Ahhh the holidays! For me the time between Thanksgiving and New Years is always a huge rush. There's always year end stuff to wrap up for work, on top of all the shopping and traveling. It can really burn you out.
But every year I do look forward to taking a break and bellying up to the bar at Toronado and other bars to sample holiday beers. I enjoy taking the time away from all the holiday stress to chill out and have a couple pints each season has to offer. A Christmas or holiday beer is not really a style of beer, but rather a seasonal one that you start seeing when the weather cools down. The good ones usually run out by February.
There are a few things that I expect from a holiday beer, for it to fall into this category. It must have enough alcohol to warm you up, and to take off the holiday edge. It should also have a hint of holiday-inspired spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger etc.). That's not to say there are not a ton of other great winter seasonal beers out there, but without these qualities, I don't think of them as holiday beers.
Here are a few of my favorites this year:
Anchor Brewing Company - Our Special Ale 2010
I live less then a mile from the Anchor Brewery and I am not usually a huge fan. This year is an exception. Anchor's Our Special Ale 2010 is a great beer and really nails the holiday aromas and flavors. It is very dark brown in color and smells of ginger, nutmeg, and burnt sugar. The spices are balanced and it has a nice dry roasty malt finish.
Anderson Valley - Winter Solstice
The Anderson Valley Winter Solstice makes my list because it's a holiday beer that's really easy to drink! Usually, you really only want one or two of these holiday beers at a time. This one pours deep amber, but still clean enough that you can see through it. It has a wonderful flavor of caramel malt and cinnamon.
Delirium - Noel
I'll never forget the first time I had this beer-- my Uncle brought it to our family Christmas party when I was 17 and I loved it. It is probably one of my first great beer experiences. It's a strong Belgian dark ale that smells of dried fruit and has a really nice deep malty, cherry flavor with hints of spice. It packs a big punch and will fuck the scrooge right out of you.
Try to stick with a trusted retailer when you buy this beer. Make sure it has been kept refrigerated and looks like it's in good shape. Since it has traveled a long distance to get here I have found it to taste different depending on where I buy it from.
[Sorry no picture of the pour on this one. I am saving it for tonight so I'll update the picture after I drink it.]
I would have liked to get an east coast holiday beer on the list but have not been able to get one that I liked out here in SF so far. That said, I've heard good things about Harpoon Winter Warmer.