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Alpine, Wellness / November 27, 2016

Our favorite holiday craft beers

Written by: Matt Minich

The holidays are not always an easy time of year. The nights are long, the temperatures are cold, and the extended family is… around. So come late November, we need the best holiday craft beers we can find.

Thankfully, we’re not alone. Craft beer makers produce some of their best (and most alcoholic) creations this time of year.

Here’s what we’ll be drinking:

Christmas Ale — Anchor Brewing

Hometown: San Francisco, Calif.
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.5%

Anchor Brewing is sort of an institution in the City by the Bay. The brewery has been in operation for more than a century, and is widely considered America’s first producer of craft beer.

The recipe for Anchor’s Christmas Ale changes every year, as does the hand-drawn label design. That’s made the beer a highly-anticipated (and often collected) item among craft beer snobs.

This beer is available in craft beer stores almost everywhere, but only from mid-November to late January. This video details the tradition behind its brewing.


Mad Elf — Tröegs Brewing

Hometown: Hershey, Pa.
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 11%

Mad Elf is to Pennsylvania what Anchor Christmas Ale is to San Francisco. For many craft beer lovers in the Keystone State, the annual release of Mad Elf marks the beginning of the holiday season.

The beer is thick and sweet, which can make it a bit syrupy when cold. Pour it at room temperature to bring out the spices and improve the mouthfeel.

Be careful with this one—the sweet flavor and high alcohol content pack a serious hangover punch.

Samichlaus — Schloss Egenberg

Hometown: Vorchdorf, Austria
Style: Doppelbock
ABV: 14%

Samichlaus is sort of a legend among beer snobs. The beer was once the strongest in the world, but its high gravity has now been surpassed several times over.

The beer is brewed just once a year on December 6 (St. Nicholas’s Day), and is aged for 10 months before its release the following October.

The beer remains one of the world’s best holiday seasonal brews. Rich and boozy, it’s best served at room temperature and sipped by a roaring fire.

Santa’s Little Helper — Port Brewing

Hometown: San Marcos, Calif.
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.5%

In marketing Santa’s Little Helper, the folks at Port Brewing are playing with legal fire. It’s technically illegal to advertise alcohol with a cartoons that appeal to children, so Old Saint Nick’s image has been blacked out on the beer’s label.

Thankfully, that hasn’t turned off any adult drinkers. Santa’s Little Helper is probably Port Brewing’s most anticipated annual release.

The beer has a rich chocolate flavor, and carries slightly more hop presence than most stouts. It’s best served with a sweet dessert.


Chanuka Beer — Shmaltz Brewing

Hometown: Clifton Park, N.Y.
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 8%

Christmas isn’t the only gift-giving religious holiday timed around the winter solstice. And it’s not the only early-winter celebration that inspires specialty brews.

Shmaltz Brewing has a shtick: the company’s beers generally have names that celebrate the founders’ Jewish heritage. Take their Jewbelation Anniversary Ale, for instance, or their CirCum Session Pomegranate Wit.

The beers are also pretty damn good, and Shmatlz’s Chanuka Beer is no exception. The beer is dark and nutty, but much more accessible than the heavier beers on this list.


Delirium Nöel — Brouwerij Huyghe

Hometown: Melle, Belgium
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 10%

Belgium’s Huyghe Brewery made its name Delirium Tremens, which is considered by many to be the best beer in the world. The brewery’s entire Delirium line is world class, and their Christmas beer is no exception.

Like many winter seasonals, Delirium Nöel has a darker color and a fruity, spicy flavor. The beer ages well in its 75cl bottle (that’s the size of a wine bottle), so many beer enthusiasts store a bottle or two in their cellar.

Even the best holiday craft beers should be enjoyed responsibly. Considering the alcohol content of many beers on this list, we suggest they be enjoyed at home or by someone with a designated driver.

about the author

Matt Minich

Matt Minich is Editorial Director for Shoulders of Giants. He has spent more than a decade writing, editing, and curating content about outdoor sports and adventure. As an adventure journalist he has climbed peaks in Patagonia, rappelled waterfalls in Colorado, B.A.S.E. jumped in Moab, and sampled fermented horse milk in Kyrgyzstan.

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