Craft Beer Guide

8 Holiday Beers To Sip This Season

Spreading the beer: craft brewers toast the holidays with heartier brews



Local breweries, like Mill House Brewing above, are gearing up for the holidays with a variety of seasonal beers

In winter, most of us are in need of beverages that are a little heartier; a Pilsner that’s perfect at the beach doesn’t quite hold up to two feet of snow and frigid temperatures.

Though there’s no historic definition of what a winter beer actually is, craft brewers have been happy to shape their own. The end of the year sees beer shelves stocked with many holidays ales, in a dozen different shades. The typical holiday beer — like its fall cousin, pumpkin beer — is often sweet, malty, and heavily spiced with seasonal flavors like cinnamon and nutmeg. Many smaller brewers take a broader approach, finding that a variety of flavors hold up to the cold. The perfect winter beer for some may be as straightforward as a roasty stout or malty strong ale.

At Peekskill Brewery, new head brewer Matt Levy has quickly put his own spin on the eclectic offerings at this waterfront brewpub, churning out a remarkable number of new beers. Levy says that he’s been excited to brew Howling Fantods, an imperial stout utilizing an overnight boil. A second new release for the season is Hangry Bock, a traditional bock using all German malts and Peekskill’s house German lager yeast. Levy utilized German malts to add a classical sweetness appropriate for the style but brewed the beer to ferment out with very little residual sugar. The result is a beer that’s rich and hearty without being cloying.

“At the brewery we describe this beer as a ‘monastery-style bock,’ brewed for sustenance,” says Levy. “It’s protein rich and full-bodied enough to keep you warm, too.”

rushing duck shmaltz brewing mill house

Holiday offerings from Rushing Duck, Shmaltz, and Mill House brewing companies, respectively

Chester’s Rushing Duck Brewing Company is already known for one winter offering, its Ded Moroz Imperial Stout. This winter we will see another big, roasty contender from the brewery, as well: Rushing Duck is releasing a “double” version of its popular Beanhead Coffee Porter.

“Our normal Beanhead is one of our best-selling beers,” says Dan Hitchcock, owner and brewmaster of Rushing Duck. “We figured for the coldest months of the year, it would make sense to bump the alcohol up to 9.5%, so it could be a little more warming.”

To commemorate the holidays and its 200th batch brewed, Poughkeepsie’s Mill House Brewing Company is releasing Dos Cien Cerezas — Spanish for “two hundred cherries.” In a strong beer, fruit can make for a perfect winter treat, forming a contrast between rich, boozy malts and the tart, vibrant juice character. While the batch may not have used exactly 200 cherries, the 14 kilos of sour morello cherries and 10 different malts that went into the beer make for a “hearty body and just enough alcohol for the cooler days and nights,” says brewer Jamie Bishop. Such a complicated grain bill — most beers are only brewed with a handful of different grains — will add a hefty richness and stone fruit-like character. The cherries will steer it in an even more fruity direction.

With its catchy name, Shmaltz Brewing Company in Clifton Park would be expected to light up Hanukkah and other holiday celebrations with a collection of cleverly named kosher beers. Available for a limited holiday release (although longer than the Festival of Lights’ eight nights), the beers are crafted to go well with such chosen specialties as fried latkes (potato pancakes) but also with many other comfort foods, says company founder Jeremy Cowan. Among the holiday beers available locally to celebrate all miracles are its “Hanukkah, Chanukah Pass the Beer,” a dark ale brewed with eight malts and eight hops; a holiday variety 12-pack “Shtick in a Box”; and the company’s annual debut of a new “Jewbelation” ale, which this year, its 19th, is brewed with 10 malts and nine hops. “Come on bubbe, light my fire!” as one of its labels urges.

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Welcome to The First Draft — a column devoted exclusively to all things beer. Yes, that’s right, from taste-tests to profiles of brewers (and homebrewers) to expert advice (hello, Craft Beer 101), we’re going county to county, city to small town to uncover all the sudsy stuff you need to know. Heck, we’ll even let you know which brewery has the coolest looking T-shirt in town. You can expect reviews, food and beer pairings, roundups, trends, expert advice, homebrewing, profiles, big beer events, best nights out.

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