The winter holidays are an extra special time of year for beer lovers. It’s the time of year when brewers around the world pull out all the hops, creating special brews that circulate for a limited time only. Some are spicy, some are fruity, some are sweet — but all are fleeting and will be gone once the weather gets warm.
UnderTheLabel compiled a list of the must-try beers of the season. For some beers, we list the ABV — that’s alcohol by volume. In other cases, we look at IBU — that’s International Bitterness Units, which is used to gauge the level of bitterness in a given beer.
#21. Hopslam Ale
Intense hop bitterness, flavor and aroma define Hopslam IPA, a double India pale ale with an ABV of 10 percent. Drink this bold, amber colored American ale out of a snifter.
#20. Blackout Stout
With an IBU of 85, Blackout Stout is bitter for an American-style imperial stout. Its 9 percent ABV is in the middle of the road for this style of beers. Drink it out of a 12-ounce tulip.
Intense and bitter for its style, Mephistopheles’ by the Avery Brewing Company has big, 15.1 percent ABV. Drink it out of a snifter and look for hints of roasted coffee, caramel and chocolate.
#18. Berry Merry Holiday Ale
Berry Merry Holiday Ale by Cape Cod Beer is a fruit beer with 5 percent ABV, which is on the lower end for its style. Its average, 30 IBU isn’t bitter enough to overpower the beer’s holiday fruit essence.
#17. The Czar
The Czar by Avery Brewing Company is meant to be sipped from a 22-ounce tulip. This dark black, American-style imperial stout packs a strong 11.03 percent ABV.
#16. Bell’s Java Stout
Java Stout by Bell’s Brewing Company is a deep black, American-style stout. Its 7.5 percent ABV is typical for its style, as is its bitterness level of 43 IBU.
Deschutes Brewery uses five different kinds of hops when brewing Jubelale, a British origin American ale. It packs a 6.7 percent ABV and has a bitterness level that is about average for the strong ale style.
#14. Celebration Ale
This fresh hop ale boasts an IBU of 65, which means it’s more bitter than most similar style ales. It’s made with Centennial, Cascade and Chinook hops, and has an ABV of 6.8 percent.
#13. Christmas Ale (Great Lakes Brewing Company)
Christmas Ale from the Great Lakes Brewery Company has everything the herb and spice beer category requires. It’s got a 7.5 percent ABV and an IBU of 40, which is in the style’s tradition of modest bitterness. Drink it from a 12-ounce tulip.
#12. Christmas Ale (Goose Island Beer Company)
The Goose Island Beer Company’s Christmas Ale has an ABV of 6.2 percent, which is high for an American-style brown ale. It has an impressive UnderTheLabel Smart Rating of 89.
#11. Isolation Ale
Isolation Ale from the Odell Brewing Company has a lower hop bitterness than most beers in the herb and spice beer style. Drink it out of a 12-ounce pint glass.
#10. 4 Elf Winter Warmer
The Dark Horse Brewing Company brings 4 Elf Winter Warmer to the holiday season. This hybrid/mixed herb and spice style beer packs a 9 percent ABV.
#9. Full Sail Wassail
Full Sail is made by the Wassail Brewery in the old ale style with a traditionally minimal bitterness level of 56 IBU. Look for sweet, malty caramel flavors and scents.
#8. Brrr Seasonal Ale
Widmer Brothers Brewing released Brrr Seasonal Ale just in time for winter. This speciality beer includes unusual fermentation to achieve its 7.2 percent ABV.
#7. Sweetwater Festive Ale
This herb and spice style beer has a punchy 8.5 percent ABV. Drink this seasonal brew out of a 12-ounce pint glass.
#6. Old Fezziwig Ale
The Boston Beer Company is offering Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale, a dark brown ale with mild bitterness. It has a modest 5.8 percent ABV and contains 16 grams of carbohydrates.
#5. Winter Welcome
Winter Welcome comes from the Samuel Smith Old Brewery. It contains 6 percent ABV and is crafted in the tradition of British origin ales.
#4. Nutcracker Ale
Although it’s made in the United States, Nutcracker Ale is an English ale. This herb and spice beer is minimally hopped so the seasonal flavor can stand up over any bitterness. It has an ABV of 5.8 percent.
#3. Prelude Special Ale
Prelude Special Ale by Shipyard Brewing brings a powerful 9.5 percent ABV to the holidays. This British origin ale is brewed in the old ale style.
#2. 12 Dogs of Christmas
Seasonal symbolism was not lost on the Thirsty Dog Brewing Company when they introduced 12 Dogs of Christmas, a modestly bitter herb and spice beer. It brings an ABV of 8.3 percent to the party.
#1. Christmas Ale (Anchor Brewing Company)
The aptly named Christmas Ale is a hybrid specialty beer. Created by the Anchor Brewing Company, the holiday brew brings a modest 5.5 percent ABV.