Beer Gets a Seasonal Twist on Taste: American brewers fill stores with special winter varieties

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It’s weird beer time in America.

Beer and ale are already available, any time of year, in familiar varieties: lager, pilsner, stout, India pale ale.  But perhaps inspired by candymakers and coffee bars, U.S. brewers by the hundreds produce flavored “seasonal” varieties for the winter holidays.

Brews flavored with chocolate, pumpkin, cinnamon, clove – even oatmeal and gingerbread – are said to spice up holiday parties, so to speak.


The large Samuel Adams craft brand, for instance, ships out something called “Cranberry Lambic” beer this time of year, not to mention holiday porters, black lagers, and a brew called “Old Fezziwig Ale.”  One reviewer, sounding very much like a snooty wine critic, described Old Fezziwig as possessing “a nose full of roasted malt.”

So-called “winter brews” are usually darker, heavier on the hops, and a tad more alcoholic than the usual fare. They include brands such as “Winter Solstice,” “Old Jubilation,” “Winter Warmer,” “Snow Cap,” “Hibernation Ale,” and “Santa’s Private Reserve.”

Or not so private, since Oregon’s Rogue Brewing Company sells it to anyone who wants to buy it.

Photo: MacKinnon Photography, Flickr Creative Commons This photo of Avery Brewing Company’s “Out of Bounds” seasonal brew carries the skiing theme beyond the bottle.

Here’s a sampling of wintertime beers. Note the one on the left. It’s a stout, which is already heavy and dark before flavoring is added.

Some drinkers detest flavored beers and thick, dark, bitter winter ales.  But they must be selling well, since at least 100 American brewers fill store shelves with these wintertime-only varieties.

So when ordinary pale lagers aren’t catching holiday shoppers’ eyes, perhaps a “Nutcracker Ale,” a “Snowball’s Chance Winter Ale,” a “Frambozen,” brews named “Igloo” and “Jack Frost” and “Slowblind Winter Warmer,” a Texas “dunkelweizen” that one aficionado calls “a drinkable fruitcake,” or something called “Tannen Bomb” which has nothing to do with a Christmas tree, will do the trick.