For me, the most exciting thing about the holidays is the onslaught of Christmas beers. No, not the six-pack your bright-red Uncle Gus used to down just before the gift exchange — I’m talking big, hearty, Belgian holiday ales. Most are characterized by a strong, dark malty sweetness offset by a heavy dose of baking spice flavors and heightened alcohol content to help you stay all warm and toasted toasty. There are variations, of course, not to mention a wonderful world of British “winter warmers” and American holiday beers waiting to be consumed, but that will have to be for some other post. (If you’re particularly curious, I highly recommend delving into Don Russell’s epic tome, Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Brews.)
And while you just may not be able to attend the 15th Annual Christmas Beer Festival being held in Essen, Belgium this weekend, there are plenty of great Christmas ales you can try in the comfort of your own drinking hole. I’ve selected my five favorite Christmas beers — Belgian only, in the spirit of this weekend’s Kerstbierfestival.