What Does Christmas Taste Like, Anyway?

I’ve just had my second Christmas brew, a Southern Tier Krampus imperial helles lager. It was a very robust beer that got creamier as it warmed, with sweet malts balancing out piney hops. And while apricot flavors danced in the background, there was no trace of sugarplums, fruitcake or eggnog.

It was also a very different taste than the St. Bernardus Christmas ale I reviewed last week. So it again has me asking, just what is a Christmas beer supposed to taste like?

 In my mind it’s a dopplebock, an Ayinger Celebrator to be exact. Of course that’s just me, as dopplebocks are usually spring beers that have been cold fermented over the German winter. Still, a sweet, malty and warming dopplebock says “Merry Christmas” to me.

I am coming to the conclusion that holiday beers are simply limited batch beers made to take advantage of seasonal sales. I’m okay with this I guess, but other seasonals are more fun to try because they are made to a similar standard, so you can compare them to each other. I get a kick out of trying a bunch of pumpkin beers and picking out the differences. It gives you some insight on how a brewery approaches a specialty beer. I miss this with Christmas beers.

So back to the Southern Tier Krampus. It’s a tasty brew made with high quality ingredients and I recommend picking one up. It also has an ABV of 9%, so it’ll knock the chill off a cold December’s eve. Like all the Christmas beers I’ve had, it’s definitely worth a try and would make a nice gift for a beer fan.

I’m not sure it tastes like Christmas, but apparently that’s not the point with these brews.


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Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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12 Comments on “What Does Christmas Taste Like, Anyway?”

  1. William
    November 23, 2009 at 10:48 pm #

    Best Christmas brew of all time? That’s a tough call, since many breweries tweak their recipes from year to year. My personal favorite, Anchor Steam, is on their 35th year of their Christmas Ale. I have been buying it religiously for about 20 years now. Overall, I find Anchor’s Christmas offerings to be well crafted beers, but I definitely enjoy some years better than others. I have not opened my first bottle this year, so that review will have to be in a future post.

    In regards to marketing Christmas beers as something special…. I guess it all depends on what one is expecting from a Christmas beer. Speaking for myself, I have incorporated Anchor Brewing into my own Christmas tradition, and my annual purchase of Anchor Christmas provides the same warm feelings and memories as putting up the Christmas tree or wrapping presents. Not to mention that a 50 oz. magnum of Anchor Christmas makes assembling the kids’ toys on Christmas eve a lot less painful.

    • Don
      November 23, 2009 at 11:00 pm #

      I would think that a 50 oz magnum might make assembling the kids toys impossible! I could just see your kids Christmas morning “Was Santa drunk again?!” “How come the light bulb for my EZ Bake Oven is on the outside?” “Dad, why are the handlebars where the seat should be and the seat where the handlebars go?” 😉

      How was your weekend William? Did you go with the dead guy whiskey, or the Old Crustacean? Or did you take my suggestion and back one with the other?

    • Jim
      November 24, 2009 at 12:11 am #

      I’m sure the magnum makes the bikes go together better, William. I’ve never gotten into Christmas brews, so I don’t have your cool tradition to fall back on. I guess the best that can happen is to find one I love and then make it part of the ritual.

      I’ll keep an eye out for the Anchor Steam. If you’ve been enjoying it for 20 years, it’s probably worth checking out!

  2. November 24, 2009 at 11:28 am #

    yeah… still trying to figure that one out. everyone makes holiday ales differently. some Belgian style others not. Some spiced others not. Most are ales, but some aren’t. All probably why there isn’t a category called holiday beer. Just seasonal beer that is ready for the holiday…

    I haven’t figured out my favorite holiday Ale, but there are lots of good seasonal holiday beers out there. Jolly Pumpkin makes a good one, along with Mikkeller.

    For me a lot of it comes down to what beer goes well with the foods you tend to eat this time of year. Depending on your religion and culture it can vary quite dramatically.

    I’m going to try and tackle this question at my next beer tasting – Holiday Beers (shameless plug)

    • Jim
      November 24, 2009 at 12:00 pm #

      That’s a great tasting for this time of year, Peter. This is the perfect thing for someone (like me) who struggles to make sense of holiday beers.

  3. November 24, 2009 at 8:08 pm #

    I picked up a magnum of the X-mas Ale a week or two ago. I think it was $14.99. Not a bad price. I agree that Anchor is the American icon of Christmas Ales. However, I’ve got quite a few X-mas Ales I’m going to be trying. My favorite, at this point, is Corsendonk’s Christmas Ale. http://thankheavenforbeer.com/2008/12/06/drink-with-us-friday-corsendonk-christmas-ale-review/

    • Don
      November 24, 2009 at 8:50 pm #

      Hey Thanks for the link Mike, I’ll check it out. Corsendonk…That’s a made up name…right?

    • Jim
      November 24, 2009 at 9:09 pm #

      I have the Corsendonk in the garage right now. Glad to hear it’s good. I might have to share it with the missus as she bakes pies tonight.

  4. December 8, 2009 at 3:24 pm #

    Don’t know how I missed this post – I have a bottle of this in my fridge and I’ll probably get to it this weekend or whenever I get over this cold I have! (whichever comes first) I dig the Krampus concept too. I mean the guy, not the beer. I think we need more Krampus and less Santa!

    • Jim
      December 8, 2009 at 3:29 pm #

      I’ve found that most Christmas beers are well made, but few taste like Christmas. Krampus fits this bill. Great beer, little cheer.


  1. Troegs Mad Elf: Christmas in October! « Beer & Whiskey Brothers - October 21, 2010

    […] tried many, many “holiday” beers last year, only to be disappointed that none of them tasted like Christmas. They were fine beers, but most of them were just brews that were a little stronger or darker or […]

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