Winter is really cold. In fact, it can be downright unpleasant. The image of fall, for example, is romanticized by the falling of multi-colored leaves and warm apple cider. The image of winter however, is more like a sober person shivering in a foggy cloud of their own breath. Thankfully there are beers that are good for winter, created specifically for making the winter season…well, better. There’s beer that will help us warm our bones, and make us sleep better through the cold nights. Everything from “winter ales” to “winter warmers,” and they are typically known for their high alcohol content and seasonal spices – all of which sound like music to our ears.
So forget throwing on those extra layers of warm clothes, or those thermal underwear. All you need is a good, warming beer for the colder months of the year. What follows is a list of the best winter beers to keep you warm as mother nature ices you out.
Fremont Barrel Aged Abominable Winter Ale
The holy grail of all winter ales, Fremont Brewing ferments their already malt-forward Abominable Ale in bourbon barrels, creating a boozy, chocolatey, high-gravity beer worthy of its nickname “B-Bomb.” Along with the B-Bomb, Fremont Brewing releases several barrel aged stouts during the winter, which are equally fantastic if you’re in the market for a barrel aged beer.
Widmer Brothers Brrrbon Winter Warmer
There was a time when we thought, in our naiveté, that Widmer’s Brrr was the best beer Widmer made. Enter Brrrbon, the barrel aged version of Brrr, that doesn’t overpower all of the somewhat unique hop bit in Brrr, but accentuates all of the sweet, caramel malts.
Brouwerij Huyghe Delirium Noel Winter Ale
The only beer on this list that isn’t brewed in America, Delirium Noël is a big Belgian malt and yeast explosion in your mouth. Sweet banana, candy, and citrus zest blast through traditional Belgian yeast flavor common in Belgian ales of all seasons.
Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout
For us, not all winter winter beers need to be named “winter ales.” Santa’s Little Helper is a great example of a high-gravity stout that will warm you in the winter, even though it isn’t a winter warmer. Big and assertive coffee and chocolate flavors give way to just enough hops to balance this beer.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
When you think of a normal West Coast IPA you think of big, floral, citrusy, danky hops blasting through a malt backbone. Celebration Ale puts those hops to the test, with a more pronounced malt character than many IPAs. Celebration Ale is released in the winter, and some people even age it for a couple of years until the hops give way to the sweetness of the malts.
Lagunitas Brown Shugga’ American Strong Ale
The creation of Brown Shugga is something of a happy accident, with an accidental infusion of brown sugar into Lagunitas Brewing’s Olde Gnarleywine. Brown Shugga is a seasonal tasting strong ale, a style which may be at its most worthwhile in the winter, when the temperature starts to drop.
Hopworks Abominable Winter Ale
Not to be confused with the aforementioned Bourbon Abominable, Hopworks Abominable Winter Ale is a nice, balanced, winter style IPA. Deep caramel malt subside to nice hop flavor — more than you’d normally expect for a winter ale. In addition to being a delicious winter ale, Abominable has one of the best labels in the beer industry, as the entire can is enveloped in an image of an abominable snow man.
Anchor Brewing Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
When we think of Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, the beer that is, we think of the enormous 1.5 liter bottle and how many people it will take to polish that thing off. Sweet and infused with winter spices, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year pairs perfectly with most traditional winter foods.
New Belgium Accumulation White IPA
A Belgian-inspired White IPA, New Belgium’s Accumulation is one part IPA, one part traditional light-bodied Belgian ale. Accumulation IPA doesn’t pack the punch you may expect from a Winter Warmer, meaning you can session Accumulation in the winter, which may be the key to staying warm.
Bale Breaker High Camp Winter Warmer
Anything you ever drink from Bale Breaker is almost inherently over-hopped, and their Winter IPA upholds that tradition. If you know that going in it will be far from offensive. Big, sweet, vanilla and caramel flavors give way to a palette cleansing blast of hops grown on the same grounds as Bale Breaker’s brewery. (NOTE: Not High Camp pictured above)
Great Lakes Christmas Ale
We’ve been hard pressed to find any breweries apart Fremont and Great Lakes who are best known for their winter ale. Christmas Ale has a big honey and spice flavor, and goes well with the holidays, and remains good deep into the year that follows.
Avery Brewing Tweak Imperial Stout
Another beer that isn’t devoutly adherent to the “winter ale” style, Tweak is a high-alcohol stout (17.81 percent ABV) that carries the warming load better than just about any winter warmer. Tweak is aged in bourbon barrels and cold-steeped with coffee local to Avery Brewing.
Dogfish Head Piercing Pils
When you think of winter ales, you rarely think of Pilsners. However, Piercing Pils is Dogfish Head’s winter release, and delivers where many Pilsners don’t. Piericing Pils is brewed with white pear tea and pear juice which contrasts the heaviness of most winter foods, and makes it a solid choice for most winter dinners.
Founders Backwoods Bastard Scotch Ale
Last year when we were in Chicago we found a bar in a suburb outside of Chicago called “Beer House.” We scanned their taplist, and frantically called the bartender over to get as much of Backwoods Bastard as we could before either our liver or their keg tapped out. Turns out, our liver outlasted their keg, as after two small glasses the keg blew, but we felt extremely lucky to get our taste buds on this amazing barrel aged scotch ale.
AleSmith Speedway Stout
It’s entirely possible that Speedway Stout is the best non-barrel-aged stout on the planet. Brewed with coffee and rich but subtle malt profile, Speedway stout combines sweetness and viscosity to a nearly perfect balance. Taste will cause you to drink your Speedway to fast, and like an espresso drink the sugars in Speedway Stout bring out the natural sweetness of the coffee it is brewed with.