BREWTAL TRUTH: Hello, Holiday Beers!

With Halloween now behind us, we can leave behind the pumpkin beers—is it me, or were there like a thousand of these things this year?—and move on to the big winter warmers. This is a time of year when the darker, heartier and higher ABV beers start to show up. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago when this was pretty much the only time of year to get big beers. Now you can get barley wines and Russian imperial stouts year round, for chrissakes. Sure, we personally indulge in these kinds of brews pretty much any time of the year, but drinking a barley wine on a hot summer day just feels wrong. And yet we still do it.
Now that it’s getting colder, there’s less daylight and we’re not drinking beer for refreshment and thirst-quenching as much, settling in with a glass of something around 10% ABV doesn’t sound too bad. Speaking of such beasts, Surly just released its vaunted Darkness Russian imperial stout at “Darkness Day” last week. Unfortunately, it’s probably nearly impossible to find this brew outside of Minneapolis, but you can always try to swing a trade for one through beeradvocate.

But there are plenty of regular holiday releases that get wider distribution. Some of these are of the come-in-a-six-pack variety, like one of our favorites, Deschutes Jubelale (6.7% ABV), while others are special occasion purchases, like Anchor’s Christmas Ale, which features a completely different recipe (and different tree on the label) every year. If you want to go really big, there’s Samichlaus, a super-strong lager—14% ABV!—released once a year. It’s no easy task getting a lager to 14%, and this brewed once a year, because it takes the better part of the year to do it.

And, hey, if you want a beer to pair with your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, our pal Jeff “Oly” Olson—former Trouble drummer, current The Skull drummer and Allagash Brewing employee—has recently brewed a Russian imperial stout with cranberries. Called Red Howes, it’ll be released by Allagash in time for your holiday meals. Another fine brew that’s sort of like Thanksgiving in a glass is The Bruery’s Autumn Maple (8% ABV). It’s filled with yam, spices and maple syrup and fermented with a Belgian yeast to give it that extra bit of character. It’s about as close to a pumpkin beer as we like to get.

The Belgians are also crazy about brewing all manor of special, high-gravity holiday beers. This is knockout-punch stuff, many with double-digit ABV, like Brasserie Dubuisson’s Scaldis de Noel (13% ABV). This is the kind of winter brew you turn to regularly if you want to have no recollection of November and December.

It’s probably no coincidence that the holidays used to be the time of year when the big guns came out. The family gatherings, crowded shopping malls and nonstop barrage of holiday shmaltz is when we need it the most.