Holiday beers 2016

Celebrator’s top rated seasonal beers

Photo by Bernt Rostad (via Flickr)

For 2016, the blind-tasting panel at Celebrator Beer News (Nevada City) has once again circled around the table to rate the year’s holiday beers (40 this year) on a scale from 0 stars (“bad; pour it out immediately”) to 5 (“exceptionally great”), and the CN&R is sharing some top-rated selections (with a focus on the ones most likely to be available in Chico). For the full list, visit

Holiday beers are by design no one style but are an opportunity for individual breweries to let their talent and imagination run wild. At the holidays, when people stop their busy lives and share some precious time with family and friends, the beer they choose should be equally as special as the time they’re sharing.

Five stars:

Accumulation White IPA—New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, Colo.

Wonderfully rich nose of citrus, lemon hops, pine and sweet malt. Bright straw-gold color. Full, rich, malty sweetness with caramel notes and hints of pine, spruce and evergreen. Great mix of flavors. Lemon, citrus and juicy fruit hop character, with good balance and a tart finish.

Barrel Aged Campfire Stout—High Water Brewing, San Jose

Rich mocha nose with complex aromas of licorice, coffee, soy sauce, umami, coconut, star anise and chocolate. Opaque black color. Huge malt up front, with rich, yeasty flavors and warming, spirited sweetness. Complex notes of prunes, dried fruit, chocolate, vanilla, apricots and plums balanced by a spicy hop character.

Brown Shugga’—Lagunitas Brewing, Petaluma

Big hop nose of juicy fruit, orange marmalade, vanilla, gummy bears and spices, along with sweet malt aromas. Bright golden-amber color. Complex flavors, with big, rich malt, bright spice character, herbal hops, notes of vanilla, and intense fruit of mango, orange and pineapple. The finish is long, tart and sweet.

Christmas Ale—Brouwerij St. Bernardus, Belgium

Rich malt nose with aromas of exotic yeast, spicy hops, dates and plums. Mahogany color. Creamy mouthfeel, with sweet and tart flavors. Well-balanced, with warming heat. Hints of vanilla, toffee and apple cider. It begins sweet and fruity but turns spicy and bitter, with a long, lingering finish.

Christmas Ale—Anchor Brewing, San Francisco

Complex nose of caramel, vanilla, orange spice, herbal hops and horehound candies. Dark brown color. Big, spicy mélange of Christmas flavors, with caramel malt, sandalwood, cedar and vanilla cream soda, with a long, clean, refreshing finish that’s bittersweet.

Spiced Imperial Dark Ale—New Belgium Brewing

Complex spicy nose of ripe peach, tea, sweet candy and citrus. Clear mahogany color. Big, rich malt flavors are balanced by notes of berry fruit, vanilla, sweet tea, orange spice, pear and peach. There’s a lot going on, and the mix of flavors is constantly changing. The long finish is very sweet.

Xocoveza: A Winter-Spiced Mocha Stout—Stone Brewing, Escondido

Strong nose of chili peppers, roasted coffee grounds and spices. Inky black color. The hot spices in the nose are comparatively mild in the flavors, which include big, rich, assertive coffee, licorice and New Mexican chocolate spice. It’s a big, complex beer with warming heat throughout and a long, rich finish.

Four stars:

Brrr—Widmer Brothers Brewing, Portland, Ore.

Herbal nose of bready orange marmalade and citrus. Strong orange and citrus flavors. A creamy mouthfeel and a big hop presence. Lightly spiced. Caramel and toffee malt provide good balance. A long, tropical finish that turns slightly harsh partway through.

Naughty Russian Imperial Stout—Rubicon Brewing, Sacramento

Boozy nose with roasted malt, vanilla and coffee aromas reminiscent of a bourbon cookie. Inky black color. Zesty mouthfeel with tart dry malt, creamy coffee, bitter chocolate, prune, vanilla and raisin notes. The finish lingers long and is slightly dry, with hot, tart and harsh sensations.

Winter Welcome Ale—Samuel Smith, England

Sweet cookie nose with aromas of Christmas spices, along with zippy and earthy hops. Bright copper color. Big malt, with cookie spices like nutmeg, allspice and clove. Fruit flavors of plum and berry, along with exotic grain notes. Good balance of sweet malt and zippy hops.

Sleigh’r Dark Doüble Alt Ale—Ninkasi Brewing; Eugene, Ore.

Sweet, sugary nose with roasted malt aromas, warming heat and herbal hops. Clear brown color. Big, assertive caramel malt flavors with light bourbon and herbal notes, warming alcohol, and some orange and citrus spicing.