From gingerbread to gift filled stockings, mulled wine to decadent meals, Christmas is a time of tradition, and traditionally, we go all out to enjoy it! It’s the time to treat yourself to delicacies you wait all year to indulge in. For the beer lover and brewer, Christmas is all about sumptuous beers, packed full of flavour and character.
Whether traditional or modern, the best Christmas beers are something special and are worth taking your time to sit back and enjoy. Typically sippers rather than gulpers, despite similarities, there’s a wide variety out there. So, if you’re looking for the best beer for Christmas, read on to discover a mix of old classics and modern delights.
Brilliant Belgian Styles
Belgium is home to a wide variety of superb beers, brewed to traditional recipes, using a range of curious spices and ingredients. With a long and complex brewing history, experienced brewers have created exquisite brews that have stood the test of time and developed true local character. It’s not surprising then, that the brewers of Belgium also like to make something special for Christmas.
The best Christmas beers in Belgium are normally high in abv, typically sitting around 8 — 12%, and packed full of rich, complex flavours. Tawny red in colour, a gorgeous malt sweetness is backed by festive spices, resulting in a rich and flavourful beer that’s best enjoyed slowly. Look out for the following great examples;
St Feuillien, Cuvée de Noël: a masterclass in balance, this classic Christmas beer packs a punch at 9%, with an intense aroma of herbs and spices. The beer is full-bodied in the mouth, with a delectable smoothness, finished by a subtle bitterness. Enjoying a double fermentation and a long period of cold conditioning, it’s well worth heading to Le Roeulx to visit the brewery and try it at the source.
St Bernardus, Christmas Ale: the smell of Christmas cookies hits you as you pour this beautiful example of a Christmas Quad. A malt sweetness is balanced by festive spices such as ginger and cinnamon, making this 10% quad deceptively easy to drink. That classic burst of carbonation on the first sip sets the scene, with a warming booziness to finish, ensuring this is widely regarded as one of the best Christmas beers in the world.
Liefmans, Glühkriek: if heavy hitting beers aren’t your thing, this fruity number might be more suitable. It’s essentially a spiced Kriek, designed to be enjoyed warm, similar to mulled wine. You’re hit with a burst of sour cherries, cinnamon and fruit cake as you raise the glass, and the taste is fairly sweet, with a superb dry finish.
Brit Pop; Best Christmas Beers From the UK
A short skip across the North Sea takes us to blighty, land of the classic winter warmers and barley wines. Traditional breweries across the land compete to brew the best beer for Christmas, concocting a variety of strong ales, stouts and plum porters. These malt forward beers are typically spiced and come in at around 6 — 8% abv. While commonly available by the bottle, there’s nothing quite like trying them on tap, served cask conditioned in a cosy pub. Here’s a look at some classics:
Shepherd Neame, Christmas Ale: as Britain’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame have had ample time to perfect their craft. This 7% real ale is available on both cask in pubs around Kent, and by the bottle. A superbly flavoursome brew, it offers a thick, creamy mouthfeel and notes of dark fruits and Christmas spices. The malt sweetness is balanced by a surprising burst of spicy local hops, lending a pleasant bitterness to the finish.
Harveys, Christmas Ale: brewed with care and attention in small batches, aged and conditioned just in time for Christmas, this is a stunning example of a British barley wine. A complex beer weighing in at 7 - 9% depending on the batch, it offers notes of sherry, prunes and toffee against a biscuity malt backbone, with a powerful hoppy bitterness to reign the sweetness in. Ideal for taking your time over on those long, cold, winter evenings.
Fuller’s, Snow Globe: this limited edition, spiced winter warmer is available on cask in Fuller’s pubs across the UK over the festive period. Lightly spiced with cinnamon and star anise, it’s 5.5% abv lends a malty sweetness to this tawny coloured gem.
Festive Germanic Beers
Heading back to the mainland, we stumbled into Germany, a country famous for its love of beer. Beer reigns supreme all year long here and in the surrounding countries, and some of the best Christmas beers in the world are produced and consumed here. Germanic Christmas beers fall under various styles, such as altbier, märzens, doppelbocks and eisbocks, but are generally known as Festbiers or Weihnachtsbier.
Breweries across the land typically produce something special for Christmas, so it’s worth exploring brewpubs and breweries whenever you get the chance. Here are 3 fantastic Germanic Christmas beers to look out for:
Füchschen, Weihnachtsbier: the historic Dusseldorf based brewery are famed for their sumptuous altbiers. As the cold weather creeps in, they release their seasonal Weihnachtsbier, or Christmas beer, a slightly stronger version of their normal altbier, packed full of bready malt flavours, toffee notes and a slight peppery taste. It hides it’s 5.2% abv well and is extremely easy to drink, with a pleasant dry finish. On Christmas eve, the brewery taps a limited number of kegs to be served on site and in surrounding taverns.
Schneider Weisse, Aventinus Eisbock: hailing from Bavaria, Schneider Weisse are famed for their stunning wheat beers. Their Aventinus Eisbock is a real treat for Christmas and well worth seeking out if you can get your hands on it. Originally created by mistake when a batch of regular Aventinus wheat doppelbock froze in transit, concentrating the flavour and alcohol, it’s now regarded as one of the best Christmas beers in the world. At 12% abv, it’s boozy, with notes of raisins, figs, toffee, berry, cloves and banana, with a smooth and creamy mouthfeel. Well worth seeking out.
Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg, Samichlaus Classic Bier: originally from Switzerland and now brewed in Austria, this is another Germanic festive classic. Once the strongest beer in the world, at 14% it’s still up there as pretty pokey! It’s a beer that ages incredibly well, offering intense malty notes, while not being overly sweet. Toffee, figs and brandy notes dominate this decadent, dark nectar.
Christmas Craft Beers
So far we’ve mostly looked at traditional styles, but there are a number of modern craft offerings that are up there with the best beers for Christmas. Around Europe, craft breweries are opening their doors and brewing ever more interesting ales and lagers.
From the Balkans to the Baltic, the Med to Nordkapp, craft beer is spreading. It’s impossible to list all the best ones here, so check out what’s local to you and you could be in for a pleasant surprise.
Mikkeller, Santa’s Little Helper: the mighty Mikkeller gives us his take on a Belgian strong ale, deliciously spiced and smoothly boozy. With a delightful caramel taste, it’s not as sweet as you’d expect, its heavy body supporting the spices and orange peel, which linger to the warming finish. Available in 75cl bottles, it’s great for sharing.
Wiper and True, Plum Pudding Porter: living up to its name, this delicious porter is packed full of dark fruits and booze, lightly spiced to provide a taste of Christmas in a glass. While fairly malt forward, the hops play their part too, lending woody, piney notes and a pleasing bitterness. It goes down a little too easily for it’s 6.8%!
To Øl: this Danish brewery are known for going all out at the best of times, but they really go for it over Christmas. At the time of writing they have upwards of 13 special Christmas releases for 2018, with more on the way. The styles vary from salty goses and spiced wheat IPAs, to potent barley wines and spiced coffee brown ales. They’ve thrown all sorts of adjuncts in, including pine needles, Christmas spices and dried fruits. If you can get to Copenhagen, track down local craft beer venues such as BRUS brew pub or Mikropolis.
There are thousands of excellent Christmas beers out there, tucked away in taverns and inns across the continent. We’ve barely scratched the surface, but the beers above are a great starting point and really are worth seeking out if you can find them! Enjoy, and we hope you find your best beer for Christmas — let us know in the comments!