Holiday Cheer by the Glass

by Ben Keene | Photo © Russell Brewing Company

The annual hop harvest is over and the yearly parade of pumpkin beers has come and gone. So what’s the next thing to look forward to in bars and bottle shops from Boise to Vancouver? Holiday beers, of course. In the past, these malty, sweet, and occasionally spiced seasonal ales might have fallen into the winter warmer category, but today they run the gamut of beer styles from bittersweet porters to piney IPAs. More than a few breweries roll out specialty releases as temperatures begun to dip, and here are a few favorites. 


Cherry Christmas (6.5% ABV): Beginning with a dark amber ale recipe, brewer and co-owner Matt Ganz at Salmon River Brewing in McCall, Idaho, adds more than 80 pounds of Pacific Northwest cherry puree to each batch of his festive brew. Most of the fruit ferments out of the final product, but a slight cherry aroma and the pink hue visible in the foamy head (not to mention the playful name) give away the secret ingredient. The SRB pub is is located at 300 Colorado St., McCall, Idaho; 208-634-4772;

Mistletoe Bliss (7.8% ABV).  No, the namesake plant doesn’t find its way into this brown ale produced by Everett, Washington’s Lazy Boy Brewing, but their beer plants a hoppy kiss nonetheless. The Falconer’s Flight variety used by owner and brewer Shawn Loring simultaneously suggests citrus and tropical fruits, and lends a floral quality to the aroma. Combine this with notes of caramel and toasted nuts and you’ve got a liquid alternative to fruitcake. Find the Lazy Boy Brewing taproom at 715 100th St. SE, A-1, Everett, Washington; 425-423-7700;

Bad Santa (6.7% ABV). Call it a Cascadian dark ale or a black IPA, but don’t miss the chance to sample this limited offering, which balances a roasted, cocoa-like malt character with earthy, herbal, Oregon-grown Fuggle hops. Pelican Pub and Brewery in Pacific City, Oregon, originally released this present to beer drinkers in 2007, and while it pours the color of coal, Bad Santa is a flavorful beverage brimming with good cheer. Located at 33180 Cape Kiwanda Dr., Pacific City, Oregon; 503-965-7007;

Naughty and Spiced (6.5% ABV). Cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg all find their way into this full-bodied porter, subtly suggesting the sweet plate of baked goods left by the fireplace for a certain gift-bearing visitor. Adding to its complexity, Naughty and Spiced, from Russell Brewing Company of British Columbia, spends time on oak chips, a technique that imparts a hint of vanilla. This year is only the second time it has appeared in bottles, and its popularity has led the brewery to also consider releasing a few kegs to help meet demand. Learn where to find Russell beers at

Holiday Ale Festival

The 18th annual Holiday Ale Festival will take place Dec. 4 – 8 at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland. The popular event will feature at least four-dozen big, bold ales, from Belgians and barleywines to porters and stouts. For more information, go to