Cheers to Holiday Beers!
With no less than 40 craft breweries in the greater area, more breweries per capita than nearly every city in the country, and four-time winner of the annual Beer City USA poll, Asheville is a favorite destination for beer lovers.
With this much talent, dedication, and local collaboration among area brewmasters, it’s no wonder there are so many creative seasonal beers produced here. Blonde and white ales blossom in spring. Tropical lagers, hazy and session IPAs abound in summer. Octoberfests, dark lagers and brown ales take over in fall. But the spiciest season of all is winter!
One of the most popular styles of winter beer found in Asheville is the Winter Warmer. Typically, these beers have a higher alcohol content and are rich, malty, and full-bodied. They often incorporate spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, which give them a warm and comforting character. Some breweries might add additional flavors like vanilla, caramel, or even chocolate to make their Winter Warmers unique. In the month of January, Asheville spotlights it’s Winter Warmer creations at a special beer festival. Learn about the Winter Warmer festival.
Another popular style of seasonal winter beer, is the Christmas Ale. These beers are typically brewed with holiday spices such as ginger, allspice, or even orange peel. They often have a darker malt profile, providing a slightly roasted or toasted flavor. Christmas Ales can vary in their sweetness, some being more malt-forward while others may have a drier finish.
As our favorite cold season spices danced their way into our local holiday craft beers, we decided it was time to start sampling! We couldn’t possibly try them all and still wake up in time to prepare breakfast each morning, but we did enjoy tasting quite a few. It’s worth mentioning that of all the brews we got to experience this year, we didn’t try a holiday beer that we didn’t enjoy. Here are our favorites based solely on our non-expert subjective tastes.
Cold Mountain Winter Spiced Ale - Highland Brewing
First brewed in 1996, Cold Mountain has become an Asheville winter tradition that consistently hits the mark. Highland Brewing keeps Cold Mountain highly anticipated with lots of hype and a new secret recipe each year. This year did not disappoint. Spices are well balanced and nicely tempered. Vanilla, cinnamon, hazelnut, dark fruits – they’re all there! For easy drinkability and good flavor, enjoy a Cold Mountain and “tap into the holidays!”
Christmas Jam IPA - Sierra Nevada and Asheville Brewing Collaboration
Refreshing and flavorful, this tasty Session IPA is brewed annually for the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam benefit concert. The hometown hero and internationally known musician brings a night of top-shelf music and musicians to rock, roll and raise money for Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity and Beloved Asheville. With it’s smooth citrus qualities, this beer compliments the event and winter season very well. “From the opening chord to the final encore” they say, “this beer is perfect for an all-night party!”
NinjaBread Man Holiday Porter- Asheville Brewing Company
A holiday favorite with a fun name, this seasonal porter is “brewed with spices & love.” Caramelized ginger and molasses are a few of the ingredients that make this beer uniquely delicious. It’s popularity has led NinjaBread Man to become the key ingredient in many holiday recipes – check some of them out here.
**Honorable Mention** Christmas Ale - Olde Hickory Brewery
A brand new favorite to us, this really nice lighter brew is made with local honey, fresh ginger, cinnamon stick and fresh orange zest. The warm flavors taste especially good when it’s cold outside! We didn’t feel it fair to include this beer in our top 3 since the brewery is over an hour outside of Asheville, but it’s great taste and relative proximity make it definitely worth mentioning. Fun fact – Innkeeper John lived and made lifelong friends while attending grades 5 through 9 in Hickory, NC.
Need more options? These local winter beers are also delicious!
Elated Winter IPA - Hi-Wire Brewing
Celebration Fresh Hop IPA - Sierra Nevada
Holiday Ale - New Belgium Brewing
Milk & Cookies Imperial Stout - Wicked Weed