10 Winter Beers That Make Perfect Holiday Sippers

10 Winter Beers That Make Perfect Holiday Sippers

Skip the gimmicky holiday beers and go for one of these warming seasonal brews instead.

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The holidays are here, and we’re all (hopefully) cashing in on the PTO we’ve accumulated over the past 12 months. There’s nothing better than kicking your feet up on a comfy recliner beside the fireplace, drinking beers that warm your chest and envelop you in a big liquid hug—but there’s nothing worse than the overly spiced seasonal holiday beers that hit the shelves and flood the local watering holes this time of year, so you’ll want to choose the right bottles and cans for your celebrations.

Use our guide to the best holiday sippers to steer you in the right direction. These selections might not be the newest, trendiest IPA styles, nor are they freakishly festive like a candy cane milk stout, but these are tried-and-true beers to add to your winter rotation.

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Baltic Porter

Baltic Porter

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Baltic porters have been around for centuries, but the style was largely forgotten about post-WWII. Just like a holiday Hallmark movie, Baltic porters were given a new life by tweaking a few things and adding some familiar parts. Voila! Old is new again. 

Baltic porters are not your dad’s porter. Whereas the more common, traditional English porters are ales, which are top fermenting, Baltic porters are lagers, meaning they are cold fermenting. They’re in the 5.5-9.5% ABV range, so they’re quite stronger than traditional English porters (which run between 5-7% ABV). A solid Baltic Porter is rich and smooth with a complex flavor profile. Each creamy sip combines a mix of dark chocolate and coffee roast.

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Tmavé Pivo

Tmavé Pivo

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Czech lagers are a work of art, and none more than the darkest of the bunch: Tmavé pivo. Up until around 2015, tmavé pivo was a long held secret amongst Czech beer drinkers. Brewing a tmavé pivo requires decoction mashing, a brewing technique that is as traditional as it is intensive. Most breweries aren’t in a rush to brew this beer anytime soon, but if you find this on a beer list, you’d be a fool not to drink it.

Tmavé pivo comes in at 4.4%-5.8% ABV, so it’s a beer you can have more than one of. The name translates to “dark beer,” so it naturally shares many commonalities with its German cousin, Schwarzbier. They’re both pitch-black and roasty, but the Czech option is maltier, smoother, more full-bodied than the crisp Schwarzbier.

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Wee Heavy

Wee Heavy

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The wee heavy is an interesting beer that showcases the creativity of the Scottish beer maker. There are four native Scottish ale styles and wee heavies; “small strong“ are the strongest of the group. Hops aren’t native to Scotland, so the beer makers added herbs and spices to the finished wee heavies. Doing so gave them a unique character and depth of character.

As the name suggests, wee heavy is a hella strong beer with the ABV in the 6.5-10% range. These are full-bodied, rich, and malty, finishing on the dry side but still enjoyably creamy and slightly viscous. In the comfort of your own home (and away from any real Scotts), try saying “wee heavy” in your best Ewan McGregor accent. It’s a hoot!

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Belgian Tripel

Belgian Tripel

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Belgian tripels were first brewed by Trappist monks at the Westmalle Monastery in the 1930s. The brewers supposedly used up to three times the amount of malt found in a standard Trappist table beer, which is how it got its name. The other belief is that “tripel” indicated the strength of the beer. Brewers would use a series of marks, such as crosses, on the casks that stored the beer. “X” indicated the weakest strength, “XX” was used for medium strength, and “XXX” marked the strongest beer. Regardless of what you believe, the truth seems to be that Monks like to party.

Belgian tripels are sneaky, coming in at 7.5-9.5% ABV. Surprisingly, they do not have the same warming sensation or boozy taste that other beers with similar ABVs might display. Tripels are brewed using Belgian candi sugar to aid in bottle conditioning, and carbonation is used to keep the beer both sweet and dry. Although the beer is quite pale, it still has a level of maltiness in the flavor.

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American Brown Ale

American Brown Ale

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I’d spare you the Rodney Dangerfield joke, but American brown ales really do get no respect. Ask a professional brewer about American brown ales and they’ll probably recall home-brewing them once, but can’t remember the last time they bought some. While brown ales might not be the trendy beanie cap on a hipster’s head, they’re timeless like the Levi’s on a hipster’s lower half.

American brown ales aren’t going to keep you warm with their relatively pedestrian ABV rating of 4.3-6.2%, but they’re perfect to drink in between the bigger fellas you’ll be throwing down at the holidays. A great brown ale is a balance of toasty, nutty notes of caramel and chocolate flavors.

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Rauchbier

Rauchbier

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Simply put, Rauchbier is German for “smoked beer,” and a whole lot of people hate it—but you’ll never know until you try one.

Rauchbier can consist of any beer as long as it’s brewed with smoked malt, but the most common ones tend to be light to medium lagers. These beers have been around since the 1500s and come from the Franconia region of Germany. The city of Bamberg is the epicenter of the smoked beer world, and it’s where the term “smoke em if you got em” originated. (That last fact was not a fact at all. Sorry.)

Rauchbiers don’t have a set ABV because the base beers differ. A proper rauchbier should use smoke as an ingredient as much as it does yeast, malt, hops and water. Classic Rauchbiers use malts smoked with beechwood which delivers a soft, subtle smoke. The smoke characteristic can be more assertive in some beers, but it should be balanced and will never drown out the rest of the flavors in the base beer.

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Doppelbock

Doppelbock

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Doppelbock originated as sustenance for the monks of St. Francis of Paola in 18th-century Germany, who were fasting for Lent. The beer was considered “liquid bread, so you can think of Doppelbock as the ultimate Monk cheat code. As an act of forgiveness, the Paulaner monks named the first-ever doppelbock Salvator, which means Savior. Who knew beer could be such a holy entity?

Doppelbocks have an ABV of 7%-10%, so they can be a handful. They come in both light and dark variants, though the dark is more common. The dark version is richer and has more of a pronounced maltiness, whereas the lighter version is dry with more hop character.

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Imperial Stout

Imperial Stout

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Any beer worth a damn has a memorable origin story. Imperial stouts are allegedly so named because they were brewed in the late 18th century for the Russian Imperial Court of Czarina, Catherine the Great, empress of Russia. Nowadays, the term “imperial” simply refers to beers that are big and bold in both flavor and alcohol content. When you drink one of these, you’re “drinking like an empress,” as the old saying that I just made up goes.

Imperial stouts are some of the strongest beers on the market, with an ABV hovering between 8-12%. Dark as night, this brew has an intense yet balanced flavor profile. The medium to aggressively high bitterness is perfectly accompanied by a roasted, almost burnt maltiness. Deep, dark fruit and bittersweet chocolate are detectable here, and a warming finish from the alcohol content will definitely leave you feeling cozy.

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Eisbock

Eisbock

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Eisbocks are not the most common winter beer, let alone beers in general. They go through a process called freeze distilling that essentially separates water from the other components (alcohol and sugars) to create a beer concentrate. Because of the cost and effort it takes to brew this beer, you’ll see some local breweries making their own spin on it, but not at the rate they do most IPAs and other ales. Eis, eis, baby!

Eisbocks are very strong, hovering over 7% ABV; they’re viscous, full-bodied, and smooth, and they should offer a sensation that’s warming but not burning.

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English Barleywine

English Barleywine

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English barleywine is one of the world’s oldest styles of beer, dating as far back as Ancient Greece. Commercially, barleywine made its debut in the late 1800s; the name comes from the fact that the beer approached the alcohol levels of wine, but it was made from barley rather than fruit. Unlike big, hoppy, American barleywines, English barleywines place less emphasis on bitterness and focus more on the sweet fruitiness derived from the malts.

English barleywines are big, syrupy beasts that hit between 8-12% ABV. They are slightly sweet, with strong flavors of toffee and raisins, and go down like a fine dessert wine. This style of beer comes in handy when you’re looking to pair the perfect beverage with your pretentious views on domestic light lagers.

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