Drinking on the cheap during the warmer months is a breeze: you can grab a 12-pack of Sierra Nevada Summerfest for right around $20, or one of the many delicious session IPAs that became ubiquitous this past year–a 15-pack of Founders All-Day IPA cans, for instance, is one of the best bargains in all of craft beer, regularly available for less than $25.
But when temperatures begin to fall and you desire something more substantial in your glass, it’s easy to drop a whole lot of money on beer. The barrel-aged stouts that keep you warm at night? Yeah, it’s not uncommon to pay upwards of a dollar per ounce for one of those. Boozy barleywines, Belgian strong dark ales, and imperial porters? None of them come particularly cheap.
One of the great secrets of winter drinking, though—and why it’s perhaps the very best kind of drinking—is that there’s also a glut of standard, readily available seasonal six-packs that can be had for between $10 and $15. They’re not as sexy as the 12% big-bottles you’d like to be drinking every day, but they’re extremely flavorful and warming, despite being low enough in alcohol that you can drink more than one or two without greatly increasing your risk of developing diabetes. Here’s a bunch that are worth trying.
Blue Point Winter Ale
Technically classified as an Amber Ale, this winter seasonal is one of the first I remember waiting for all year, its arrival on shelves helping to usher in my favorite time of year. Medium brown with hints of red in certain light, it’s most defining notes are of caramel, toffee and dark fruits. At 7% ABV, you might not want to drink the whole 6-pack, but then again you might.
Sam Adams Winter Lager
I know. I know! We never really write about Sam Adams around here, but I have a particular soft spot for this one. Whereas Blue Point plays up caramel and dark fruits, Sam Winter builds on it with the spicier flavor profile you find in some winter seasonals. Cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, along with a bit of orange, sit atop the dark, slightly sweet foundation.
Sierra Nevada Celebration
One of the more popular winter seasonals among beer nerds, Celebration goes in another direction entirely–and not an unexpected one for anyone who knows anything about Sierra Nevada’s specialty. Celebration will appeal to anyone who’s fond of SN’s massively popular Pale Ale, mirroring as it does that beer’s citrus notes and adding to them a huge amount of pine and a more pronounced malt bill.
Peak Organic Winter Session Ale
I can never tell how people feel about this brewery, but I don’t know that I’ve ever had one of their beers that wasn’t at least above average, and this one is no different. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what this style is, but it’s definitely got wheat characteristics and a substantial hop presence. There’s citrus, pine, and something almost nutty, maybe? I don’t know. Good, though.
Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin
For some reason, Firestone Walker had been withholding its seasonals from New York until this year, so this is the first time I’ve gotten to try this exemplary oatmeal stout–another style that works perfectly for winter imbibing. You’ll get hints of creamy oatmeal, coffee, and sweet milk chocolate.
21st Amendment Fireside Chat
Beer people are traditionally pretty non-plussed by this beer, but I love it. It’s characterized as a Winter Warmer, so it goes heavy on spices like cinnamon and clove, but there’s also a bright hoppiness and a surprising bit of alcohol burn. One time, I drank like eight of these without realizing it was almost 8% ABV. That was the best night.
Not terribly unlike Blue Point’s winter ale, Brooklyn’s version is characterized not as an Amber Ale, but as a Scottish ale. This local staple is all about the malts: sweet caramel and chewy bread give it a luxurious mouthfeel. I drank one of these with some fancy aged cheddar from BKLYN Larder last week, and it was amazing.
Victory Winter Cheers
Ok, so I don’t really get this beer, actually! I mean, I do… it’s a pretty standard hefeweizen as far as I can tell, in that it’s got the perfect creamy mouthfeel and a yeasty breadiness, but I’m not totally sure what about it makes it suitable for winter?
Lake Placid Bean to Coffee Stout
No one ever talks about this brewery, located way the fuck up north in Lake Placid, but I’ve always found their beers perfectly solid and well priced. This coffee stout (more coffee stouts please, everyone) is suitably roasty and a little smokey, with some chocolate and a ton of fresh coffee grinds coming through.