There are beers brewed for every season, but the weeks around the Christmas holiday bring out the best. It seems, however, that each part of the world has its own vision of the perfect Christmas beer. Even within a single continent, there are variations on the theme. Throw in the modern influence of American craft brewers and you have a dizzying array of delicious beers. Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a closer look at the Christmas or solstice beers in four of the most influential beer-producing regions: Belgium, Germany/Austria, Great Britain and the United States.
As a nation, Belgium loves beer. We’re talking the kind of adoration that requires each beer to be poured exclusively into its own, specially produced glassware. And, if Belgians love their beer, they are especially fond of Christmas beers, those brews with a sweeter character and fruit or spices. Belgian brewers have practically cornered the global market on outstanding, memorable beers for the holiday season.
Belgians celebrate not one but two traditional gift-giving days in December. First is Dec. 6: Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas Day, which is mostly for kids. Then, on Christmas, families gather for rich food and rich beer as gifts are unwrapped.
Among Belgium’s Christmas beers is Scaldis Noël, brewed by Dubuisson. Founded in 1769, the brewery has remained in family hands for hundreds of years. In 1990, current owner Hugues Dubuisson kicked off a new direction for the company. He introduced Scaldis Noël to the lineup and brewed it with candy sugar and caramel malts. This limited-edition brew is mildly hopped, fruity and boozy at 12 percent ABV.
Another beloved Belgian holiday brew is Delirium Noël. An offshoot of Huyghe Brewery’s powerful and popular Delirium line, Noël tips the ABV scales at 10 percent. Flavors of dark fruits and chocolate greet the taster, invoking the holiday spirit. The brewery began operations in 1654 at the Appelhoek, or Apple Corner, a sort of tavern and general store in the Flemish town of Melle. In 1902, the company took Leon Huyghe’s name. The original Delirium Tremens was released in 1988 and became an instant hit. Later, in 2000, the brewery tweaked the recipe and released Noël.
Finally, from St. Bernardus in Watou comes St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. The brewery was founded in the early 1900s by the Trappist monks of Mont des Cats, just over the border in Godewaersvelde, France. They established Refuge Notre Dame de St. Bernard, where they started producing cheese. Another group of monks, followers of St. Sixtus, eventually took over the cheese factory and converted it into a brewery in the 1960s. The name has since reverted to St. Bernardus, but the brewery is still using the St. Sixtus recipe and yeast strain. St. Bernardus Christmas Ale kicks it up a notch with mint, molasses, marzipan and apricot flavors.
With ABVs exceeding 10 percent, most Belgian Christmas brews have what it takes to keep you warm on a cold Northeast Florida night. And they’ve got the right spices to evoke the spirit of the season.