What makes a holiday beer a holiday beer? Turns out, the only thing these brews truly have in common is marketing. CHOW's staff tasted enough holiday beers to make us a little happy, and here are our favorites. They range from dark, sweet, and spicy to lighter and easy-drinkin'. Bring a bottle to your next holiday gathering and be "the guy/gal with the cool beer."
Ridgeway Santa's Butt
If you've written off this beer as a novelty item due to its, er, cheeky name and label, give it another try. A porter made by Ridgeway Brewing in England, it was the staff favorite. It's caramelly, toasty, with a hint of honey. Dark beers don't mean high alcohol, either: This is only 6 percent ABV, which makes it a good choice for pairing with food.
Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel Route des Épices (Spice Route)
This rye beer from a great craft brewery in Quebec is brewed with black and green peppercorns. It has a bright, peppery aroma and produces a refreshing, tingly sensation on the palate. For being very low in alcohol (5.3 percent ABV), it is on the sweet side, with malty flavors of caramel and cocoa.
Fantôme de Noël
Belgian brewery Fantôme is known for making delicious saisons, and its holiday beer is no exception. It's a sour beer with a cloudy, deep-ruby-tinted amber color, a full body, and nice fizzy carbonation. It has a green-apple flavor on first sip, and finishes with a hint of maltiness. Watch out if you enjoy it, however, as it's 10 percent ABV.
An Italian beer from the so-called "Jim Morrison" of brewers, Nöel is a very sweet, very dark strong ale with eggnoggy spices and aroma and a sweet, yeasty, vanilla finish. Baladin recommends serving it with chocolate, and we agree: It would make a wonderful beer to break out with the dessert course. At 9 percent ABV, it's a sipper.
Nøgne Ø/Jolly Pumpkin/Stone Special Holiday Ale
An all-star collaboration between Norway's Nøgne Ø, Michigan's Jolly Pumpkin, and Southern California's Stone that was brewed at Nøgne Ø in Grimstad, Norway. (The three breweries also made a batch at Stone Brewing in 2008.) Each brewery contributed a product from its respective region: California sage, Norwegian juniper berries, and chestnuts from Michigan. The herbal medley of ingredients is well balanced, producing a light, minty smell and flavor and a rich but not heavy body.