by Jan Machiel van Bragt Beer connoisseur 01 December 2021
We absolutely love Christmas. Everything about it. The trees, sparkling ornaments, wreaths, food, and Christmas lights. And, if we can relate it to beer then, it gets an extra big thumbs up from us.
Belgian Christmas beer
Let's go back to the 1920s. It was here that the now-known Stella Artois lager was introduced, originally as a Christmas beer (Stella meaning Star). Following its enormous success, they began brewing it all year round. You have probably tried it, if not you will have definitely heard of it, so it is of no surprise that it has since become the most popular Belgian lager. Similarly, in 1948 the "Trappists of Chimay" developed a Christmas beer which too, was first only available in winter and later became the classic we all love, Chimay Blauw (found in our Belgian Beer Tasting Case).
Heavy beer at Christmas
And why were these heavier, Belgian beers brewed in winter? In the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, brewing was only possible during winter. The lack of more advanced techniques during the warmer months meant it was impossible to cool. This set up seemed to work well for the labourers, who worked on farms during the summer and then found work in breweries during the winter. When the cold came, the leftovers of the granary were used to make a heavier winter brews.
A nice example of this is the Avec les Bons Voeux (Best Wishes in English), a Tripel Saison from Dupont Brewery and a quite heavier version of the Saison Dupont. Nowadays almost every Belgian brewery creates such a winter creation.
Beers for Christmas
You may or may not know that Christmas beer is in fact a style. They are seasonal beers that are exclusively brewed at this time of year. Although as we have seen with Chimay and Stella, this can change. They are commonly strong, dark, and spiced with cinnamon, orange peel, cloves and vanilla. The true tastes of Christmas.
Despite Christmas beers being a specific sub style, there are still lots of flavours that evoke that Christmassy taste and feel. When the cold air of the winter season rattles at your window and pumpkin beers of autumn give way to holiday offerings, beers with a spiced warmth and high alcohol content help you ignore the chill outside. Beers with chocolate, vanilla and sweet dark fruits also create a particular richness and feeling of luxury that is so often synonymous with Christmas time.
Although winter is pretty entwined with Christmas, winter beers are a little bit more general, although the flavours are similar. They are often ales, barley wines, stouts, porters and quadrupels. There is nothing nice than getting cosy for the festive season with deep amber, golden brown and sometimes even rich black, spicy beers. The emphasis is on warmth and strength, perfect for dark nights, shielding from the cold.
Below you will find a selection of these winter warmers, perfect for cosy nights in on the sofa. Whilst some are actual Christmas beers, as per the definition above, some of the others are the more general "winter" beer. That being, toasty, stronger, darker beers you sip and savour.
A Christmas beer festival
In the beginning of the nineties several OBERs (Objective Beer Tasters Essen Region) from Essen took the initiative to bring all Belgian Christmas and winter beers together. What once started as a local festival with 40 beers, has now become a true phenomenon. The Christmas beer festival is included in the list of 10 best beer festivals in Belgium and is always sold out. Last year, the Saturday of the festival sold out within 2 days... in August!!! An international audience tastes Christmas and winter beers for 2 days. The selection ranges from a warm Liefmans Gluhkriek to a lot of barrel aged beers. The visitors also vote for their favourite Christmas beer. A legendary beer festival for sure.
Christmas beer gifts
For some festive beery magic, why not send some tasty brews to your beer lover. They make fantastic gifts.