Written by Norman Miller for GateHouse News Service and Wickedlocal.com
European brewers really like Christmas.
Breweries in Belgium brew some of their best beers for this jolly time of year, while England dedicated an entire beer style – the winter warmer – to the coldest of seasons.
Last week, I gave you my top 10 American winter seasonal beers. Here’s a look at my top 10 European winter seasonals, which change every year.
1. Christmas Ale, St. Bernardus, Belgium, 10 percent alcohol by volume (ABV)
St. Bernardus’ Christmas Ale is always one of the first winter beers I buy. This Belgian strong dark ale is full of flavors of dark fruit and spices.
Despite the high alcohol, this is so easy to drink. It’s actually relatively smooth. It’s sweet, but it’s what you’d expect from such a high-alcohol beer.
If you buy one Belgian Christmas ale a year, this is the one to buy.
2. Christmas Ale, Corsendonk, Belgium, 8.5 percent ABV
The great thing about Belgian strong dark ales is despite being classified under the same style, they can taste completely different.
Unlike St. Bernardus’ Christmas Ale, this one has a touch of citrus flavor and even some chocolate. It kind of smells like Christmas; maybe a little ginger or cinnamon in there, too.
It’s the easiest-drinking Belgian strong dark ale on this list, almost dangerously – a beer this strong shouldn’t go down this easy.
3. Noel, Gouden Carolus, Belgium, 10.5 percent ABV
Yet another Belgian strong dark ale, and again one that tastes different from the previous two.
This beer has flavors of plums and pears, and the traditional sweet taste from the Belgian yeast. There are also flavors of anise and other spiciness.
You don’t get a lot of flavor of alcohol, but when you drink the beer, you can feel the heat of the alcohol going down your throat. It’s a hearty beer.
4. Winter Welcome Ale, Samuel Smith Old Brewery, England, 6 percent ABV
Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale is a winter classic and will always be welcome in my fridge. I know it’s winter when I see this beer on the shelf.
This a malty beer, with great flavors and easy to drink. There are hints of different fruits in it, but I don’t think any fruit is actually added.
5. N’ice Chouffe, Brasserie d’Achouffe, Belgium, 10 percent ABV
Another Belgian strong dark ale and another wonderful beer.
This beer has flavors of raisins along with caramel. There’s a little bit more bitterness than the others.
The N’ice Chouffe is extremely well-balanced because of that slight bitterness, balancing out the sweet malts.
6. Delirium Noel, Brouwerij Huyghe, Belgium, 10 percent ABV
Just because this is the last of the Belgian strong dark ales on the list, don’t think it’s a subpar beer. Delirium Noel is still an excellent beer.
This is a beer that really fits the season with flavors of nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s sweet but not cloying. The alcohol has a nice warming effect.
7. Rosey Nosey, George Bateman & Son Ltd., England, 5 percent ABV
Rosey Nosey is just one of those beers that is pleasant to drink.
There’s not one aspect of the beer that makes you stand up and go “Whoa.” Rather, it’s the whole package. The beer just works well in almost every way not one part of the beer takes away from anything else. It all works in harmony to make a good beer.
8. Samichlaus Bier, Braurei Schloss Eggenberg, Austria, 14 percent ABV
Samichluas (which translates to Santa Claus in the Swiss German dialect) is brewed one day a year, on Dec. 6, aged for 10 months, and then released the following year.
The beer you get is a syrupy, thick doppelbock, or strong lager. This is a boozy beer, and some people may not like it, but I always find it enjoyable.
It typically reminds me of a liquor, almost brandy-like, making it a perfect night cap after a long, cold day.
9. Lump of Coal, Ridgeway Brewery, England, 8 percent ABV
Ridgeway Brewery is known for releasing a series of winter beers with funny names (Santa’s Butt is the most famous), but most are novelty beers.
The Lump of Coal is the one exception. This is a wonderful, strong stout. Flavors of chocolate and roasted coffee are easily detectable.
10. Bah Humbug, Wychwood Brewery, England, 5 percent ABV
This winter warmer has hints of caramel, as well as a hint of roastiness.
It’s not overly sweet, actually tending toward the dry side. The low alcohol of this beer makes it a perfect beer to share on Christmas Eve.
Norman Miller is a MetroWest Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-626-3823. Check out The Beer Nut blog at http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/beernut/ or follow the Beer Nut at his Twitter page at www.twitter.com/realbeernut.