As the holiday season approaches, the nights are getting longer and the weather has become cold and blustery, putting us in the festive mood for the season of giving. At least that's true in some parts of the country. Here in Orlando, we've simply moved from summer to not-quite-summer. How do you inspire yuletide cheer in this subtropical zone? Listening to Bing Crosby sing "White Christmas" over and over again begins to feel disingenuous after a while. There are better ways to make merry. Just drink a Christmas beer, ya dingus!
Fortunately, with the proliferation of craft breweries and their ever-expanding distribution in Central Florida, your options are more diverse than ever. Can't tell one from the other? Never fear; friendly Uncle Teege is here to help you navigate.
American holiday beers tend to be variations on robust stouts, porters or brown ales with spices such as vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and clove, while their Belgian counterparts are more traditional. These are often, but not always, strong, dark ales with a sweet finish marked by a high ABV and enhanced booziness. The inclusion of additives is optional, and many of the unique flavors come solely from interesting combinations of malt and yeast.
Anchor Brewing Company out of California sets the pace for the American craft beer renaissance in more ways than one. While their Our Special Ale has inspired the bulk of American holiday beers to follow and is still much desired, it is far from the pinnacle of the style. Jolly Pumpkin's sour and spicy Noel de Calabaza is a fine evolution of Anchor's initial idea, as is Prairie Artisan Ales Christmas Bomb, an imperial stout brewed with cocoa, vanilla, green chilies and Christmas spices. Hailing all the way from Oklahoma, its arrival in our city for the very first time has Orlando's beer geek community singing "Joy to the World."
This year, Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour will premier its own Christmas beer called Advent Ale. Just because this abbey-style dubbel brewed with cranberries and aged in Palm Ridge bourbon casks shares a birthday with Jesus doesn't mean its release will be heralded by a choir of angels. Well, maybe it will. We can't know until it's finally tapped.
Across the pond, Belgian brewers have been creating holiday beers since before the American craft movement was a glimmer in its mother's eye. Belgian brewers do not tend to limit themselves to categories, so while De Ranke's Père Noël is an extra-hoppy golden ale, the Gouden Carolus Noël is an intensely alcoholic, malty beverage brewed with coriander and anise.
There are more fantastic holiday beers than I can name in a single article, but if I had to endorse a single beverage this holiday season, it would be the long-celebrated St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, which goes down like a high-powered sleigh ride straight into merriment. Decadent, yet quaffable, this beer needs no extra spices to improve it and is created around the perfect combination of beer's building blocks in expert balance. Instead of cookies, leave Santa a few ounces of this amazing beer and you're sure to discover your heart's desire under the tree come Christmas morning.