Beer and Pavement

Top 5: Xmas Beers

Posted in Beer, Top 5 by SM on December 12, 2011

OK. So, I don’t actually like seasonal beers. The only exception are those beers that happen to always come out at certain times of the year, but aren’t necessarily tied to the season. There are other exceptions, but I find fall and winter seasonals to be particularly dreadful as it becomes the time of year to overload mediocre brews with spices. This is something homebrewers do, not quality craft brewers.

Still, there are a few holiday ales which I like to try every year. I typically only drink holiday ales that are available here in Missouri. So, the list is a bit limited that way as well. Here are five of the better holiday ales I enjoy…

5. Avery Old Jubilation – Sweet, malty old ales should be on every brewery’s holiday lineup. This one is a favorite and almost criminally available everywhere, sitting beside their spiced brethren. The Christmas-y and seemingly pedestrian presentation make me think 1995 micro-brewed concoction of frankincense and myrrh.

4. Boulevard Nutcracker Ale / Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale – I couldn’t decide between these two as they are the same beers in my mind (not really even close). Sure, Celebration is…well… more celebrated, but they are very similar beers. Instead of coming with spice, they hit you with hops, lots of them… Actually, the point is that that both beers contain a surprising amount of hoppiness in two rather different beers. Are you confused yet? I am. The hoppiness contained in the winter warmer and IPA are of the crisp variety, how I’ve been liking my hops as of late.

3. Mikkeller Red White / Santa’s Little Helper / To From / Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas – Some of these are better than others, but it’s the fact that Mikkeller puts out a full lineup of holiday ales that strikes me. All are uniquely Mikkeller and all are worth the holiday bonus you may fork over for some. I’m particularly interested in the Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas, an IPA brewed with ginger and pine needles, as it’s new to me this year.

2. Samichlaus – This beer has an enormous reputation in these parts, almost as large as its 14% ABV. The rep is much deserved and the beer is a Christmastime necessity. I don’t know that it actually has anything to do with Christmas other than the fact that it sounds like “Santa Claus,” but it’s a giant lager with which you should not trifle.

1. Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza – JP is one of those breweries at the top of my favorites list that just does it for me every time. Sure, they’re all variations of the same beer, but they’re all delicious.Tartness galore as always but this time in the form or a Belgian strong dark ale. I would have even accepted spice, but JP didn’t stoop to those levels and kept it on the real. In other words, it’s your typical Jolly Pumpkin but in super-awesome Christmas form.

Special Mention: Stone/Nøgne Ø/Jolly Pumpkin Special Holiday Ale – From what I understand, this beer has long been retired. All three breweries can be found in this beer. It’s a bit of a mangled mess, but it was my mangled mess at one time. I’ve had versions bottled by the first two breweries and each brought with them something different. I feel like the JP version has been around, possibly passing my lips at a tasting, but I have no proof and could be totally mistaken.

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14 Responses

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  1. Lyrics, Libations, and Life said, on December 13, 2011 at 6:09 am

    Good to know your stance on holiday beers. I actually dislike a lot of what summer has to offer in the way of seasonal stuff, so I actually don’t mind this time of the year. I actually haven’t had many of these, although I am having Old Jubilation this week.

    • Zac said, on December 13, 2011 at 10:09 am

      Oddly, summer seasonals I tend to enjoy, except when they’re just watered-down versions of a brewery’s wheat ale/wit.

  2. Mark said, on December 13, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Celebration cracks me up because there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of Christmas in it – it just seems like a really well executed IPA/Red ale. I guess red ales are kinda Christmassy, but I always find it amusing that Celebration doesn’t really feel like a Christmas beer at all…

    Samichlaus is all about Santa – it’s brewed once a year on the feast day of Saint Nicholas (hence the name). I have a few of these sitting around aging, as it’s pretty hot when it’s first released, but it’s definitely becoming a tradition for me…

    I had Mikkeller’s Santa’s Little Helper this past weekend and loved it, so no argument there. Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza is on tap for next weekend, and I’m greatly looking forward to it!

    And I have no problem with spiced holiday beers – I’ll take St Bernardus Christmas, Affligem Noel, or Ommegang Adoration over a few on your list!

    • Zac said, on December 13, 2011 at 10:11 am

      Yeah, it’s too bad SN can’t sell the Celebration year-round. I knew there might be something behind the Samichlaus story, but I was too lazy and running late on this post to do the research. Thanks for the 411.

      I don’t know about the Ommegang or Affligem, but I like the St. B ABT 12 so much that I can’t taste their Christmas ale for what it is.

      • Barleywhiner said, on December 13, 2011 at 5:14 pm

        I think Celebration is supposed to be a fresh hop beer, so they couldn’t sell it year round. It is my traditional beer to drink on Thanksgiving.

        My problem with most holiday beers (like Jubilation and Goose Island) is that there are a lot that are just a big Amber, which I find a pretty boring style to begin with.

        One beer that I don’t see a lot of people talk about is Great Divide Hibernation. It has a huge maltiness, that I love.

        I need to pick up a few of the Belgian Christmas beers to try.

        I did have the Jolly Pumpkin, and it tasted like . . . Jolly Pumpkin, but that is fine with me.

      • Zac said, on December 13, 2011 at 10:54 pm

        You’re right about the Celebration. That would make it hard to replicate year-round. Oh well. Agreed on the big ambers out this time of year.

      • Mark said, on December 14, 2011 at 12:01 pm

        No problemo – I love searching out the stories behind beers:)

        Ah, interesting. I really need to try the ABT 12 again sometime – perhaps even in comparison with the Christmas version. The last time I had the 12, it felt very thin. It was very good, but for whatever reason, I was disappointed…

  3. Jay Zeis said, on December 13, 2011 at 10:07 am

    Loved the Stone/Nøgne Ø/Jolly Pumpkin Special Holiday Ale. My favorite Xmas beer is Scaldis (Bush) Noel. I could drink that all year round. Celebration usually is a staple in the household as well

    • Zac said, on December 13, 2011 at 10:55 pm

      I’ve heard folks mention that Scaldis often. Maybe I need to check it out.

  4. beerbecue said, on December 13, 2011 at 11:38 am

    I like this: A Christmas seasonal list from a seasonal skeptic. I am going to have to try to find Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas. I have been hankering for a hoppy one, with some season in it (other than just the hops being piney).

    And it’s OK. I suspect we all have our own “mangled messes”.

    • Zac said, on December 13, 2011 at 11:48 am

      Well, as mentioned above, the Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas actually has pine in it, along with some ginger. I suspect in true Mikkeller fashion that the sharpness of the two supplements will only add to the bite of the hops.

      • beerbecue said, on December 13, 2011 at 11:59 am

        I suspect you are right. It’s probably delightfully brutal. I’ll probably have to give the tongue a pep talk and head-butt the dog to prepare for it….or maybe just a pep talk.

      • Zac said, on December 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm

        Then, do one of those flying chest-bumps all the kids are doing these days once you’ve conquered an entire bottle. I want to wait for Xmas to drink this beer, but this conversation just makes me want to drink it now.

  5. […] The quartet of Red White, Santa’s Little Helper, To From, and Hoppy Lovin’ Christmas made my top-5 holiday beer list. […]


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