We may have already said good riddance to the hot mess that was 2019, but there are a few truly exceptional beers we plan to carry with us. Despite all the not-so-great news that the last year ushered in, it ended on a high note—at least as far as beer is concerned. December was our review team’s highest-rated month by a landslide, with a killer lineup including the seasonal porter that earned the lone perfect score of the year. Since we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave any of these next-level beers (and one stellar cider) out, we’ve had to make this list a little longer than usual.
91: Tröegs’ Mad Elf
“This beer is damn good. So good that at 11% ABV, it might get me into some trouble if I were to have more than one,” warns Jesse Bussard of this cult-favorite seasonal Belgian strong dark ale. “It smells rich, borderline lavish, with aromas of sweet caramel and ripened cherries mingled with hints of spice” and is loaded with “decadent caramel malt flavors that seamlessly blend together with the taste of ripe cherries, raw honey, and a splash of cocoa.”
92: Great Lakes’ Christmas Ale
“With the nostalgic power to call to mind the best of Christmas past, and a 7.5% ABV to help you endure the worst of Christmas present, Great Lakes Christmas Ale is nearly the perfect holiday beer,” declares Tucker Anders of this Christmas classic. The aroma “smells like leaning over a bowl of some seriously well-spiced (and well-spiked) holiday punch” and “Each sip unleashes a bouquet of Christmas flavors like gingersnap and snickerdoodle cookies, spicy and fruity mulled wine, caramel hard candy, bitter pine, roasted nuts and almost burned bread.”
93: Prairie Artisan Ales’ Christmas Bomb!
“If you like cinnamon, you’ll love this beer. Imagine taking a sip of one of your favorite imperial stouts fresh off of a handful of Red Hots,” writes Tucker Anders of this spiced 13% ABV imperial stout. Although it’s definitely “decadent and rich, but that richness is cut by the cinnamon that presents more as spicy heat than cloying sweet.” Think of it as an ideal after-dinner sipper that “beats the hell out of after-dinner coffee and anxiety about work tomorrow.”
93: Ninkasi’s Sleigh'r
“With its lusciously dry finish and bold hops bitterness at the end, this beer has me cheering for an encore,” says Jesse Bussard of this “turbo-charged altbier” that’s basically a “winter ale turned up to eleven.” It’s “seriously smooth” with “rich flavors of sweet bread and toasted malt” that “combined with its lusciously dry finish and bold hops bitterness at the end, this beer has me cheering for an encore.”
95: Shacksbury‘s Vermonter
“There must be something in the water in Vermont, because their apples taste like Champagne,” writes Jerard Fagerberg of this game-changing of this Green Mountain State cider “made from apples grown in Cornwall and aged in gin barrels from Caledonia Spirits in Hardwick” that “carries the perfume of the gin barrel. It smells like a bowl full of dried juniper and coriander. That’s followed by the ripe smell of apple core, tempered slightly by pear and vanilla.”
99: Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout
“Sink your teeth in, drink in the sweet breadiness, feel the ginger tingle linger. This is Christmas witchcraft,” Jerard Fagerberg of this beloved seasonal release, a “made-for-Christmas imperial milk stout that’s packed with vanilla, cinnamon, and that Hawaiian ginger and honey” that “looks like a fresh mug of hot chocolate” and tastes like “ pure cookie batter.” “In Virginia, Christmas doesn’t start until Hardywood releases Gingerbread Stout, and it’s easy to understand why.”
100: Three Floyds’ Alpha Klaus
This “seasonal porter brewed with chocolate malt, Mexican sugar, and American hops” “has all the elements of a perfect beer: an alluring complexion, a mystical aroma, and a flavor that will stop you in your tracks. You only see this Christmas misfit once a year, and it never ceases to surprise and enthrall,” raves Jerard Fagerberg. The aroma is reminiscent of “freshly baked biscotti” and the flavor profile is packed with “depths of molasses malt” and a “ particularly beguiling” hop character