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Ten of the best Christmas beers

Category: Beer Humor
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From port-barrel-aged ales to plummy porters, and champagne-corked sparklers to mulled treats, there are plenty of festive brews with which to see out 2016

Relegated to the bottom of the festive booze hierarchy, beer tends to gets a bad rap at Christmas. Unfairly so, because seasonal beers can be so much more than cans of lager that accumulate dust at parties while everyone guzzles eggnog. Belgian breweries have been turning out unabashedly sweet, spicy winter ales for centuries, and now everyone else, from craft breweries to supermarkets, has followed suit.

While anything that tastes like the boozy run-off from Christmas pudding is welcome at my dinner table, the best festive beers should also have a sense of occasion about them. Or at least the potential for pantomime drama, whether that comes from tapping a mini-keg without it detonating, or attempting to mull a bottle of cherry beer (from experience these are activities best attempted before, not after, drinking an 11% stout).

Here are some of the best traditional and not so traditional Christmas beers to enjoy this year.

Christmas
Greenwich ale, Santas Little Helper, Cuve de Noel, Tsjeeses 2015 and plum pudding porter.

Plum pudding porter, Wiper and True

(4.65 for 500ml, hopburnsblack.co.uk)

With a name like plum pudding porter, this generous beer could have rolled straight out of a Dickens novel. It radiates ripe, stone fruit plums and apricots and Christmas spice. In the glass, its a thick, almost impenetrable, Christmas pudding brown, with sugary marzipan and spice on the nose. Juicy and fruity and dark, but with a porters roasted malty backbone of coffee and bitter chocolate.

Santas Little Helper, Mikkeller

(12.50 for 750ml, branches of BrewDog and BottleDog shops)

The innovative Danish brewers modern take on a Belgian Christmas ale has all the booziness youd expect of a strong Belgian beer, without being sickly sweet. Glowing golden amber in the glass, it smells like warmed fruit and berries, and tastes like caramel, with a hint of astringency that could come from the coriander seeds its brewed with. Because it is so full-bodied, the rich, candied orange peel taste lingers and lingers this would be amazing paired with dark chocolate and dried fruit.

Cuve de Noel, St Feuillien

(3.29 (2.77) for 330ml, belgianbeerz.com)

One to enjoy after Midnight Mass, this abbey-style beer (which effectively means its brewed by monks but doesnt fulfil the strict criteria needed to be considered a Trappist beer) is a Christmas classic. Boasting a strong, brandy-like nose, with a slightly sour note, it tastes rich and sweet and has a musty, barrel-aged depth. Brewed with liquorice, theres also a very subtle undercurrent of salt and aniseed.

Port-barrel-aged Greenwich ale, Meantime for Marks and Spencer

(5.50 for 750ml, branches of Marks and Spencer)

Meantimes broody dark ale promises all the fun of popping a champagne cork without the price tag and with a (potentially) milder hangover. Served in a wine bottle with a cork, it smells like dark chocolate and woodsmoke, but tastes like juicy berries. There is a whiff of port from the barrel-ageing process, but not enough to make it taste heavy or winey its more like molten, fizzy, dark cherry chocolate.

Tsjeeses 2015, De Struise Brouwers

(4.75 for 330ml, Beer Gonzo)

A mischievous little beer that packs an extraordinary 10% ABV kind of extraordinary punch. Its thick, dense and orange in look and taste; slightly floral on the nose, with some botanicals. It also has a juicy, mango mouthfeel (so, one for fans of strong IPA) and sticky toffee notes that give way to citrus bitterness at the end think candied orange peel. This is a beer that ages really well, and the 2015 is delicious at the moment. Look out for the 2016 early next year and stash it in the cellar if youve got the self-control.

Christmas
Black Christmas, St Bernardus Christmas ale, Shepherd Neame Christmas ale, Southwold Christmas ale and Glhkriek.

Christmas ale, Shepherd Neame

(20 for 5x500ml, Shepherd Neame)

One for real ale enthusiasts. British hops lend this beer an earthy body thats a welcome break from the sweet fruitiness of a lot of Christmas beer. There is a little spiciness and a touch of sweet candy and raisin, but nothing overpowering and nothing youd object to if you drank it by the pint, or used it to wash down roast potatoes.

Southwold Christmas ale, Adnams for Marks and Spencer

(2.20 for 500ml or 20 for a 5-litre keg, Marks and Spencer)

Adnams ale is usually evocative of summers spent at its seaside brewery and warm afternoons eating fish and chips on the shore. But its Christmas ale available, to my intense delight, in a DIY keg is its wintry, fireside twin. Pouring a mahogany brown, this is a festive beer for drinkers who want to get as far away from nutmeg and dried cherry flavours as possible: it is toasty, caramel and toffee-ish, with all the depth of the brewerys distinctive yeast.

Black Christmas, Weird Beard

(2.55 for 330ml, Beer Gonzo)

Fabulously bitter, this cranberry stout is a great refresher to enjoy at the end of a long night of sweet wine and port. It pours jet black with a thick head and smells like coffee, nuts, chocolates and vanilla. So far, so stout, which means that the taste almost burned, like cocoa nibs and espresso is a welcome surprise. This beer is not as creamy as you might expect and any sweetness comes from the tart cranberries it has been brewed with.

Christmas ale, St Bernardus

(4.50 for 330ml, Beer Gonzo)

With its soft banana and herb notes, this offering from the famous St Bernardus brewery in Belgium is one for fans of wheat beers. It is punchy and strong at 10% ABV. Factor in the cloves and Christmas spices it is laced with and this will keep you positively toasty this winter.

Glhkriek, Liefmans

(7.75 for 750ml, Beer Gonzo)

Mulled beer sounds like the kind of bad idea you might have at the end of a raucous Christmas party. In fact, this warmable cherry beer is an absolute world-beater. Heat it gently, as you would wine and it gives off the most overwhelming rich cherry, spice and marzipan aroma. Like mulled wine it tastes best glugged from a mug all sweet fruit and cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, but with none of the spice detritus to deal with at the end. Dont try to drink this cold, and its probably best not try mulling any other beers you have lying around.

Follow Liz Dodd on Twitter @liz_dodd

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