At this point you have probably noticed a number of Holiday beers being sold at your local bottle shop or grocery store. Likewise, many of our local breweries are also pouring some of these delicious treats right now. These beers are traditionally referred to as ‘winter warmers.’ This style doesn’t stick around for long so you should jump on the opportunity as many examples are already disappearing from the shelves and they won’t be available again until next year.

I am sure some of you are thinking to yourself, ‘What is it about these beers that make them unique to the winter holidays?’ Well, this style of beer is a medium to heavy bodied ale with a strong malt backbone, a low hop characteristic, and a slightly higher than usual Alcohol by volume (ABV). The combination creates a beer with a full, thick flavor, minimal bitterness, and a hint of sweetness from the higher ABV. They are often brewed with a variety of spices, which could include allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, or ginger depending on the recipe. This leads to a hearty brew with flavors that we imagine during the holiday season.

Now that your mouth is watering, let’s jump in to some of the best winter warmers that North Carolina has to offer. As it goes, you are in luck, one of the best winter warmers that is brewed in North Carolina is ‘Santa’s Secret,’ which is brewed by the Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill. This beer was one of the first of this style that I tried and has set the standard for me ever since. It perfectly blends in the malt, sweetness, and spice profile that this style has to offer, while not being too heavy for the casual beer drinker. Some other winter warmers from North Carolina are Cold Mountain Winter Ale by Highland Brewing in Asheville, First Frost by Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, Frost Nipper Winter Warmer by Aviator Brewing Company in Fuquay-Varina, and Christmas Ale by Olde Hickory in Hickory.

As I mentioned above, these ales are going to become scarcer as we approach the New Year so go visit your local bottle shop or brewery to pick some up. I would suggest grabbing a variety so you can see the difference between each brewery’s offering, but sampling one will work just as well. Either way, take some to your next holiday party so you can surprise your friends with a tasty brew and some new found knowledge.

You can follow Dan on Twitter @DKlem87.

(feature image by Drunken Monkey via flickr)
(thumbnail by geo462rge via flickr)