Show of hands please. Who can’t find something to love about the late autumn, winter transition? One week you’re admiring leaves bathed in colors of golds, butterscotch, ochre, and bronze–the next–you have the austerity of empty branches decorated with snow. Ocean dwellers admire the change of light over the Pacific, and the desert offers up its own magic.

It’s time to thank what you love and raise a toast to life’s deliciousness. And every year, breweries across the nation love to help us to do exactly that. Holiday beers excel at celebrating the season of spice.

To help me compile a list of worthy spicy holiday beers I turned to Jason at Ancient Fire Wines for advice. He’s an award-winning wine, cider, and beer maker and I knew I was in good hands. As it turns out, he just wrapped up a 2-part Autumn beer shoot-out where he and his wife tasted their way through 16 (yes…SIXTEEN) autumn beers and highlighted the top four. (Good times at the AFW household, dontcha think!?)

Here’s the scoop.

In November many autumn craft beers are reaching the end of their release period and buzzing about the winter season. I went through Jason’s entire list and pulled out the spice-infused beers AND on what’s available through Thanksgiving. That left me with eight beers. Two are from my own scourings of online reviews of what I’d like to try.

How to use this list.

The list is divided into two sections; autumn and winter. Each beer includes a brief description from either Ancient Fire Wines or directly from the brewery. Look, I’m a beer drinker not brew master who makes poetry out of a review. The brewery descriptions let you decide, on your own, what you like. Sweet, spicy, heavy…whatever. I just want you to find something you enjoy.

Ready? Bottoms up!

Spicy Autumn Beers

1. Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin Ale

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin is listed first because it was a Round 2 Shootout winner. Jason at Ancient Fire Wines likened this beer to pumpkin pie. It’s not sweet but gives you a hint of the pumpkin spiciness. What the brewery says: “…a crisp and refreshing wheat ale with delightful aromatics and subtle spiced flavor.” It’s available through Thanksgiving so if you see it on the shelves, buy it!

2. Woodstock Inn & Brewery Autumn Ale Brew

Here’s another available through November. What the brewery says: “Chestnut in overall
color. Medium bodied with apple and cinnamon flavor and aroma.” Sounds nice with a warm fire and leaves stirring in the wind.

3. Dogfish Head Punkin’

What the brewery says: “a full-bodied brown ale with smoth hints of pumpkin and brown sugar. We brew our Punkin Ale with pumpkin meat, organic brown sugar and spices.” Act quick because this beer is usually gone by Thanksgiving.

 Spicy Winter Beers (or Christmas, Saturnalia, Kwaanza, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice…)

 4. Harpoon Winter Warmer

Ancient Fire Wines identifies a cinnamon aroma as the most noticable spice. Here’s Jason’s review, “The medium body of this beer is formed from caramel and pale malts. These create enough body to support the spices without making the beer excessively rich.” What the brewery says: “The overall character is a smooth, medium bodied ale spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.” Pumpkin pie anyone?

5. Sam Adams Old Fezziwig Ale

Sam Adams was a beer on the Shootout but it had already run its seasonal course. The Old Fezziwig Ale, however, is just getting started! What the brewery says: “…bursting with the spices of the season. Cinnamon, ginger and orange peel dance on the tongue bringing with them the celebratory spirit of the season.”

6. Saranac Vanilla Stout

Vanilla beer #1. Saranac’s Vanilla Stout is part of Saranac’s annual 12 Beers of Winter. What the brewery says: “Made with a traditional blend of caramel and chocolate malts plus rusted barley and a hint of vanilla.”

7. Breckenridge Vanilla Porter

Vanilla beer #2. What the brewery says: “A vanilla kiss in a rich, dark sea.” Actually, that’s how they end it. I thought it deserved to be read first. Here’s the rest, “An ale that has all the chocolate and roasted nut flavor of a classic Porter, with an enigmatic surprise thrown in for good measure, real vanilla bean.”

8. Delirium Noel  

This is a Belgium beer, and I could not find the website. Ancient Fire Wines offers this review, ” A spicy, sweet flavored, full bodied Belgian ale. It truly is like Christmas in a glass.” At 10 percent alchohol, it’s no wonder their mascot is the pink elephant.

9. Cohoho Imperial Ale

Cohoho comes to us from Alaska from the Midnight Sun Brewery. What the brewery says: “…juniper berries heighten the festive character of this exhuberant beer.” Juniper berries are popular in Eastern European and are often used in game. My guess this would make a ideal pairing.

10. Unibroue Quelque Chose

Had to include something from our Northern neighbor, Canada. What the brewery says: “Intense redolence of ripe cherries accented by cinnamon, cloves, honey, and vanilla.” Sounds like dessert to me!

 Are there any you care to add? Better yet, do you have a go-to toast? Please share!

Photo Attribution: “Beer Goggles” from afagen on Flickr creative commons.