented in alphabetical order, and as a result are not ranked. I repeat: These beers are not ranked.
Abita Christmas Ale
Anchor Christmas Ale
Asheville Brewing Co. Ninjabread Man
Baere Brewing Co. Bring the Greenback
Bell’s Christmas Ale
Big Boss Brewing Co. Holiday Mess
Boulder Beer Co. Slope Style
Braxton Brewing Co. Claus
Breckenridge Christmas Ale
Brew Kettle Winter Warmer
Cherry Street Brewing Cooperative Spruce Almighty
Crux Fermentation Project Snow Cave
Dark Horse Brewing Co. 4 Elf
Dogfish Head Pennsylvania Tuxedo
Dogfish Head Puddin’ Wine
Double Mountain Brewery Fa La La La La
Elysian Brewing Co. Bifrost
Fieldwork Brewing Co. Goyz in the Hood
Fieldwork Brewing Co. Hors de Saison
Golden Road Gingerbread Stout
Good People Denim Downhiller
Goose Island Winter Ale
Gouden Carolus Noel
Great Divide Hibernation English-Style Old Ale
Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Heavy Seas Winter Storm
He’Brew Hanukkah, Chanukah: Pass The Beer
Highland Brewing Co. Cold Mountain
Highland Brewing Co. Imperial Cold Mountain
Indeed Brewing Co. Old Friend
Iron Hill Reindeer’s Revenge
Iron John’s Golden Spruce
Knee Deep Stifler’s Mom
Lagunitas Brown Shugga
Lone Tree Brewing Co. Vanilla Caramel Amber Ale
New Belgium Accumulation
Ninkasi Brewing Sleigh’r
NoDa Brewing Co. Hoppy Holidays
Odell Isolation Ale
pFriem Family Brewers Winter Ale
Reformation Brewery Festive Stout
Rhinegeist Brewery Dad
Rocket Republic Brewing Co. Coffee Cream Ale
Rocket Republic Brewing Co. Cosmic Cookie
Rogue Ales Yellow Snow
Saint Arnold Christmas Ale
Saint Arnold Brewing Co. Cut With Bread Pudding
Samuel Adams White Christmas
Samuel Adams Winter Lager
Samuel Smith Winter Welcome
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
Sly Fox Brewing Co. Christmas Ale
Southern Tier 2X-Mas
Starr Hill Brewing Co. Snow Blind
Strange Craft Beer Co. Gingerbread Man
Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. 12 Dogs of Christmas
Three Taverns Feest Noel
Track 7 Mutant Snowman
21st Amendment Fireside Chat
Two Roads Holiday Ale
UFO Winter Blonde
Uinta Rise and Pine
Upslope Wild Christmas Ale
Warped Wing Esther’s Little Secret
Warped Wing The Abominator
Wit’s End Brewing Co. Ugly Sweater
Wolf’s Ridge Brewing Snow Cone
Yellowhammer Brewing Nussknacker
Next: The rankings! Christmas beers #30-1