It’s that time of year again for all our wonderful craft breweries to release their holiday beers. The brews vary widely by style and flavor, amongst the breweries, but the majority of these seasonal brews are called “Winter Warmers.”
The American Craft Brewer’s Association states the Winter Warmer category starts with a foundation of either the spiced Wassail style or the Strong English Ale. The only difference, between the two is in the spicing. The Wassail style features cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, or other cooking spices, while the English ale features hops as the main ‘spice.’ It’s hard to nail these down much more than this. Sometimes they include added sugars like maple syrup, plums, figs, raisins or even cranberries. All are meant to be strong in malt and are good with the hearty roasted meats eaten in the Winter.
The oldest local Christmas brew is crafted by Moerlein. They call it the Christkindlmarkt, named after the German outdoor holiday markets in towns like Nurenburg and Munich. It is very chocolate malty and has hints of brown sugar. They are also releasing the ’77 Winter Warmer, brewed for the 40th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1977, which many of us still remember.
Over-the-Rhine’s Taft Ale House has Santa’s Bribe, which is described as a Christmas cookie Winter Warmer ale with flavors of cinnamon, ginger, and vanilla. A few years ago over the holidays, they did a Cherry Sour that was amazing and I thought felt very much in the holiday spirit. Thankfully I had an inside connection for a growler, because it was so limited they only made it available in the tap room.
Braxton Brewery in Covington, has released their Snow Shovel, a Winter Warmer, that they say is malt-forward, with ginger, cinnamon, and honey. They are bringing back Claus, a peppermint candy cane milk stout, which was a collaboration with Doscher Candy, named after their founder.
Rhinegeist has released their Dad, a Hoppy Holiday Ale, with what sounds like a lot going on. It’s described as medium body, with malty notes of toffee, chocolate, coffee, nuts and molasses; very hopped; with spices of ginger and nutmeg.
Listerman Brewery across from Xavier, has not yet released a holiday beer, but today, December 4, they released the first Cincinnati priestly beer collaboration – Fr. Kyle’s Cinnamon Roll Oatmeal Stout, in honor of Fr. Kyle Schnippel, pastor of Corpus Christi and St. John Neuman Catholic Churches, who will be competing this Thursday on NBC’s Great American Baking Show.
50 West has their Christmas Cookie ale, described as an oatmeal cookie left out for Santa.
Madtree in Oakley has their Thunder Snow, which is described as a spiced Scottish Ale with ginger, nutmeg, vanilla and hints of cinnamon with bready malts.
Probably the weirdest holiday ale and the most extensive list of holiday brews – they have 12, like the Days of Christmas – is from sour brewer Urban Artifact in Northside. Their weirdest is called Christmas Pickle Gose, which is a gose style sour with dill, cucumber, and spruce tips. They might be onto something. I just saw pickle flavored candy canes advertised for Christmas. And, I like that it speaks to the German Christmas tradition of the pickle Christmas tree ornament. Their other holiday brews are Tannenbaum, a bourbon barrel aged stock ale with spruce tips; Nitro Kicksled, a winter spiced stout; Spicecake, a spiced stout with orange, chocolate, star anise and cinnamon; Yule Log, an amber ale aged with cedar; Coffee Kodiak, a tart brown ale with coffee; Praline, a dark ale with cinnamon and pecans; Madeira, a dry Irish stout with chocolate; Tinderbox, a spiced stout with habaneros; Cherry cordial, a chocolate cherry gose (YUM!!); Christmas Pudding, an amber ale with holiday spice, and Orange Dream, a Berliner pale ale with orange and vanilla. They’ve really outdone themselves!
Municipal Brewworks in Hamilton just announced they will have an extremely limited release of Elf Juice Peppermint Porter in time for the holiday flea market Fleaz Navidad next weekend.
Wiedemann has their Praegerbrau, a strong barley malt Pilsner with Saaz and American hops, as well as their East Row Winter Lager.
Even though they’re not in Cincinnati, I have to give a shout out to one of my local faves – Warped Wing Brewery, in Dayton, which has Esther’s L’il Secret – a Winter Warmer style collaboration with them and Esther Price Chocolates.
So far no holiday styles have been announced by Nine Giant in Pleasant Ridge, Westside Brewery in Western Hills, Bad Tom or Streetside in Columbia Tusculum, 13 Below in Saylor Park, or Darkness Brewery in Bellevue, Kentucky. Rivertown Brewery in Lockland is closed, but their Monroe taproom is still open, and no holiday beers announced on their website. Brink Brewery in College Hill has not mentioned a holiday brew yet, but I am bucket listing a tasting of their barrel aged sours and other craft brews.
Fibonacci in Mt. Healthy has not announced a holiday brew yet, but they do have a Chocolate Mint Stout, described as tasting like a York Peppermint Patty, and a Pumpkin Porter flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, maple and bacon.
So it’s high time to get out there and do your holiday brew tasting and choose your Christmas six-pack. Oddly enough no one, to my knowledge has done an eggnog stout or even eggnog flavored ale. I also think the peppermint flavor is under-utilized in the holiday brews. In this homebrewer’s humble opinion a good holiday beer would be a German Rauchbier (smoked beer) with light notes of either coriander, ginger and maybe clove. I think that would have went well with the smoked turkey we had for Thanksgiving.