#CincyBeer Series: Winter Ales

‘Tis The Season! Local Winter Warmers to spice up your holiday season.

Bruce Crippen

Cincinnati Beer Style Profiles

Every month we take a look at a different style of beer, how it ties into the Queen City and then taste/list/rate some of the best Local Options of that beer style. Cincinnati has some of the best breweries in the Nation – come discover your new favorite #CincyBeer with us.

Winter Ales

Drinking beer over the holidays isn’t a new tradition. In fact winter falls right in the heart of the old brewing season, when temperatures were cold enough to keep beer from spoiling. The types of beer brewed for the holidays have significantly changed however. With Christmas rapidly approaching let’s take a look at what was historically brewed for these occasions, how our holiday beer tastes have changed, and which local beers to look out for this season.

The most notable holiday brewers in days of old were the Vikings. These Norsemen had a thirst for strong drink in the winter months of their raiding off-season. During the festivities of Jul (Yule), the Vikings would offer beer to their gods (Odin, Frey, etc.). These beers were similar to the strong malty beers we associate with Christmas today but probably un-spiced. Even after Christianity took-off across Scandinavia, brewing a Christmas beer and having a Christmas Party was required by law in Norway in the 13th century.

The next type of beer to make its rounds as a Christmas beer was England’s Burton Ales. Hailing from the same town as English IPAs, Burton-On-Trent, Burton ales pre-dated their hoppy counterparts by about 300 years. They are typically spiced, strong and malty and are quite like modern Christmas ales. With a hot alcohol character, these were some of the first to be described as a “winter warmer”.

Interestingly enough however the first modern beer marketed solely as a Christmas Beer was not strong, dark, and malty. It was in fact, Stella Artois. Brouwerij Artois had been producing beer in Leuven Belgium since 1366 (though at the time it was called Den Hoorn, It was bought by Sebastian Artois in 1717), though it wasn’t until 1926 when they started marketing their beer named after the Christmas Star. Today the beer is owned by AB InBev and sits at 4.8% ABV and 20 IBU. Originally though, it was 5.2% ABV and 33 IBU.


Today you can find all kinds of Winter Warmers. I’ve had everything from an oatmeal raisin stout called “Beard Crumbs” from Land Grant Brewing in Columbus OH to a Christmas spiced Belgian Dark Strong Ale from Fat Heads Brewing in NE Ohio called “Pimp My Sleigh”. And I’ve got to say I love most of them. Here in Cincinnati we have no shortage of Christmas Ales so I’m only going to give a few of my favorite examples, but chances are you can find quality spiced ale at most of our fine breweries in the Queen City.

Madtree Brewing Company – Thundersnow

Style: Spiced Scotch Ale

ABV: 8.5%

IBU: 18

Rating: 4.5/5

Notes: This scotch ale hits strong with hot alcohol flavor that warms the throat and chest. Thundersnow combines nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and vanilla beans to give it an authentic holiday flavor. The ginger is the most predominant which compliments the malty sweet finish. Scotch ale yeast provides a welcome complexity that most winter warmers don’t have.

Also keep a look out for Luna Lux, Madtree’s winter white IPA. Spiced like a Belgian Wit with coriander and lemon peel this beer is a great winter beer for those looking for a less malty option.

Rhinegeist Brewing – Dad

Style: Hoppy Holiday Ale

ABV: 6%

IBU: 45

Rating: 3.5/5

Notes: This beer is your standard Rhinegeist pale ale that they know how to make so well with the addition of some holiday spice notes that are subtle but present enough to add complexity. Look for citrus notes and a malty finish.

Taft’s Brewing – Santa’s Bribe

Style: Christmas Cookie Ale

ABV: 6.2%

IBU: 16

Rating: 3.5/5

Notes: It literally tastes like a cookie. This is great for a dessert beer but not for an easy drinker. Notes of cinnamon, ginger, and vanilla blend with the malt to make a wonderful cookie taste. Santa will thank you kindly if you set this out instead of sugar cookies this year.


So there you have it, three must have local six packs for fireside sipping this holiday season. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.


Dafoe Bulen is the creator of CINCY BEER BLOG. He is a home brewer and craft beer enthusiast as well as a Cincinnati sports fan. In his real life he works in the solar industry as an engineer.  Follow him on Twitter @CINCYBEERBLOG for more news on Cincinnati Beer.


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