10 Great California Holiday Ales

Top 10 California

Food GPS beer editor Sean Inman chooses 10 great California beers by style.

20 days until Christmas. That leaves plenty of time to enjoy the full spectrum of winter seasonal offerings from California breweries. In the festive spirit of the holidays, instead of tasting notes, I offer my take on the outer package, the label, the Christmas wrapping as it were. You know the stuff you tear at and rip off to get to the presents underneath. (Luckily, the beer inside is quite tasty as well).

10. Lagunitas Sucks or Brown Shugga

The main part of the label of these two winter seasonals, one an IPA, the other, who knows, but Lagunitas calls it a failed barleywine. Still, the label’s not the main draw. Nope. It is the verbiage that crawls around the sides that makes people start twisting the bottle around. Even when full! To read what crazy words of wisdom the Petaluma brewery has to offer.

9. Hangar 24 Craft Brewing – Warmer

The ever-growing Redlands brewery has “freshened” its brand logo but that hasn’t changed the look of the Local Fields series winter offering. You can see the main ingredients used in the beer – maple syrup, spruce and cinnamon – which hang over a clear runway with snowy trees off to the side. This label touches all the bases.

8. 21st Amendment – Fireside Chat

Part of what I call the political cans from this San Francisco based brewery. You have Franklin D. Roosevelt presiding by the fire over a winter spiced ale. With garlands on the mantle as he addresses the nation.

7. Moylan’s – White Christmas

Southern Californians can be forgiven if they don’t immediately recognize the white shapes on the blue background of this label. They are snowflakes. We don’t have them here. A simple design, but it tells you quickly and economically that you have entered winter.

6. Drake’s – Abominably Jolly

Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland has their Abominable Winter Ale and Great Divide of Denver has their line of Yeti beers and now courtesy of Drake’s in San Leandro, Californians have their own scary creature for Christmas. A somewhat cubist Picasso creature who reigns over an Imperial White IPA.


Holiday Ales California

California breweries ring in the holidays with beers like Fireside Chat, 6-Geese-A-Laying, and Abominably Jolly.

5. Eagle Rock Brewery – Jubilee

Like The Bruery, you can pick out the design of Eagle Rock’s labels very easily. The slanted design with the shine of the foil and the darker red are quite striking and it still leaves room for the description of the beer as well.

4. The Bruery – Six-Geese-A-Laying

The beautiful swirling red and green colors are perfect for the holidays and matches well with the rest of labels of the other five beers in this epic beer journey that The Bruery has embarked upon, this year with Cape gooseberries.

3. Port Brewing – Santa’s Little Helper

We go from scenes of winter and nature back indoors, to bar where Santa and the reindeer gather for a pint with the elf tending bar. A funny scene for a seriously big Imperial stout.

2. Sierra Nevada – Celebration

This iconic winter IPA from Sierra Nevada features the same label every year and evokes a snowed-in cabin that hopefully is well stocked with this fresh-hopped beer. Plus I love the poinsettias in the corners. Nice touch.

1. Anchor Brewing – Our Special Ale

An iconic beer of the season with an ever-changing tree adorning the middle of the simple cream colored label. The 2013 label is a traditional Currier & Ives type of tree (California White Fir) that you can almost picture being festooned with ornaments and lights.

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

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Sean Inman

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

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