13 Festive Christmas Ales You Can Buy Right Now

’Tis the season to try a festive new beer!

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Cinnamon-spiced winter warmers, stouts that taste like gingerbread…all the holiday ales that hit the shelves this time of year might seem like a marketing gimmick, but they actually have a long, storied history: In medieval Scandinavia, Vikings brewed strong malty beers for yuletide celebrations, flavoring them with herbs and spices. An 11th-century law even required Norwegian households to brew these special beers or face fines!

These days, breweries across the United States get in on the fun by releasing their own carefully crafted seasonal brews. By most accounts, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company started the tradition in America. The 125-year-old brewery (pictured above) has been producing a top-secret recipe every holiday season since 1975 — and the pressure is on each year to create something new that fans will love. Brewmaster Thomas Riley says he started playing around with recipes for the 2021 Christmas ale back in April.

Anchor’s holiday brew is typically a spiced brown ale, but the ingredients vary. This year’s is a subtle ode to chocolate lava cake, with notes of cocoa and bittersweet chocolate, plus piney hops. As in years past, the label has been an important part of the process: Every Anchor Brewing Christmas ale label has a different tree illustration — and the same artist, Jim Stitt, drew all of them from 1975 until he retired in 2019. This year’s label is by illustrator Steven Noble and features a Joshua tree. Here are some other fun holiday ales to try while supplies last!

Kringle Krusher: Rogue Ales & Spirits

This rum ball–inspired ale is flavored with vanilla aged on oak rum barrel chips. Retailers nationwide.

Winter Warmer: Harpoon

Fans have been enjoying this seasonal release — a combination of caramel malt, cinnamon and nutmeg — since the 1980s. harpoonbrewery.com

Christmas Ale: Great Lakes Brewing Co.

The arrival of this ginger-, cinnamon-and-honey-infused beer draws fans to this Cleveland brewery every fall. greatlakesbrewing.com

Abominable Winter Ale: Hopworks Urban Brewery

This Pacific Northwest favorite is a combo of caramel malts and citrusy hops. hopworksbeer.com

Gingerbread Stout: Hardywood

This creamy imperial milk stout contains locally sourced ginger and honey. hardywood.com

The Mad Elf: Troegs Independent Brewing

This beer is brewed with five varieties of sweet and tart cherries. troegs.com

Miracle Weizenbock: Union Craft Brewing

Notes of banana, clove, vanilla and walnut make this German-style wheat beer reminiscent of banana bread. unioncraftbrewing.com

Cold Mountain: Highland Brewing Company

You’ll detect notes of vanilla, hazelnut and dark fruit in this cozy spiced ale. highlandbrewing.com

Exodus 2021: Shmaltz Brewing Company

This Hanukkah ale is made with four sacred fruits: dates, figs, pomegranates and grapes. shmaltzbrewing.com

Christmas Ale: Breckenridge Brewery

Roasted malts give this beer notes of caramel and chocolate. Retailers nationwide

Merry Monkey: Victory Brewing Company

This Belgian-style ale has hints of cranberry, orange, cinnamon and nutmeg. victorybeer.com

Christmas Ale: Bell’s Brewery

This traditional Scotch ale is rich and malty, with a hint of caramel. bellsbeer.com

Celebration Ale: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Instead of going big on spice or sweetness, Sierra Nevada uses freshly picked hops to impart pine and citrus flavors. Retailers nationwide

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All text written by Francesca Cocchi for Food Network Magazine.

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