Christmas Ale. The official beer of giving someone a piece of your mind or assaulting a friend on the holidays. The hard part about ranking Christmas Ale is that it is not an exact style like an IPA or Belgian. In fact, a Christmas Ale can be an IPA or a Belgian. Christmas beers span all types of brews which also makes it more interesting to rank. If you hate IPAs you’re not going to like Fatheads Holly Jolly and if you don’t like Belgians you surely won’t like Troegs Mad Elf. For the sake of making things interesting we also included winter beers as well. So the following lists consists of Christmas/holiday/seasonal beers and they include the following types:
Winter Warmers (6)
Wheat Ales (2)
Brown Ales (1)
Typical Christmas Ales consists of nutmeg, cinnamon and other spices while some are accented with cocoa beans, honey, cloves and even peppermint. Honestly, I’m not a fan of spiced ales in general. It’s like Pumpkin Spice Late at Starbucks – it’s a girlie drink. There. I said it. Any man that likes cinnamon and spice and everything nice is soft in my book.
40. New Holland Brewing Company Cabin Fever – 7.7/10 One of the few Brown Ales on the list, this beer just failed to make a lasting impression on all four of the people who drank it.
39. Elevator Brewing Winter Warmer – 7.8/10 First time I had this was when I lived in Columbus, OH and first discovered Elevator Brewery in 2006. I remember describing the aftertaste as a “gasoline tasting burning sensation” and that description still rings true. It was like nothing I’d ever had at that point, but it was not a positive impression. They still make this warmer as I tracked it down for this review… and I still don’t care for it. The brewery on the other hand is great.
38. Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve – 7.9/ 10 Rogue is a very hit or miss brewery. If you like darker beers – you probably will be a fan of them. They have given great bears such as: Dead Guy, Morimoto Imperial, 4 HOP and their chocolate stouts. Unfortunately, they’ve given the experimental yet horrible, Voodoo Doughnut series. This is one of the first Rogue beers I had that I strongly disliked. Has a burnt and watered down taste. Very disappointing.
37. Platform Esther Christmas Belgian-8.0/10
Another Belgian as you will see many on this list. Pours a dark brown pretty similar to mad elf but 9.5 ABV and not as flavorful. Smells like clove to me which is never a good thing.
Pours dark ruby red with minimal head. Aroma is molasses, cherries, caramel. Nice Xmas flavors, brown sugar, light clove, allspice, cinnamon. Some esters from the yeast. Sweet and sticky with light carbonation. Overall a really enjoyable beer that held up nicely for being 1 year old. I recall the beer being a bit more vibrant when drank fresh, but it is still delicious.
36. Southern Tier 2Xmas Ale 8.0/10 -Too bitter with spice that just hits the palate wrong. It is almost overwhelmingly bitter and plaquey. The clove and cardamom overtakes it as well which I am not a fan of either.
35. Abita Christmas Ale – 8.0/10 smells hoppy but it’s not. Almost tastes like a brown ale. flat as shit, taste like it’s been sitting out for 4 days, bland dull as shot, no kick zip.
34. Samuel Smith Winter Welcome – 8.0/10 Known for its limited availability this beer can be quite difficult to get your hands on. Sam Smith has given us some notable stouts such as their organic chocolate stout, but this beer simply doesnt live up to the stronger beers in Sam Smith’s lineup.
Described by Sam Smith as a This seasonal beer is a limited edition brewed for the short days and long nights of winter. The full body resulting from fermentation in ‘stone Yorkshire squares’ and the luxurious malt character, which will appeal to a broad range of drinkers, is balanced against whole-dried Fuggle and Golding hops with nuances and complexities that should be contemplated before an open fire.”
33. Troegs Mad Elf – 8.1/10 if you like Belgians this must be a Christmas beer for you. I found it too boozy and syrupy and similar to a barley wine. Has a slight boozy afterburn too but for 11% that is to be expected. The saving grace of this Belgian is the cherries. They do enhance the flavor a lot and is what makes this Belgian unique.
32. Columbus Brewing Company Citra Noel – 8.2/10 smells absolutely dank and delicious but it does not taste devilish nor dank! Very misleading! Taste like a watered down IPA meets a brown ale. Pours a dark brown. It’s a middle of the road IPA.
31. Market Garden Festivus Holiday Ale 8.2/10. This Ale has a brown sugar after taste is what kills this for me. Pours a light yellow. You taste the sugar and cinnamon to it. Dave gave it a 85.
30. Southern Tier Krampus 8.3/10 The appearance was a soft burnt caramel to amber color with a one finger white foamy head that dissipated at a nice pace. Clingy white foamy lacing sticks around the glass. The smell started off with sweet bready to biscuity notes sliding over some grassy hops. Light lemon and a little bit of pine rounds out the aroma. The taste was moderately sweet with the bready to biscuity notes gracing all around the flavor. A sweet bready aftertaste runs into the finish. On the palate, this one sat about a light to medium on the body with a sweet smooth rolling texture over my tongue. Overall, as a Munich Helles Lager, it fits, not sure why it’s an Imperial Pilsner on here.
29. Saucy Brew Works Three Hos– 8.2/10 Stupid name for a brewery and even stupider name for a beer, but the most unique Christmas ale yet. I detect a strong aftertaste of clove and peppermint (or mint) cinnamon and fiber. Light but minty and spicy aftertaste. I’m giving this beer a lot of points for originality but soapy minty clovey aftertaste is gross over time.
28. Bells Winter Wheat Ale 8.2/10 is super light. Pours a light yellow. The clove is what ruins it for us. Dave absolutely hates the clove. Gave it a 75
27. Victory winter cheers -8.4/10 Light crisp wheat with Belgian Aftertaste. Has too much clove to it for me but otherwise pretty decent. Light.
26. Rogue Yellow Snow IPA – 8.4/10 One of my first IPAs I ever tried. My first impression of it was very positive but, as more IPAs have swarmed the market, I realize this IPA is a little bit too syrupy and boozy for my liking. Still, a great IPA for cold weather. Somewhat boozy with a barrel aged taste but, not citrusy or fizzy at all. The pine notes are very strong with this beer.
25. Royal Docs Yuletide – 8.4/10 has your typical Christmas ale taste with nutmeg and a cinnamon aftertaste. Has a potpourri like after taste. Almost pine tree like. Decent amount of nutmeg which I am not a fan of. Has a sharp, soft, perfume like tingle to it.
24. Goose Island Christmas Ale 8.4/10 Unfortunalty, this beer was discontinued this year. This is probably the sweetest tasting beer on this list.Pours a dark brown in color with a 3mm beige head that settles down to just along the edges of the glass. Some spotty lacing is seen. Sediment is seen at the bottom of the bottle. The aroma is like a good seasonal Christmas/ Winter brew with holiday spices, brown sugar, caramel, dark fruits and dark bread. The taste is close to that with lots of tasty flavors mixed in for a good balance. Good mix of spices as you can taste some cinnamon, nutmeg and others spices as well as some toffee. Very nice and no bitter or harsh finish. Medium to Medium+ bodied with perfect carbonation. Just makes you wish for cooler weather since it has been in the low 80’s for most of September. Overall a great brew.
23. Rusty Rail Snow Flyer HC Porter – 8.5/10 Boring brown ale tasting porter. Smells of caramel, smooth carbonated with fizz typical of a porter.ugh let me know go home. The Malt Varieties consist of Pale 2-Row, Maris Otter, Chocolate Malt, Black Malt, CaraBrown, Carapils, Flaked Oats.
22. Bells Christmas Ale – 8.5/10 immediately taste chocolate (cocoa beans) finishes with a malty wheaty flavor that I don’t care for. Not spicy at all. Great middle of the road Christmas ale. Little bit of afterburner with malt. Amber / toffee brown color, medium fluffy cap. Aroma isn’t exactly robust but fine, has the expected caramel malt, a little raisin, warm bread you get in wee heavys. Taste is traditional, checks all the boxes, not adventurous or fixing the wheel but good – scotch malt, darker fruit (fig, date, etc), rum cask, whisper of hops on the finish.
21. Rhinegeist Dad – 8.5/10 very light for a Christmas ale. Has a light to no smell. Thin balanced. Not much caramel or cinnamon. Somewhat watered down but smooth good to play beer pong with. Not thick like Christmas ale.
20. Pipeworks Santa Vs Unincorn 8.5/10 The only Barleywine on the list. Pipeworks Brewing has delivered some decent beets such as Mosiac Hero and Grand Guignol. Pours a medium amber/garnet, mostly clear, with a one and a half inch foamy head and a good amount of foamy lacing. The smell is pine, resin, some grapefruit, floral hops, yeast, malt, toffee. The taste is more substantial. Grapefruit, pine, malt, caramel, light yeast. A little bready. A good amount of hop bitterness throughout, a sweet spot midway. The malt takes over when fully warmed. Smooth, good level of carbonation, a good, medium body, but a touch light for the style.
19. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2017 – 8.5/10 Celebration isan annual release that verys greatly from year to year. The first time I tried it was the 2010 release which the 2017 release is very close to, but also disappoints me. The 2015 release was much more citrusy and sweet and shocked me as I found myself saying “This beer is way better than I remember.” Really disappointed by this years batch as it lacks the citrus and sweetness of the 2015. This is a little too piney and bitter. My 2015 review gave it a 9.3 which is drastically higher. It read as follows: One of the most well-balanced IPAs I’ve had. Slight citrus notes, hoppy, no booze, no after-burn, no bitterness. A delicious crisp IPA. One of the most well-balanced IPAs I’ve drunk. Slight citrus notes, hoppy, no booze, no afterburn, no bitterness. A delicious crisp IPA.
18. Avery Brewing Company Old Jebulation Ale – 8.6 super smooth which is on account of no spices. Malty no booze and extremely smooth, but much like brew kettles winter warmer it is kind of watered down. This beer came highly regarded which heightened my expectations, but ultimately did not meet. Described by Avery Brewing Company as “Our winter strong ale has a gorgeous mahogany hue, a hint of hazelnuts, and a finish reminiscent of mocha and toffee. No spices, just a perfect blend of five specialty malts.”
17. Corsendonk Christmas Ale – 8.6/10. Comes in a giant champagne bottle like bomber. The group that tested this beer had trouble switching gears from traditional Christmas Ales to Belgians but still preferred this to the Brown Ale we also tested.
16. Fathead’s Holly jolly – 8.6, well-balanced typical Christmas ale. Smelled like shit at first, changed as it warms up. Well balanced, not too much cinnamon or nutmeg. Best one so far. Sweet malt, ginger, honey and cinnamon spice. Sip this by the fire with your significant other. Who knows, maybe it will lead to a little inspiration of your own.
At only 28 IBUs this Christmas Ale is fairly and does not have an overpowering use of spices.
15. Deschutes Jubelale – 8.6/10 A better craft version of Yuengling, but without the wheaty lager taste. Light notes of cocoa but can barely detect the caramel. Warm spiciness and tradition grace this bold, complex winter ale. The deep garnet color pairs perfectly with holiday celebrations. To celebrate the 30th bottling, for the first time ever, this year’s packaging features not one, but a series of custom snowflake themed illustrations.
14. Penn Brewery St. Nikolaus Bock Bier – 8.6/10 Pours a birch beer brown with a 3 finger creamy float head. Lots of lacing. Nose of fresh bread and dark dried fruit. Taste – Wow . . . this is a complex malt bomb! Like eating a really good fruit cake (not that store bought crap) where each bite (sip) yields a different flavor. Roasted malt, raisins, dried fruit, licorice, toffee . . . yum. Carbonation is a bit lighter than expected but this feels right – full bodied and chewy. This is Christmas in a bottle.
13. St Bernadus Xmas Ale – 8.6/10 The appearance was a hazy brown color with a one finger sustaining white foamy head that concaves a bit but holds its own for a good two minutes before dissipating ever so lightly. The smell had a sweet to lightly spiced combination of cinnamon and ginger running into a sweet biscuity/bready goodness. Subtle hints of cocoa allocate nicely in and around my nose. The taste took all of those previously mentioned flavors to combine and flavor a sweet bready aftertaste leading into a semi – wet finish. On the palate, this one sat about a medium on the body with a fairly decent sipping quality running about. Carbonation seems to run smooth and semi-dry.
12. Deschutes Chasin Freshies Fresh Hop IPA– 8.7/10 Much crisper than celebration IPA. Lighter to drink even though it’s 7.4 ABV. No booze or after burn. Light crisp not too bitter. Pours golden-yellow. IBU: 65
Deschutes is starting to rival Stone as it is becoming one of the best brewers when it comes to IPAs. Their Pinedrop IPA is a recent addition that I recommend picking up.
11. Delerium Tremens Noel – 8.6/10 Im not even a huge fan of Belgians and I love this beer so that says something. The first time I ever heard of Delerium Tremons was while I was at a liquor store in Columbus, OH with my old roommate, Carl. “This beer has been voted the best beer in the world in tons of competitions,” said Carl as I picked up the bottle. “Pink elephants I thought to myself “How quaint.” Over the years I tried Nocturn and during the holiday season – Noel. The amazing thing about this beer (and all Delerium Tremons) is how many different flavors they are able to capture in a single beer. Malty, Fruity and all different sweet and savory notes all within one sip. One of the most intricate tasting beers you will ever come across. not syrupy or too thick like most Belgians. Pours a transparent medium brown with no floaters. Think Belgian light. Hints of clove and has a sweet malty finish. Much more accessible than mad elf which was very thick and a little too flavorful.
10. Dark Horse 4 Elf Winter Warmer Ale – 8.7/10
Smells of cinnamon and caramel. Very impressive for 8.7. I orIginally was gonna rate this 9.0. Described as “4 Elf is holiday cheer in liquid form. Spicy aromas like cinnamon and clove give this dark brown winter warmer a proper holiday welcome. Balanced between malt, hops, and spice at 8.75% ABV this beer goes great with all holiday foods—from sweet snacks to the roast beast.”
9. Revolution Brewing Fistmas – 8.7/10
This American Amber Red Ale clocks in at 6.5% abv. Nothing Xmas Ale about this. Just a straight up IPA. Decent but not even one of the bests. Pours a dark brown, smells somewhat dank. Feels like a reg IPA they just relabeled an Xmas beer.
8. Brew Kettle Winter Warmer -8.7/10
Super smooth, medium Carmel we could drink a lot of these. Impressive for 8% considering how smooth it is. Kind of watered down.
7. Madtree Brewing Company Thunder Snow – 8.8/10 smooth but with more flavor than Brew Kettle’s Winter Warmer or Avery’s Jubilation Ale. Truly, pleasant surprise.
6. Southern Tier 2 Xmash – 8.8/10
Way better than Xmas ale. Solid DIPA. Doesn’t have the horrible spice 2xmas consisted of. Pours a golden brown with a light booziness which isn’t bad for 8.1 ABV %.
5. Fatheads Pimp My Sleigh – 8.9/10 Pours a plum/dark ruby color with virtually no head. Aroma of caramel, brown sugar, booze and fruit. In the taste, raisin, plum and sugary malts. Light bitter earthy hops but this beer is sweeter. Light spices and a small burn round out a nice flavor profile. Pimp my Sleigh is a full bodied ale with good carbonation. Drinks smoothly and effortlessly. Overall, this is a nice Christmas Ale, one worth revisiting when it comes around.
4. Three Floyds Alpha Klaus – 9.0/10 When it comes to porters – I almost always rather have a stout. Stouts are similar but they are move heavy bodied with a muted taste. They also lack the carbonation that a porter is known for. This beer is not super fizzy. A little bit better than Robert the Bruce. Had a plaquyness to it. Super smooth, chocolatey. Has strong notes of caramel, but no booze or burn but somewhat sweet.
3. Hoppin Frog Frosted Frog Christmas 9.1/10 it’s apple cinnamon. Like apple cider. Smooth with a cinnamon finish but not too cinnamon. Pours a golden light orange not to heavy or thick. I liked this beer cause of the spicy cinnamon aftertaste. It is very refreshing, but doesnt have too much spice.
2. Great Lakes Brewing Company Christmas Ale – 9.1/10 Living in the midwest I was introduced to this ale an early age. I was introduced to it at such an early age that I was absolutely sick of it by the time I was 26. Every year Great Lakes Brewing Company holds its annual Christmas Ale release party (typically right after Halloween) and fools line up down the street waiting to get into this well-known Ohio City bar. The beer itself is very fizzy carbonated with a lot of front taste not too spicy but pretty damn good. Not overtop on the cinnamon which is its saving grace.
1. Thirsty Dog Brewing Company 12 Dogs of Christmas – 9.2/10 If you’re from the Cleveland area, chances are that you know the story that the recipe for 12 Dogs of Christmas is the original Great Lakes Brewing Company Christmas Ale recipe. The legend has it that one of the early brewmeisters from Great Lakes Brewing Company left to work at Thirsty Dog – and he took the recipe with him. 12 dogs, honey cinnamon, this is more of a wheat like beer taste. It is a less spicy than hopping frog. If we needed one beer to get for a group of people – this would be it.