Christmas is everyone's favorite holiday, but true beer fans know that the most wonderful time of the year is made even more wonderful with a pint in your hand. Winter warmers and other dark, comforting brews take over around the holidays to help carolers and Christmas tree shoppers thaw out after a chilly night. If you can only open one present on Christmas morning, make it one of these beers: the ten best you'll find this season.
1. Anchor Our Special Ale
To our knowledge, there's no beer out there that tastes more like Christmas than Anchor's winter warmer. Though the beer's recipe changes every year, the result is always an incredible holiday potpourri of spicy cinnamon, nutmeg, gingerbread and pine. The brewers at Anchor have been cooking this masterpiece since 1975, and like the beer's recipe, the tree on the label changes every year. This year it's the Ginkgo Biloba, symbolizing the winter solstice when the earth appears born anew -- much like you'll feel after your first sip.
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Sierra Nevada Celebration
Though Sierra Nevada's been brewing this winter seasonal for over a decade, much confusion still surrounds Celebration. So many drinkers were perplexed by the style of this 6.8 percent ABV India pale ale the brewery recently added the phrase "Fresh Hop Ale" to the label to clear everything up. While you won't find Christmas spices in this brew, you will find a fantastic display of citrusy American hops amidst a toasty backbone of caramel malt. It's good enough that the San Francisco Chronicle called it the best beer ever made in America.
3. Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi
You know the story: three kings, following a star in the sky, each brought a gift for the baby they sought. One of them brought gold and the other two woefully underpacked and gave the kid frankincense and myrrh. Lost Abbey's Christmas seasonal takes cues from this tale -- it's gold in color, bittered with the bark of frankincense, and even makes use of myrrh, an herb that has roots in ancient winemaking. The result is a funky, herbal, 9.5 percent Biere de Garde that would've been a much better gift for those other two kings to bring along.
4. Delirium Noel
You could buy Delirium Noel based on the outstanding reputation of the Huyghe Brewery's flagship, Delirium Tremens. You could also buy it for the fantastic flavors of candy sugar, plums, white raisins and rum-macerated apricots this dark, 10 percent ABV Belgian ale delivers. Or you could buy it for the same reason we find ourselves picking up a bottle every year: there's just no resisting a pink elephant in a Santa hat.
5. Deschutes Jubelale
Much like beautiful wrapping paper enhances the gifts under your tree, the artwork adorning the label of Jubelale makes the beer that much better. For the past 16 years, Deschutes has selected a local Oregon artist to create an image evocative of the season's festive atmosphere. This year bottles are decorated with Oregon artist Natasha Bacca's unique "Creation of Light," a piece she says illustrates a cold winter night in the background with a dynamic warm fire in the foreground. Beautiful as the wrapping is, you'll like the present inside even more -- flavors of cocoa, dark caramel, raisins and pine make this winter warmer a gift worth savoring.
6. He'Brew Jewbelation
With all the Christmas spirit rammed down our throats this holiday season, it might be easy for Semites to feel a little left out. But fear not, chosen people! Shmaltz Brewing, the makers of the fantastically shticky He'Brew line of beers, offer this brew around Hanukkah every year to celebrate their anniversary. This year's iteration marks the brewery's 14th year in business. As such, it's a 14 percent ABV barleywine appropriately brewed with 14 different malts and 14 hop varieties. You can buy the beer on its own or in a variety pack that also includes the six previous Jewbelation ales along with a custom glass, Hanukkah candles and instructions to build your own menorah. L'chaim!
Ridgeway Santa's Butt
Snicker all you want, but everyone wants a piece of Santa's Butt. This satisfying, 6 percent ABV English porter was inspired by this famous line from children's Christmas tale that popular in Britain: "And Santa sat on his great butt, drinking a hearty brew." If butts aren't really your taste, you might enjoy Ridgeway's other holiday offerings: Lump of Coal, Pickled Santa, Criminally Bad Elf, and Reindeer Droppings -- tasty Christmas beers all. Now get your mind out of the gutter or Santa will skip your house entirely this year.