Photography: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company/Facebook

With summer nearing, light and refreshing might be what you thirst for during American Craft Beer Week, but we’ll tip our hat to winter beers, too.

Summer wouldn’t be summer without crisp, thirst-quenching brews to accompany Memorial Day cookouts, Fourth of July celebrations, pool parties, beach bacchanals, outdoors adventures, and evenings under the stars. No wonder, then, that when the C&I staff compiled its favorite Western beers, many of the picks were ideal for summer drinking.

But cold weather brings out some awesome beers, too. Winter warmers, heavy stouts, festive Christmas ales, and even fresh-hopped India pale ales are wonderful but not always top of mind — or even available at all — during the annual mid-May observance of this nation’s great independent brewers. File these suggestions away, then, for when the weather turns cool once again. Here are a few of our favorite holiday beers and winter seasonals from the great American West.

Photography: Anchor Brewing Company/Facebook

Anchor Brewing Company Christmas Ale

One of the country’s first craft breweries, Anchor Brewing is best known for its outstanding flagship beer, Anchor Steam. Just as consistent in its high quality, if not its ingredients, is Anchor Christmas Ale, aka Our Special Ale. The recipe changes every year, as does the festive hand-drawn tree on its label, but beer lovers can always count on the rich, dark, creamy, and subtly spiced ale to be a highlight of the season.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Celebration

IPAs may not be the first style that jumps to mind when thinking about winter beers, but Sierra Nevada has turned the year’s first harvest of hops into a bona fide holiday. Sierra Nevada hauls the freshest possible hops in refrigerated trucks straight from the baler and starts brewing within 24 hours, resulting in Cascade- and Centennial-finished beer that hasn’t lost a bit of those hops’ piney, citrusy punch.

Rahr & Sons Brewing Company/Facebook

Rahr & Sons Brewing Company Bourbon Barrel-Aged Winter Warmer

Rahr’s Winter Warmer is a rich and toasty English strong ale and is widely available in six-packs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It’s always a solid choice, but the bourbon barrel-aged version adds wonderful depth. The added vanilla and oak notes complement the chocolate, toffee, and caramel sweetness perfectly and make the 22-ounce bomber bottles worth the splurge.

Photography: Big Sky Brewing Company/Facebook

Big Sky Brewing Company Powder Hound Winter Ale

This dangerously drinkable 7.2 percent ABV ale is variously described as an amber ale, an English strong ale, or an IPA, and Big Sky in the past dubbed it a “Northern Rockies Strong Ale.” Whatever category it may or may not fall into, it’s a welcome break from the cold with its caramel sweetness balanced by a fine mix of earthy, floral, and citrusy British and American hops.

Deschutes Brewery Jubelale

Notes of ripe dark fruit, hints of Christmas spices, caramel and chocolate sweetness, and gentle hops throw a holiday party on the palate, warmed by a moderate but manageable 6.7 percent ABV. Deschutes’ outstanding winter warmer is a fantastic example of the style. It’s generally available starting in October, which is why we won’t mourn the end of summer for too long.

Relive C&I’s American Craft Beer Week coverage.


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