Local breweries hit the high notes with holiday seasonals.
We like Santa, naughty elves, and finding fresh gear under the festivus pole as much as the next guy, but the holidays are about more than just mass consumerism and family tradition. That’s right. The holidays are about beer. Tasty beer, brewed in small batches specifically for the coldest season of the year. Behold, seven local holiday beers worth stocking your stuffing. Move over eggnog. We’ve got your holiday party in a bottle
WOODY STOUT, Lost Rhino Brewing Company: Ashburn, Va
Lost Rhino fans begin asking about the Woody as soon as the temperature drops. It’s a classic stout that’s aged in bourbon barrels sourced from a local distillery. It pours near black and has a nice oak character, thanks to the aging, but at 6.8 percent, it’s more sessionable than your typical high-gravity winter warmer.
Get It: Lost Rhino’s distribution sticks to Northern Virginia and D.C. Head to the tasting room for a locally sourced seasonal menu that pairs well with the current beers on tap. lostrhino.com
WOLFNSTEIN IMPERIAL STOUT, Wild Wolf Brewing Company: Nellysford, VA
This Imperial Stout hits most of the holiday beer hallmarks. It’s a super dark stout that’s been aging for a year and hits hard with 10.5-percent alcohol by volume, giving the beer a bit of warming effect. The hints of chocolate and coffee add balance and a welcome sweet finish to the hoppy brew.
Get It: You’ll find the stout distributed throughout most of Virginia. Next year, look for the brewery’s limited release beers in 22 ounce bottles. A pint at the pub is an experience as well; Wild Wolf took over Nelson County’s original high school and made it awesome. wildwolfbeer.com
THE GIFT, Starr Hill: Crozet, VA
Starr Hill eschews holiday beer traditions with this Hellerbock (light style bock), a straightforward and supremely sessionable lager with a good malt profile and a subtle, buttery mouth-feel. You won’t find any of the expected spices or heaviness in The Gift, but you will find six percent alcohol by volume.
Get It: Starr Hill distributes throughout Virginia and North Carolina. Also look for the brewery’s JamBEERee, an assorted 12 pack of winter-friendly beers that includes The Gift, Northern Lights, Cryptical Imperial Stout, and the Amber Ale. starrhill.com
IMPERIAL STOUT, Wolf Hills: Abingdon, VA
Wolf Hills is making a name for itself by brewing bold beers that test boundaries. The Imperial Stout is the perfect example. It’s a high-hopped Russian imperial stout that lays the roasted and chocolate flavors on thick. At 9.5 percent, expect a nice warming effect as well.
GET IT: Look for the stout on draft at bars from Richmond to Knoxville. The brand new tasting room in downtown Abingdon sits in a historic ice house and has live music and ten beers on tap. wolfhillsbrewing.com
COLD MOUNTAIN WINTER ALE, Highland Brewing Company: Asheville, NC
It’s hard to overstate the frenzy that Asheville succumbs to when Highland releases its Cold Mountain Ale every winter. Beer drinkers wait all year for this very limited release spiced ale that’s heavily malted and lightly sweetened with vanilla and hazelnut. The result is an easy drinking, superbly sessionable (only 5.8 percent alcohol by volume) winter warmer.
Get It: Highland distributes throughout the Southeast, but stores sell out of Cold Mountain quickly. Head to the brewery’s tasting room for live music, and your best chance for catching this seasonal beer on tap. highlandbrewing.com
HOOLIGAN KING, Catawba Valley Brewing: Morganton, NC
Catawba Valley released the Hooligan King for the first time last year to rave reviews. It’s a strong Scottish, or Wee Heavy, Ale that packs a punch with 8 percent ABV, but comes across as a surprisingly approachable brew. Don’t look for the typical holiday spices; instead, expect a heavily malted beer with notes of candy and caramel.
Get It: Look for the Hooligan King on draft in North Carolina, from Charlotte to Asheville. The brewery tasting room, in downtown Morganton, will have it on tap all winter, as well as some fun experimental small batch projects from each employee. catawbavalleybrewingcompany.com
MOO-HOO STOUT, Terrapin Beer Company: Athens, Ga
Cocoa nibs. That’s what gives the Moo-Hoo its over-the-top chocolate character. That and pieces of chocolate from Olive and Sinclair Chocolate Company. As you might expect, the beer is way low on the hop scale, but way high on smooth, malted goodness. This is as close as you’ll get to a straight up chocolate beer.
Get It: Terrapin distributes throughout the Southeast. They’re currently expanding their brew house, but still offer tastings and live music at their brewery in Athens, Ga. As if you need another reason to visit Athens. terrapinbeer.com
What’s a Holiday Beer?
When Old Man Winter knocks, breweries whip up darker, malt-heavy ales that are a bit sweet and higher in alcohol content, prompting many to refer to them as “winter warmers.”