We alter our schedules, our menus, and even our cocktail choices during the winter months. Why not our beers too? In fact, old world monasteries (which functioned as both breweries and spiritual centers) have been making commemorative holiday beers since monotheism was invented (and pagan producers long before that). Though modern seasonal beers are as much a state of mind as an actual brewing style, many made in winter are geared towards fending off the cold of a long winter night (or the exhaustion of a long day of shopping), combining complex flavors and high alcohol content in styles like old ales, barleywines, and strong lagers. Below are some of our favorite seasonal releases, from breweries both near and far.
Brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, molasses, and maple syrup, this specialty beer is The Bruery’s answer to the pumpkin beer trend. With 17 pounds of yams and a traditional Belgian yeast strain mixed in ever barrel, this 10% beer is perfect for pairing with Thanksgiving dinner – or, with a vanilla ice cream float, for dessert. Available through December.
The Bruery, 715 Dunn Way, Placentia. (714) 996-MALT, www.thebruery.com
Brewmaster Reserve Old Boardhead Barleywine Ale
Want something stronger than Wreck the Halls? This deep, robust, 9% brew, released in October, is the employee-owned brewery’s answer to the barleywine trend.
Full Sail Brewing, 506 Columbia, Hood River. (541) 386-2247, www.fullsailbrewing.com
The dry-hopped favorite with the distinctive red label that’s been winning awards since the early ‘90s pairs nicely with beef, lamb, and even rich cheese dishes.
Sierra Nevada, 1075 East 20th St, Chico. (530) 893-3520, www.sierranevada.com
Originally created in 1995, this December release is dark and delicious, thanks to roasted chicory, organic Mexican coffee, St. John’s Wort (perfect for fighting off seasonal depression!), and licorice root. Rarely served outside the Dogfish brewery, this brew might be reason enough to take a Delaware detour on your East Coast vacation.
Dogfish Head, 6 Cannery Village Center, Milton, DE. (302) 684-1000, www.dogfish.com
This classic brewery’s 35-year-old seasonal release may have a classic name, but every year it gets a new recipe and a new label. (Check the Website for images of every Christmas Ale label from 1975 to today.)
Anchor Brewing, 1705 Mariposa, SF. (415) 863-8350, www.anchorbrewing.com
The Hairy Eyeball
At 8.7% ABV, this New Year’s release packs a big, brown warmer punch. You just have to get past the name (and the creepy pooch staring you down from the label).
Lagunitas Brewing, 1280 N Mcdowell Blvd, Petaluma. (707) 769-4495, www.lagunitas.com
Jewbelation Bar Mitzvah
What 15 is to Latin American teenagers and 16 is to spoiled girls on MTV (that is, the age of a rite of passage), 13 is to Jews. So it only makes sense that the 13th of Shmaltz Brewery’s Jewbelation series would be named after the celebration of a young Yid’s transformation into an adult Yid. Made (appropriately) with 13 malts and 13 hops, this 13% brew is being billed as an extreme Channukah Ale and should be available throughout the holiday season. My favorite part? Bottle artwork features consumer-submitted photos from their own bar and bat mitzvahs. They are, after all, the Brews.
Shmaltz Brewing Company, 912 Cole, SF.