Holiday Hops

Pub date November 19, 2009

We alter our schedules, our menus, and even our cocktail choices during the winter months. Why not our beers too? In fact, old world monasteries (which functioned as both breweries and spiritual centers) have been making commemorative holiday beers since monotheism was invented (and pagan producers long before that). Though modern seasonal beers are as much a state of mind as an actual brewing style, many made in winter are geared towards fending off the cold of a long winter night (or the exhaustion of a long day of shopping), combining complex flavors and high alcohol content in styles like old ales, barleywines, and strong lagers. Below are some of our favorite seasonal releases, from breweries both near and far.

Autumn Maple

Brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, molasses, and maple syrup, this specialty beer is The Bruery’s answer to the pumpkin beer trend. With 17 pounds of yams and a traditional Belgian yeast strain mixed in ever barrel, this 10% beer is perfect for pairing with Thanksgiving dinner – or, with a vanilla ice cream float, for dessert. Available through December.
The Bruery, 715 Dunn Way, Placentia. (714) 996-MALT,

Brewmaster Reserve Old Boardhead Barleywine Ale

Want something stronger than Wreck the Halls? This deep, robust, 9% brew, released in October, is the employee-owned brewery’s answer to the barleywine trend.
Full Sail Brewing, 506 Columbia, Hood River. (541) 386-2247,

Celebration Ale

The dry-hopped favorite with the distinctive red label that’s been winning awards since the early ‘90s pairs nicely with beef, lamb, and even rich cheese dishes.
Sierra Nevada, 1075 East 20th St, Chico. (530) 893-3520,

Chicory Stout

Originally created in 1995, this December release is dark and delicious, thanks to roasted chicory, organic Mexican coffee, St. John’s Wort (perfect for fighting off seasonal depression!), and licorice root. Rarely served outside the Dogfish brewery, this brew might be reason enough to take a Delaware detour on your East Coast vacation.
Dogfish Head, 6 Cannery Village Center, Milton, DE. (302) 684-1000,

Christmas Ale

This classic brewery’s 35-year-old seasonal release may have a classic name, but every year it gets a new recipe and a new label. (Check the Website for images of every Christmas Ale label from 1975 to today.)
Anchor Brewing, 1705 Mariposa, SF. (415) 863-8350,

The Hairy Eyeball

At 8.7% ABV, this New Year’s release packs a big, brown warmer punch. You just have to get past the name (and the creepy pooch staring you down from the label).
Lagunitas Brewing, 1280 N Mcdowell Blvd, Petaluma. (707) 769-4495,

Jewbelation Bar Mitzvah

What 15 is to Latin American teenagers and 16 is to spoiled girls on MTV (that is, the age of a rite of passage), 13 is to Jews. So it only makes sense that the 13th of Shmaltz Brewery’s Jewbelation series would be named after the celebration of a young Yid’s transformation into an adult Yid. Made (appropriately) with 13 malts and 13 hops, this 13% brew is being billed as an extreme Channukah Ale and should be available throughout the holiday season. My favorite part? Bottle artwork features consumer-submitted photos from their own bar and bat mitzvahs. They are, after all, the Brews.
Shmaltz Brewing Company, 912 Cole, SF. (415) 339-7462,


Deschutes Brewery offers several seasonal beers out of their Bend, Oregon, locale, but perhaps the best known is Jubelale – not only for its dark crystal malt but its annually changing bottle artwork. This year’s label, by Tracy Leagjeld, is inspired by fresh snow. But you can see 15 years worth of Jubelale art on exhibit at Toronado on Nov. 19 and City Beer Store on Dec. 1.
Deschutes Brewery, 901 SW Simpson, Bend, Ore. (541) 385-8606,

Old Gubbillygotch

The Sonoma County brewery packs this copper-colored barleywine with a whopping 9.5% ABU, ensuring that you’ll no longer be able to pronounce its name after imbibing a glass or two.
Russian River Brewing Company, 725 4th St, Santa Rosa. (707) 545-BEER,

Old Godfather Barleywine-Style Ale

The Dogpatch brewery famous for bringing us Prohibition Ale and Big Daddy I.P.A. has thrown their noir-style hat into the barleywine ring with this winter release.
Speakeasy Ales and Lagers, 5700 3rd St, SF. (415) 822-8972,

Seasonal Brews

You never know what the geniuses at this stellar Berkeley brewhouse are going to whip up any time of year, but the creators of Monkey Head, Titanium Pale Ale, and Black Rock Porter can be trusted to make a small batch of something transcendent. Visit the alehouse and let the brewmaster choose for you.
Triple Rock Brewery and Alehouse, 1920 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 843-4677,

Snow Cap

This winter warmer is brewed in the style of British winter ales, with roasted chocolate and caramel malts and plenty of hops. Try it with shellfish and rich desserts – or all on its own.
Pyramid Brewery, 920 Gilman, Berk. (510) 528-9880,

Two Turtle Doves

The Orange County brewery’s second installment in its 12 Days of Christmas line of Belgian-style dark strong ales (which launched last year with the fruity, complex Patridge in a Pear Tree), Two Turtle Doves is made with dark candi sugar and both Munich and Vienna malts. Available December through March.
The Bruery, 715 Dunn Way, Placentia. (714) 996-MALT,

Winter Solstice

Most people know Anderson Valley Brewing for their popular Boont Amber Ale, but those in the know spend the year anticipating this creamy medium-bodied ale, released every November.
Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Boonville.(707) 89-BEER,

Winter Warmer

Visit the Haight on November 25 if you want the first pours of Magnolia’s interpreation of a strong, English holiday-time beer, brewed every year since 1997. The rich, malty brew usually lasts until Christmas, but with all the attention this award-winning brewpub’s been getting lately, you might not want to count on it.
Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery, 1398 Haight, SF. (415) 864-7468,

Wreck the Halls

This sublime hybrid of an American style IPA with a Winter Warmer style strong ale is a sublime hybrid of an American style IPA is the Hood River brewery’s newest seasonal offering, available November through December.
Full Sail Brewing, 506 Columbia, Hood River. (541) 386-2247,

Of course, you can get these seasonals from the breweries themselves. But you also can find many on tap at better beer bars like Toronado (547 Haight, SF. 415-863-2276,, Zeitgeist (199 Valencia, SF. 415-255-7505,, and Amnesia (853 Valencia, SF. 415-970-0012,, or at top-notch beer shops like City Beer Store (1168 Folsom, SF. 415-503-1033, and Healthy Spirits (2299 15th St, SF. 415-255-0610,