When you think of holiday beers, you probably think of brews that include the same spices that are used in mulled wines and hot ciders (allspice, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon). While the best brewers use a light hand and produce balanced and pleasing winter warmers, there are more than a few spice bombs out there.
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The best holiday beers on the market encompass a grab bag of styles ranging from pungent India Pale Ales to bold malty lagers to Belgian-inspired fruit beer. We also found a couple of righteously spicy takes that strike the right balance between beer and spice. Here are the best holiday ales out this year.
Brewer: Ithaca Beer Company
Style: Belgian Dark Ale
In brewing its winter seasonal Cold Front, upstate New York's Ithaca Beer Company made the unorthodox decision to use a Belgian farmhouse ale strain. The choice is unusual because the beers made with this strain are typically saisons, light and refreshing beers for the summer. Ithaca takes this yeast out of its typical setting and integrates it into an amber beer with caramel malt flavors more appropriate to the holiday season.
The advantage that the Ithaca brewers get from this choice is that the yeasts already produce many of the spicy and clove flavors that we associate with winter warmers. The decision not to root blindly through the spice rack yields a beer that integrates clove, nutmeg, and pepper notes much more gracefully. Cold Front pours with a light amber color and yields gentle caramel notes and a light herbal hoppy character along with the spices.