Like any good guest, Jack Frost arrives each year bearing a gift: winter beers. The darker, maltier, thicker brews are easily among the year’s most flavorful.
Notes like chocolate, coffee and caramel–ones we associate with warmth, like a wool blanket–are ever more prevalent. Stouts, porters and deep copper ales replace the IPAs, pilsners and hefeweizens of spring, summer and fall.
Here are the best brews to sip by the fire while wishing the cold away.
Harpoon Winter Warmer — Photo courtesy of Harpoon Brewery
Harpoon Winter Warmer
The Boston- and Vermont-based brewery's first foray into seasonal brews, the Winter Warmer has been a Harpoon Brewing staple since 1988.
The spiced ale lives up to its name. Chock-full of nutmeg and cinnamon, the ale is spicy enough to melt away the deepest snow bluffs.
Know that feeling of walking through the city, taking in the holiday lights, carols and joy? Imagine that feeling in a bottle, and you've got this beer.
Santas Little Helper — Photo courtesy of Port Brewing
Santa’s Little Helper
Despite its name, there’s nothing “little” about this stout. At 10% ABV, it’s basically a meal, but the brew tastes like chocolate graham crackers and cinnamon cakes with a hint of bourbon.
Be sure to pour this one during dessert, and take it slowly–it packs quite a punch.
Lagunitas Brown Shugga — Photo courtesy of Lagunitas Brewing Company
Lagunitas Brown Shugga’
The quirky California brewery never actually meant to make Brown Shugga’.
During a 1997 attempt to brew a batch of Olde GnarlyWine Ale, this strange (and delicious) mixture of brown cane sugar and cultured brewery yeast occurred. Lagunitas rightly calls it “dangerously slammable,” as the 9.9% winter warmer’s clean mixture of hops, dates and toffee goes down as easily as plum juice.
It’s the definition of a holiday miracle.
Hopworks Abominable Winter Ale — Photo courtesy of Hopworks Urban Brewery
Hopworks Abominable Winter Ale
Most winter beers tend toward being porters or stouts, but this Portland brewery’s chilly flagship is a floral, citrusy IPA.
Don’t be fooled–its malted barley and grapefruit rind make it more warming than refreshing, a welcome break from the dark-colored beers that tend to rule the season.
Great Lakes Christmas Ale — Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Brewing Company
Great Lakes Christmas Ale
If you could grind winter cookies down into a beer, you’d have this Christmas ale from the prolific Cleveland brewery.
Ginger, allspice, cinnamon and cloves flood each sip of this drinkable ale that goes perfectly with a holiday turkey, duck or ham. Don’t be fooled, though: At 7.5% ABV, it’s not as innocent as it tastes.
North Coast Brewing Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout — Photo courtesy of North Coast Brewing Company
North Coast Brewing Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
This one’s technically not a winter beer–it’s available all year round–but there’s no better time to drink it than during a blizzard. The bold, 9% ABV stout is made in the 18th Century English style created by Brits who brewed beer for Russia’s Catherine the Great.
It’s pitch black with a creamy head that’s thick as a milkshake. Chocolate, vanilla and cherry flavors dominate, making it a perfect dessert replacement for Death by Chocolate.
Abita Christmas Ale — Photo courtesy of Abita Brewing
Abita Christmas Ale
From the Louisiana brewery responsible for the raspberry wheat Purple Haze and the dark chocolate, award-winning Turbodog comes a dark ale that celebrates the holiday.
Each year, the brewmasters use an entirely new recipe. This year's version is thick with caramel malts and hops, making for a heavy ale that’s equally perfect for a snowy night or a warmer Southern winter.
Widmer Brothers Brrr — Photo courtesy of Widmer Brothers Brewing
Widmer Brothers Brrr
In some ways, this Portland brewery’s winter concoction goes against all the rules of the season's beers.
It’s a red ale with heavy citrus notes - though, to be fair, a bitter robust malt flavor permeates these lighter tastes, making it perfect for a snowed-in evening.
If you’re looking for a beer that evokes the spring while still keeping you warm against the cold, look no further.
New Belgium Accumulation White IPA — Photo courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Company
New Belgium Accumulation White IPA
From the Fort Collins, Colorado brewery known for its Fat Tire Ale, Rampant IPA and refreshingly heavy Trippel, comes a winter beer as white as the falling snow.
It tastes like the evergreen pines that stand up to the winter (along with a hops punch and yeasty finish). At 6.2% ABV, it also offers something lighter to sip during the season of indulgence.
Great Divide Hibernation Ale — Photo courtesy of Great Divide Brewing Company
Great Divide Hibernation Ale
This Denver brewery’s winter offering has rightfully been winning awards since 1997 for its dry, earthy flavors that fly in the face of the season’s many spiced ales.
An English-style ale, the dominant flavors tend more toward nuts, dark cherries and raisins than the expected nutmeg and cinnamon.
The result is simple: a cold-weather beer that goes better with dinner than dessert.