Way back in the Middle Ages, during the holidays, spices, instead of hops, were added to beer to add flavor. That tradition reemerged in the 1900's, and is the inspiration behind many holiday beers on the market today. Great Lakes Christmas Ale ($12) is one of many in a crowded market, but manages to separate itself with its unique recipe and flavor profile. Christmas Ale is brewed with honey and spiced with fresh ginger and cinnamon, providing a tasty gift that belongs under the tree of every craft beer enthusiast.
For shoppers, Black Friday means waking up early and standing in line awaiting the best bargains on Christmas gifts. For beer dorks, there may be lines and even some early wake up calls, but it's not bargains we pursue, it's Bourbon County. Bourbon County Barleywine ($20) is one of the newest offerings in an already famous line of barrel aged beers released by Goose Island brewing. The first four packs will hit store shelves on Black Friday, and those lucky enough to purchase some will be treated to a 12.1% English-style Barleywine aged in the third-use barrels that were once home to Kentucky bourbon and then Bourbon County Stout.
If you were wondering what the holiday season in Texas tastes like, look no further than Shiner Holiday Cheer ($9) from Spoetzl Brewing. It might not stand out amongst the sea of holiday themed brews lining your bottle shop shelves, but it's an underrated gem worthy of your attention. In the same way that the holidays are a little different in the Lone Star State, Holiday Cheer is a little different than most beer released during the season. It's a Dunkelweizen brewed with Texas peaches and roasted pecans, providing some sweetness along with a subtle, nutty finish. A great way to break up the monotony of typical Christmas beers and enjoy a taste of Texas.
There's nothing quite like the holiday season, mostly because of the unique beer releases that make their way to bottle shop shelves. 21st Amendment Brewing in San Fransisco agrees, and treats us with Fireside Chat ($12) to help usher in the season. Just like the depression-era radio addresses FDR used to churn out, this spiced winter ale is both warming and illuminating. It's a dark English-style ale with a nice balance of spices that bring to mind vanilla, nutmeg and caramel malt. A flavorful, comforting beverage for any winter evening.