It’s the holidays! Time for fun and laughter and parties, parties to which you are expected to bring something or other. Can’t cook? Don’t want to be that guy that shows up with thirty McChickens? Don't have 40 dollars for a set of Laguiole cheese knives for your hostess? Bring a nice holiday beer. And for recommendations, look no further: myself and nine of my favorite lushes got together this weekend and, over fondue and with a backdrop of holiday songs, tasted sixteen of the seasonal offerings. Here we’ve selected the best and shared our tasting notes.
A party with beer snobs: Delirium Noel
You will never please them, so just bring something like Delirium Noel. They won’t turn up their noses at it, but even if they do, so what? This beer's delicious. More for you. Our reviewers "want to drink it while making latkes" and "would fall asleep drinking this," hopefully not at the same time. It's not like most other holiday ales, skipping the heavier spices for a light and bubbly caramel apple flavor. A complete delight from start to finish.
A family party: Troegs Mad Elf Ale Brewed with Honey and Cherries
At a family party, you can't just waltz in with a six pack of Busch. I mean, you can, but everyone will treat you like the slob you are. Show your uncle, the one that still won’t shut up about that amazing zit you had in your seventh-grade class photo,* that you’re a real adult human with class. Watch as your lightweight mom spills a little on the carpet and just kind of rub it in with her foot—it's holiday family memories! The Troegs is flavorful without being too sugary, with just enough of a cinnamon touch to remind you that it’s a holiday drink. Our reviewers said that they’d "drink a lot while opening presents," and that if it were an animal, it would be "a cross between an Irish setter and a rhinoceros."
A family party with slightly underage cousins: Woodchuck Winter Cider
Where the Woodchuck Pumpkin Cider was mostly a miss in our earlier pumpkin-beer bracket, Woodchuck Winter was a definite hit. A perfect balance between dry and sweet, the Woodchuck Winter would be a great one to pass to your favorite younger (not too young!) cousins. In a glass it can totally pass for the non-alcoholic sparkling kind of cider, but with the benefit of, well, getting them kind of tipsy. What are older cousins for? Our reviewers likened it to "French toast" and "a golden retriever." Note: we used a bottle of this in the fondue and it was perfect.
Low-key drink-a-lots: Goose Island Christmas Ale
This kinda just tastes like a good beer. The flavor doesn’t make you think "yes this is a holiday," but who says there’s anything wrong with that? It’s just neutrally good, maybe a slight taste of brown sugar in there. I would totally recommend this one for anyone that wants to drink something where the only frills to be found are on the label, which features a goose wearing a hat. The review notes are a little illegible on this one—we tried it late in the evening—but something about a ham? I guess it would go well with a ham.
Low-key drink-a-lots…in North Carolina: Olde Hickory Christmas Ale
One of the participants in our panel had recently returned from North Carolina and brought with her some Olde Hickory Christmas Ale. It’s an enjoyable, subtly spiced ale with orange peel and… is that caramel? One of our reviewers, in a discussion of its unassuming taste, called it "a pleasant large-quantity drinking experience." Which was good, because we had a growler. I also have written down that it’s "the Lutheran mass of beers." I don’t know what that means, but it seems like something worth sharing.
A party where you need a host/ess gift: The Bruery 5 Golden Rings
I am not a beer expert (enthusiast yes, expert no), I had to look up what was going on here: The Bruery is in year 5 of a twelve year long "Twelve Days of Christmas" series —one each year. This year’s is a gorgeous golden ale with allspice and pineapple juice. And it is SO GOOD—like, surprisingly so. Sweet and sharp. A perfect gift for the host that slaved over the stove all day to unwind with the next day, when all the guests are gone. One reviewer also mentioned that it would pair well with Chinese food. The same reviewer said that if it were a living thing, it would be "Home Alone-era Macaulay Culkin," but that might just have been the influence of the John Williams song on the stereo at the time.
All Purpose Can’t Fail: Southern Tier 2Xmas
I am totally biased on this one, I admit, but it’s only because Southern Tier has never done me wrong. Supposedly brewed in the tradition of Swedish Glogg (and sure, I'll take their word for it!), this beer is, according to a reviewer, "like a gingerbread house in a bottle." It’s ginger-y, nutmeg-y, and almost a little icing-y. This beer will leave you feeling warm and sated. In fact, if I hadn’t already called it the gingerbread house of beers, I’d totally call it the wool sweater of beers. The first ski of the season of beers. The all-purpose can’t-fail holiday beer of beers.
Oh Christ, I just dropped my pie in a snowbank and I was supposed to bring dessert: Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper (and a pint of vanilla ice cream)
Well spiced, smooth and dark chocolate-y, this beer is sturdy enough to be a dessert on its own, but pour some of this lil’ beaut over a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream, add a bendy straw, and it’s beer floats for all! Reviewers agree that it would be "absolutely horrid with Cheetos," but basically perfect with anything else, including as an ingredient in chili. I would eat that. As a dessert course, it would be heavenly.
Standing in front of the beer case and still can’t decide? Here are three I’d definitely pass on:
• Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale: “reminiscent of a nail salon,” “this actually hurts to drink”
• Ridgeway Bad Elf: “a seasonal kind of nasty,” “no no no no no no”
• Hoppin’ Frog Frosted Frog: “cinnamon water,” “tastes like a yankee candle”
* You will have to take my word that it was magnificent.