Craft brewers share their sip-at-home faves for winter drinking

Craft brewers share their sip-at-home faves for winter drinking
Beer lovers can have hoppy holidays with brews made for this time of year. (Getty Images)

Christmas – that most wonderful time of the year sandwiched in between Thanksgiving’s tryptophan-induced slumber and New Year’s Twilight Zone marathon. While mulled wine and punches might be the most traditional alcoholic go-to for the holiday season, you might want to try something a little more idiosyncratic this year: a cold beer.

Here is what some of the country’s top craft brewers will be drinking by the fire and during their own holiday festivities, selected both from their own superlative portfolios and personal favorites from other producers’ lineups.


Chris Schofield and Matthew Mills of Barreled Souls Brewing Co. (Saco, Maine)

Barreled Souls Bourbon Barrel-Aged Honey Pot

“Around the holidays we love to dig into the cellar and pull out an old bottle of something big and barrel-aged. One of our favorites is Honey Pot aged in Hill Rock bourbon barrels. Each batch of this wheatwine (akin to a barleywine, although brewed with wheat) is made with 10 pounds of honey, lending sweetness and caramel flavors that blend perfectly with the vanilla and nutmeg character brought on by the barrel. And at 14.2 percent ABV, it’s enough to warm you up on a cool December night.”

Firestone Walker XXI

“One of the annual releases we most look forward to is Firestone Walker’s Anniversary Blend. This unique, commemorative blend from various barrel-aged beers always seems to be damn near perfect in its richness and is the type of decadent, warming brew we love to open during the holiday season. Clocking in at 11.8 percent ABV, the blend in this year’s version, XXI, was chosen by Jordan Fiorentini, head winemaker at Epoch Estate Wines, a Firestone Walker neighbor in Paso Robles, California, and one of Matt’s favorite California wineries.”


Tony Pellino of OEC Brewing (Oxford, Connecticut)

OEC Brunneis Peat Smoked

“Although not a winter warmer beer per se, Brunneis Peat Smoked will certainly do the job this winter. We put a new spin on our Flanders-style Oud Bruin this season with a healthy addition of peat-smoked malt. The beer starts rich, with a subtle earthy and smoky sweetness [that] quickly gives way to a dry, tannic, and acidic finish. You could drink it all day … if it weren’t 9.8 percent ABV.”

Einbecker Winter-Bock

“I wait for this seasonal Einbecker with the highest anticipation level every year. The epitome of a fantastic bock (an eclectic old German style of lager with a signature malt-forwardness), it starts with a brilliant yet balanced caramel character right up front, has medium body with gorgeous ruby highlights throughout the liquid, and finishes on a soft, slightly spicy hop note. Unbelievably smooth for its 7.5 percent ABV.”


Henok Fentie of Omnipollo (Sweden)

Omnipollo Noa Pecan Mud Cake

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“We are obsessively into stouts at Omnipollo, and although we drink them all year, this style lends itself particularly well to seasonal sipping. Noa aims to bring back childhood memories; it’s big (11 percent ABV), yet soft and comfortingly dessert-y, evocative of chocolate pecan mud pies—a great pre- or post-dinner ‘snack’ by the tree.”

Evil Twin Pappy’s Even More Jesus

“Two brewers are making the best stouts in the world right now: Cycle Brewing in Florida and gypsy brewer Evil Twin, primarily based in New York. This incredibly bold (12 percent ABV) and toasty imperial stout from Evil Twin (made at Westbrook in South Carolina) is rounded off perfectly by maturing in the best whiskey barrels available: Pappy Van Winkle’s. You could sit and smell it for an hour by the Christmas fire before drinking it.”


Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales (Baltimore)

Stillwater Spaced + The Cloud

“During this year’s ‘holidaze,’ I’m getting into well-balanced, hop-driven beers. Things you can drink with or without a meal. From our archives, particularly, I will be sipping on Spaced and the Cloud. Spaced (a low-gravity IPA brewed with spelt and wheat; 3.8 percent ABV) is a great anytime-beverage that still satisfies the hop-driven palate. Think: pregaming-before-your-family-comes-over kind of vibes. The Cloud takes it up a notch in texture, flavor, and ABV to 7 percent – this one is brewed with oats and lactose. It’s soft and fluffy, just like Santa’s beard.”


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“During the holidays you’ll find me depleting the Orval inventory in any number of venues around the world. It’s perpetually in style and fairly easy to hunt down anywhere you may be traveling. I love Orval for its unique and timeless character. When freshly bottled, it is one of the OG hoppy Belgian beers – dry and crisp with floral dry hop aroma and 6.2 percent ABV. After a few months to a year of cellaring, the hops fade and the Brettanomyces yeast develops an earthy and slightly tart, Champagne-like character. Truly world class.”


Zach Coleman of TRVE Brewing Co. (Denver)


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“I’ll be crushing Cold, this Christmas because it is Denver’s ‘trvely’ [sic] premium pilsner (4.9 percent ABV). Brewed in the kellerpils style – an easy-drinking traditional German pilsner that’s unclarified, unfiltered, and unpasteurized – with Troubadour Pevec malt creates a slight fruitiness to its otherwise classic profile. Pevec is a two-row barley sourced from Colorado, just outside Fort Collins, and malted by Troubadour Maltings, so, with Cold, we are able to show our focus on and support for local ingredients.”

De La Senne Taras Boulba

“I’ll also be crushing Taras Boulba from Brasserie de la Senne because it’s one of my favorite beers, and I’m always crushing it (#ouroborocrush). Its fruity and spicy notes from the Belgian yeast fermentation are accentuated by a balanced addition of hops. It’s also a dry and has a low ABV (4.5 percent), so, basically, all the makings for a sessionable beer – but it is the subtle complexity that keeps me coming back to it.


Alex Ganum of Upright Brewing (Portland, Oregon)

Upright Saison Bruges

“Our main winter brew is a dark saison with cacao nibs – a fun departure from the sweeter, hop-forward seasonals normally seen this time of year. I’ve always had a soft spot for beers that have complex, layered profiles (orange, blackberry, earthy chocolate) and that also drink easily, where you can pick it apart slowly in a snifter or enjoy it somewhat blindly in a straight-sided glass. The Saison Bruges (6.75 percent ABV) is exactly that kind of beer.”

Deschutes Jubelale

“In a region with so many new breweries, it’s easy for a beer enthusiast to neglect old standbys, but many of the breweries that paved the way for the rest decades ago are cranking out beer that tastes better than ever. Jubelale is a great example. This year’s brew (6.7 percent ABV) has a wonderful profile with attractive cacao notes and an appetizing bitterness, and as always showcases its characterful yeast strain.”


(Contact the author at [email protected].)

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