What makes a good winter beer? Typically it's something comforting and will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside on a cold evening. Some year-round styles lend themselves perfectly for the winter months, while others are only available during those cooler times. Think: brown ales, porters, a Christmas ale and (yes) even an IPA. Here are the beers you should be filling your fridge with during the winter ahead.
- ABV: 5.8%
- Brewery Location: Kalamazoo, MI
The brown ale is one of the most underappreciated styles around. American versions are perfect for the cooler months thanks to a nice balance between heavy dark beers and crisp, hoppy brews. Bell’s Best Brown Ale is a great example; combining caramel, cocoa and malty notes with generous use of American hops to present a light and comforting beer. At only 5.8 percent ABV, it’s one you can drink a few of in the fall and still have a good time.
- ABV: 5.5%
- Brewery Location: Portland, ME
The most popular beers in America are lagers and Pilsners because everyone can understand them: they’re refreshing, they’re light and they have a much more palatable hop character than IPAs. They don’t often take many risks, which makes Allagash’s Truepenny Pilsner all the more brilliant.
It’s a Belgian-style Pilsner fermented in two ways: one part of the batch with pilsner yeast and the other with its house Brettanomyces yeast. Those two batches are blended back together to create a Pilsner that hits crisp like a traditional lager initially but the backend offers more complexity than you’d expect from the style.
- ABV: 4.8%
- Brewery Location: Asheville, NC
It's not quite time for Burial's Hellstar to make its annual appearanc, but when it does it is a perfect example of the Schwarzbier (black lager) style. If you're looking to dip your toe in the waters of dark beers, the black lager is the route to go. Good versions of the style, like Hellstar, balance roasty malts and chocolates with hoppy crispness for a dry finish.
- ABV: 5.6%
- Brewery Location: Framingham, MA
If you're really looking to test your palate this winter, try picking up a Rauchbier (smoked beer). These tend to use malts that were roasted on an open fire, imparting a smokiness to the beer. This version from Jack's Abby is quintessential to the style and brings a hint of smoke without overwhelming your taste buds.
- ABV: 4.2%
- Brewery Location: Dublin, Ireland / Halethrope, MD
There's just something about a Guinness Draught Stout. Sure, it's become so ubiquitous that it can seem a bit played out. But if you take the time to appreciate the smooth, creamy notes with the delicate coffee/chocolate roasted malts you can't be anything but impressed.
- ABV: 5.2%
- Brewery Location: Bend, OR
Deschutes is one of very few breweries that made a name for itself making porters, and the Black Butte porter happens to be the one that started it all for the Oregon brewery. A slight hop bitterness from Cascade, Bravo and Tettnang pair well with the distinctive chocalate and roasted malt finish.
- ABV: 6.5%
- Brewery Location: Chico, CA
One of the consensus best beers of last year (and every year), Sierra Nevada's Celebration is the perfect winter beer for hop heads. Utilizing the first hops of the harvest season, the fresh hops imbue a more complex beer of pine, citrus and malty caramel. While it won't come out until October, it's been a winter beer to count on since 1981.
- ABV: 11%
- Brewery Location: Holland, MI
While Goose Island's Bourbon County is credited with inventing bourbon barrel-aged stouts and is (usually) harder to find, Dragon's Milk is the more ubiquitous option of the style (it's brewed year-round and can be found in over 30 states). Dragon's Milk offers a good blend of oak from the barrel-aging with chocolatey notes from dark roasted malts. It's not the most decadent or packed-to-the-gills-with-ingredients version but it's the one you can rely on to be exactly what a beer aged in bourbon barrels should be.
- ABV: TBD
- Brewery Location: San Francisco, CA
If you're looking for something that's brewed specifically for the holidays, you're looking for Anchor's Christmas Ale. The new fangled recipe each year has become one of craft beer's best traditions for the past 45-plus years. While details haven't been released yet for this year's version, we can expect it to arrive in November and will most likely be some sort of spiced dark beer that will be perfect for enjoying with friends and family.