Beer is way less … fussy … than wine. So you can pretty much drink any beer at any time. But the best winter beer will warm you up and loosen up the SADs. Winter beers are sometimes called winter warmers. Popular styles include imperial (Russian) stouts, imperial reds, and strong English ales. Traditionally they were heated with ginger, apples, sugar, or nutmeg.
But hopped beers taste horrible hot so they’re brewed with extra sugar and extra alcohol to get the blood flowing and raise body temps. They still use those wintry spices though. And they expanded the winter beer spice rack to include cloves and cinnamon. Throw in some toffee, caramel, buttered wheat malt, and you have the best winter beer. So … let’s explore.
Best Winter Beer
Today, Denver is huge in the world of beer. But it took a determined philanthropist to get the barrel rolling, pun intended. Brian Dunn spent half a decade doing charity work in Africa. He helped his team develop sustainable farming methods. When he got back to Colorado in 1993, he sunk himself into artisanal brewing. His beers won multiple awards over the years.
For the snowy seasons, his Chai Yeti is the perfect warming balm. Introduced in October 2017, it has an ABV of 9.5% and an IBU of 75. It’s a dark spiced imperial stout built of chocolate roasted malt and infused with tea masala spices (ginger, green cardamom, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper). It’s brewed in the American stout style with a velvety texture.
Not all winter ales are Christmas beers, but the reverse is mostly true. And this Christmas Ale is a true winner. Great Lakes Brewing was started in 1986 by the Conway brothers. This Irish pair aimed to revamp the Cleveland Ohio brewery scene that had since died out. And they did. Pat and Daniel are especially proud of their award-winning yuletide yeasting.
The ale has an ABV of 7.5% and an IBU of 35. It won six medals (both gold and silver). The ale is brewed with ginger, fresh honey, and cinnamon. It’s lighter in color than typical winter beer – closer to amber. You can buy it in a can, in a bottle, or on tap, depending on where you drink. Try serving it in a glass and dipping the rim in crushed sugar and cinnamon.
People say American beer is crap. Compared to European beer, commercial American variants are bland and low in alcohol. But artisanal brewers often get the bug while traveling overseas, so craft beers are sometimes closer to the EU in taste and texture. That’s why Revolution Brewing pushes Scotch Ale for the winter. And theirs is a whopping 13.5%.
Gravedigger Billy is clothed in a tartan kilt (at least the can is). Its IBU is 28 and it’s aged in a barrel so it has hints of smoke, American oak, and bourbon. You sometimes get a whiff of cherry, vanilla, toffee, or even leather. The beer itself is dark with a fast-fading head and a little lace. Scotch ales are nicknamed ‘wee heavy’ but at this ABV, the drink is more like way heavy.
Almanac Beer prides itself on its farm to barrel philosophy. Jesse Friedman and Damian Fagan started this Californian brewery in 2011. They initially sold beer out of their trunks before moving a 30,000 square foot naval base in 2018. The new facility was located on San Francisco Bay’s Alameda Island. Hazy IPAs don’t typically work for winter but theirs does.
It’s an indie gold medal holder with an ABV of 6.1% – that’s on the lower side for winter drinking. The beer is dry-hopped with Citra, Mosaic, and Sabro. The beer’s base is rolled oats and pilsner malt layered with fruity notes of cantaloupe, mango, and citrus. This dank drink barely has any head or lace. But its orange hue and pillowy mouth-feel are both pluses.
Barleywines aren’t a bad choice for winter. Especially in the US. Why? Because barleywine is the only category where American versions are boozier than British ones. And John Hall would know. Like many of his fellow craft beer aficionados, he fell in love with Euro-beer while touring the continent. In 1988, he decided to bring those goodies home to Chicago.
He mimicked it so well that in 2011, Anheuser- Busch acquired his craft brewery. The Goose’s Bourbon County Brand Barleywine has an ABV of 14.4% and an IBU of 60. It’s a black beer brewed with Millennium hops and five malts (roast barley, 2-row, chocolate, black malt, pale, caramel). Second-use or third-use bourbon aging barrels give the beer an extra edge.
No, not that Sam Smith. Samuel Smith Old Brewery (Tadcaster) makes a mean British beer though. And such a perfect name. But it’s brewed in limited batches so book your imports early. The beer is made in stone Yorkshire squares. These are special square-shaped barrels made of stone, slate, or stainless steel. The beer has an ABV of 6% and an IBU of 32.
Serve the beer at cellar temperature – that’s rough 51°F. It’s dry-hopped with Golding and Fuggle. The malted barley builds on the dried hops in this copper-colored beer. Some call the color ‘gold straw’. It’s a low head, high lace beer. Drink it in a tulip glass to preserve the foamy fizz. The beer has a bready aroma and some lingering bitterness in the aftertaste.
This brewery is based in Shreveport, Louisiana. And the beers their brew are tailored for the neighborhood. Luckily, that doesn’t stop the rest of us from enjoying it. In a way, the beer influences our palate by offering us a taste of the bayou. Their recipes are customized to pair politely with spicy southern meals. The brewery’s founders are Andrew and Lindsay Nations.
Their best winter beer – Old Mad Joy – has an ABV of 10% and an IBU of 50, perfect proportions for gloomy winter nights. This is the first Baltic porter we’ve looked at and it uses Cascade and Bravo hops. Great Raft uses their in-house lager yeast, roasted barley malt, and added flavors of coffee and chocolate. ‘Wax color’ is based on the type of aging barrel.
The name Troëgs is a mash-up of Trogner – the founders’ surname, and kroeg, a Flemish word that means ‘pub’ or ‘bar’. Brothers Chris and John wanted to run a business together. Ever since they were kids. So in 1996, they opened their independent craft brewery. Their winter favorite is a bronze-toned doppelbock (double bock) with an ABV of 8.2%.
Its IBU is 25 and unlike winter warmers from other brands, the Troegenator is available all year round. You can also opt for the bourbon-barrel-aged version with its ABV of 9.8%. Troegenator is a heavy drink that was anecdotally used by monks as a meal substitute while fasting. It’s brewed with lager yeast, caramel, freshly-toasted grains, and stone fruit.
However much (or little) you know about beer, you’ve heard of Guinness. You know it’s a dark Irish beer and has something to do with world records. We’re busy arguing whether the best winter beer is brewed in the US or the UK, but Guinness is the girl that can do both. Their Maryland facility merges “260 years of Irish heritage with American creativity”.
Their winter stock ale is brewed specifically for the American palate and strictly sold on US soil. This specialty beer has an ABV of 10% and is brewed with trademarked Guinness yeast and aged in Bulleit bourbon barrels. Its flavor profile is somewhere between the brand’s imperial stout and their barleywine. Nutty chocolate, roasted barley, dark fruit, and raisins.
If you’ve recently tried to buy this beer, you may have panicked when you noticed their website has expired. They’re still around … but they were acquired by Epic Brewing in 2017. Telegraph is still producing its beloved beers though. Including their famous winter ale, based on a mug of Mexican hot chocolate. You know what that means, right? Chilli!!
This 7.7% beer is infused with vanilla, allspice, cinnamon, and sweet Ancho chilies. It’s classified as a strong spiced porter and is best served at cellar temperature (45°F to 50°F). So if it was pre-chilled in the fridge, let it sit a room temp for ten to fifteen minutes before drinking. The beer has a rich aroma and is best enjoyed in a pint glass or tulip glass.
Well-named beers will always catch your eye. So when you see a seeming paradox that combines the solemnity of oaths with the childlike delight of butterflies and flashmobs, it’s worth a sip. But then again, the breweries chosen acronym is SOB … so perhaps their resting b*tch face is just for show. Enough about the brewers. Let’s talk about their best winter beer.
Butterfly Flashmob IPA has an ABV of 7.5% and an IBU of 75. The esters used include melon, citrus, tropical fruit, and various florals. It’s brewed in the Belgian style and is a very hops-forward beer. The hops are American though, so the result is dry and bubbly, a good way to warm up wintry weather. It tastes simultaneously syrupy and bitter. Bitter-sweet?
You’ve probably heard about the 12 days of Christmas. Well, Thirsty Dogs Brewing takes the idea and raises you a dozen dogs with parched palates. Not that kind of thirsty. At least not yet. You’d have to drink it first. Either way, the beer has an ABV of 8% and an IBU of 17, so it’s not quite whispering sweet nothings to your taste buds. It’s certainly spicy though.
This sassy beer is vamped with the usual Christmassy spices – cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Also, honey and toasted caramel. It releases a tad earlier than rival winter warmers – you can find it at bars and shelves from October 13 to December 31. (That numerical inversion may be a mnemonic). The 2020 batch is more tart than previous versions though.
Might these be the ghosts of Christmas? It would make sense since this is a winter beer born up north in Charlotte. The beer is an American-style stout brewed with pure maple syrup, that magic elixir from our Canadian cousins. But the presence of aged syrup means your beer lives inside the fridge until it hits your glass. The beer is a collaboration with Mostra Coffee.
That’s where the name comes from – Ghost Bear is an espresso blend that mingles dark chocolate, caramelized sugar, and stone fruit, so you can taste all these notes in your winter warming imperial stout. The beer also has generous amounts of vanilla beans. This brew is aged in bourbon barrels to imbue additional flavor. This cold brew has an ABV of 12.5%.
It doesn’t seem like you should be seeking curses over Christmas. Between family reunions, drawn-out travel arrangements, and holiday drama, things are stressful enough. But this is a good kind of Hex. It’s a Saison, and while Saisons generally have low ABVs, their spicy profile is ideal for thawing your inner snow. Hex is a 6.8% farmhouse ale with an IBU of 40.
The beer has a red wine feel because it’s aged in red wine barrels made of French Oak. It’s brewed with Cascade hops and its malts include raw rye, Pilsen, hull, and oats. The beer also has strong notes of hibiscus. You might taste other fruits and florals in your bottle or glass … stone fruit, geranium, rose, peach, nectarine, sweet bread, almond, watermelon, and lime.
We’re closing our list of best winter beers with an aptly named double bock. It’s a 9.5% dark doppelbock with a decent head and lace. It looks heavy but the malt is surprisingly light and hints at toasted bread. Other flavor cues? Dark fruit – mainly raisins, prunes, and figs. These drown any bitterness from the hops. You may spot caramel and chocolate undertones.
These flavors are balanced better if you use a snifter to drink your beer. This bulbous glass swirls all the esters for a more satisfying finish. It feels like a brown ale because of its creamy texture and soft fizz. There’s a bit of nuttiness in this full-bodied drink. And toffee. The finish is silky, slightly peppery, and wholly satisfying without that annoyingly sharp aftertaste.
Do you have winter warmers in your fridge or cellar? Show (and tell) us in the comments!