Wintertime has officially arrived. The holiday season is upon us, gifts have been purchased, and all that’s left to do is cozy up to a roaring fire with a quality drink in hand. While the warming elixirs of scotch, bourbon, or rye might be tempting, we enjoy quality winter beers just as much.
But what makes a winter beer? The season tends to appear limiting due to the overabundance of dark, spiced, and boozy beers offered by craft breweries. Truth be told any style of beer is perfectly fine. But there is something to be said for a robust stout or refreshing dark lager.
So we’ve put together a list of the best beer styles for winter. Plus, we picked out a couple of our favorite examples for each style. Many of these should be available throughout the United States but if you can’t find a certain option, ask your local brewery if they have any beers in the same style. Here are the best winter beers for 2021.
The Best Beers to Drink in Winter 2021
Stouts are a winter beer staple. Dark brown/black in color with notes of coffee and chocolate, a warming stout is an ideal beverage in the colder months. The style has grown and evolved over the last few years with more and more breweries pushing up the ABV on Imperial Stouts or letting their stouts age in oak barrels. Barrel-Aged Stouts can feature second use barrels from wine or spirits or a fresh barrel. You’ll usually find the ABV creep up and notes of vanilla, char, oak (and of course whatever the barrels previously held) will pop up.
Additionally, pastry stouts meant to mimic sugary desserts have proliferated in recent years. With mixed results, many breweries produce beer meant to taste just like their favorite sweet treats. When done well a good pastry stout will achieve balance while still obviously leaning on the sweet side. The flavors of its inspiration dessert should be present melding with the classic stout profile. Poor execution of a pastry stout will leave you with a sickly sweet, syrupy drink that is too cloying to be truly enjoyable.
The Best Winter Stouts to Drink Right Now
Christmas Bomb! – Prairie Artisan Ales
Prairie Artisan Ales is well known for its recurring and oft riffed-upon Bomb! imprerial stout. And this seasonal edition is easily one of the Oklahoma brewery’s best. Featuring cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, this Christmas stout is perfect for the season. If you’re not a fan of spiced beers, you might prefer sticking to the equally delicious base beer: Bomb! But, if you can get your hands on a bottle of this limited release, it’s well worth it for the holidays.
Yeti – Great Divide Brewing Co.
Need something a little simpler? Stick to a tried and true classic. At 9.5% ABV, this imperial stout is definitely a burly beast. But there’s a reason that Great Divide’s beloved Yeti continues to earn fans year after year. You’ll find a soft, plush beer loaded with big chocolate, caramel, and coffee flavors followed by some unique and delicious hop notes. It’s an excellent beer for keeping warm and cozy this winter.
Porters don’t usually have the same hype and appeal that their stout cousins do. But these easy drinking dark ales deserve just as much respect. In fact, porters are the historical forefathers of the modern stout. Today, porters are typically lighter in body and lower in ABV than stouts making them ideal if you don’t want to push the booze. But, many of the best breweries are still getting creative with unique adjuncts.
The Best Winter Porters to Drink Right Now
Black Butte Porter – Deschutes Brewery
Deschutes Brewery has been around for ages and Black Butte Porter is the beer that started it all. It’s not a particularly sexy offering – a simple, well executed example of the style. You’ll find a touch of hop bitterness paired with the roasty, rich malt notes indicative of a good porter.
Briefcase Porter – Exhibit “A” Brewing Co.
Exhibit “A” has flown a bit under the radar but the Framingham, MA deserves some praise. Their Briefcase Porter is a great example of what a good porter can do. It’s as refreshing as it is rich with chocolate, toffee, and nutty notes throughout thanks to the locally-sourced malts.
While lagers tend to be considered warm-weather beers, we love a crisp, refreshing lager year-round. And the darker varieties in particular are fitting for the colder months. While we wouldn’t bat an eye at anyone enjoying a pilsner or Helles, now is the time for Schwarzbier, Dunkel, and American black lagers. While still light in flavor, these lagers offer a hint of malt roastiness with plenty of thirst-quenching refreshment.
The Best Winter Lager to Drink Right Now
Smoke & Dagger – Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers
Jack’s Abby is one of the country’s best lager producers and Smoke & Dagger is one of the highlights from the Framingham, MA-based brewery. This dark American lager offers some light smoky flavors alongside the crisp notes of a European lager. It’s an elegant black lager perfect for thise time of year.
Lowlands Schwarzbier – Tucker Brewing Co.
This dark lager is inspired by the traditional Schwarzbier of Germany. With toasty, chocolate, bread notes, this beer is a refreshing option ideal for the season. Sadly, it’s only available in the Atlanta are but we’d highly recommend seeking out if you can.
This rich, malt-forward style of beer has earned a cult status among beer nerds. With the rise of boozy imperial stouts and double IPAs, it’s understandable why. Barleywines typically feature a pretty hefty ABV similar to wines (hence the name). Additionally, the style often has notes of sweet caramel, honey, and molasses. As such, if you’re not a fan of sweetness in beer, you might want to steer clear. But if you’re in the mood for a warming winter beverage, a barleywine might be ideal.
The Best Winter Barleywine to Drink Right Now
Straight Jacket – Revolution Brewing Co.
Revolution Brewing Co. might not be the flashiest brewery around but time and time again they succeed in producing consistently high quality beers. Their barleywine series in particular has won them quite a bit of acclaim. Straight Jacket is a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine with both American and British malts. The result is a beer overloaded with coconut, molasses, and rich stone fruit. The base beer is a delight btue brewery has experimented with a few variants as well.
A Deal With the Devil – Achorage Brewing Co.
This beer is pure decadence. A Deal With the Devil, and its various unique riffs, is one of the most coveted releases from the Alaskan brewery. Aged in cognac barrels, this boozy barleywine is luxurious and velvety. Share it with friends or indulge in all 17.3% ABV on your own.
While it might not seem like a standalone beer style, the Christmas Ale has become a seasonal stalwart. Christmas Ales tend to lean pretty close to some traditional Belgian ales or even closer to a “Winter Warmer” with sweetness, holiday spice, and plenty of booze.
The Best Christmas Ale to Drink Right Now
Mad Elf – Troegs Brewing
The seasonal Belgian ale release from Troegs is big and loud clocking in at 11% ABV. Brewed with honey and cherries you’ll also find notes of cinnamon, molasses, and allspice. You know the holidays are around the corner when these winter beers pop up on the shelf.
Christmas Ale – Brouwerij St.Bernardus
This seasonal Belgian quad from St. Bernardus is a holiday favorite. With a velvety mouthfeel and spicy complexity, it’s perfect for the colder temperatures of winter and an excellent example of the Christmas Ale style of beer.