Over the last couple of years I have reviewed several beers that can only be found in stores at this time of year. So for your convenience, I have decided to put them all together into one post to help you navigate the oft’ overwhelming realm of the Winter ale/Christmas ale/Seasonal release shelves. This post is mostly applicable to British Columbia, but certain brews may be available in other jurisdictions too!
Please note that this is not a comprehensive guide, as I have not had the time to try every single Winter ale/Christmas ale/Seasonal release, but is merely a synthesis of all the reviews that I have done within these styles. The links will take you to my original reviews, complete with fuller tasting notes. All the beers without links I recently tried at the Christmas Craft Beer Show in Victoria on December 3rd, and I hope to be posting a more comprehensive review of that event in the near future.
The FE #1 recommendation: Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome 5/5
This beer can sometimes be hard to find, as it is imported from England in single bottles. A beautiful copper beer, well balanced with caramel malts and floral hops. Absolutely pick up a bottle or two if you see it! Great for cellaring as well.
The FE recommendation for those who want something crazy: Birrificio Del Ducato Krampus Speciale 5/5
Another potentially difficult to obtain single bottle import, this Italian homage to Krampus tastes a lot like a Flemish red sour ale.
Best 6 pack option darker beer: Ugly Sweater Milk Stout 4/5
If you like stouts, but want to drink something different this winter, try out a 6 pack of this seasonal release from Parallel 49. It has just enough sweetness to remind one of the more traditional winter ale options.
Best 6 pack option lighter beer: Whistler Chestnut Ale 4/5
For those who want something a little lighter than a stout or a winter ale, try this delicious chestnut ale. Nutty, fruity, malty, balanced out nicely with a splash of bitterness on the finish. It’s generally around from about October to March.
Best large bottle sharing beer: Corsendonk Christmas Ale 3/5
A good Belgian Christmas ale that should be easier to find than the other recommended imports, it often comes in 1.5L and 3L bottles, making it perfect to share amongst a large group of beer enthusiasts. Raisins, spice, malt, hops and liquorice is what you should taste in this brew.
Best single bottle option, lighter beer: Spinnakers Festive Spiced Saison 4/5
I tried this on draught at the Christmas Craft Beer Show, but apparently it was also bottled. An intriguing saison that combines such unrelated flavours as yeast, wheat, hops, roast BBQ chicken, apricots, passionfruit, and strawberries, with a metallic finish.
Best single bottle option, darker beer: 4 Mile Brewing Rice Pudding Porter 3/5
A nose of raisins and spice gives way to a creamy palate of rice pudding and hops.
Best gluten-free beer option: Glutenberg Saison Froide 4/5
While this beer had a release in 2014 and 2015, I have yet to hear if there is a 2016 incarnation. The 2014 version was delicious, tasting of grapefruit, fir needles, juniper, and white pepper.
Best gluten-free cider option: Merridale Yuel Fuel 4/5
A blend of their house cider with peach cider and spices, this delicious cider is like a crisp apple cinnamon pie with a hint of peaches on the finish. Get it before it’s gone!
Other 6 Pack Releases:
More on the malty, fruitcake side of things, with a definite taste of prunes.
With flavours of cherry liqueur, hot fudge, vanilla, and mocha, this one is on the traditional side of winter ales.
Marzipan, candy, malty, nutty, and a hoppy finish, this one is a bit lighter than your traditional winter ales.
Granville Island Lions Winter Ale 3/5
The classic BC Winter Ale, this one has a heavy sweetness to it, with hints of vanilla, toffee, dark chocolate, a fizzy palate, and a nicely balanced finish.
Other Single Bottle Releases:
A good stout with a misleading name. Don’t expect much peanut butter flavour, instead you should taste dark chocolate, hops, and bitter Italian soda.
Nice roasty malts, a hint of hops, and a yummy gingerbread flavour throughout the beer.
The bottle I tried last year was apparently from the batch that had gone off. That being said, I recently tried a proper batch at the Christmas Craft Beer Show and it was just okay, a boring beer with a hint of maple.
Fernie Winter Ale 2/5
A coffee nose, with a taste reminiscent of a Scotch ale with hops.
Special Mention For Vernon:
I don’t know if Marten’s will be bringing back the same Winter Ale as last year, but if they do, expect it to have flavours of orange, vanilla, coffee, chocolate, and herbal hops.
Other worthy brews: Literally any Belgian Christmas ale that one may find in the import aisle would be worth checking out!
Grab a Kriek (a Belgian cheery beer) and pair it with Christmas cake! Always delicious!