Ready or not, the holiday season is nearly upon us. In Bellingham, the changing seasons mean turning to the great indoors for entertainment, while simultaneously layering up our ugly sweaters and rainproof jackets for any and all advances into the elements. Gone are the dog days of summer. And when it comes to enjoying local brews, it’s time to trade in those sunny beer gardens for cozy taprooms and a seat by the fire.
Winter is my favorite time of the year for beer. Our local breweries craft some of their finest creations during the darker months. When else can you stop in for a pint of Cabin Fever at Boundary Bay? Okay, sometimes they offer it for Christmas in July. But most seasonal favorites only come around once a year. These brews are as big, bold, and dark as the season itself — pairing perfectly with chilly winter nights.
As much as I’d like to try every winter beer in Whatcom County, I’ve only managed to sample a few this year. So I reached out to our local breweries to see what they’re offering. Here’s a list of 12 (give or take a few) seasonal brews to try in Bellingham this holiday season.
CEO and owner of Aslan Brewing, Jack Lamb suggests cozying up with their 542 Winter Warmer. On tap now through the duration of winter, 542 is named after Mount Baker Highway — Bellingham’s road to outdoor adventure. At 7.9% ABV, I imagine it would make for a welcome winter night companion — especially after a day on Baker’s slopes. Here’s the description from Aslan’s site:
“A richly flavored, full-bodied Imperial Alt style ale. This delicious seasonal is fermented cold, which allows the deep malt tones to really shine. The balance in this beer comes from a heavy dry hop of Ahtanum and a touch of Mosaic which round out the malt and provide notes of stone fruit and fresh cut flowers.”
Chuckanut is offering a couple treats this holiday season. They currently have a limited release Rauch Doppelbock on tap, brewed in collaboration with Hales Ales in Seattle. Owner Mari Kemper says that this big, rich beer has been bourbon barrel aged for several months. This information alone is enough to pique my curiosity, and I will most certainly be visiting Chuckanut to try it soon.
Also coming up at Chuckanut is their aged Baltic Porter, which will be available right after Thanksgiving. According to Mari, this beer will be on tap “as a treat and thanks to all our customers for supporting us through the year.” Find it here in Bellingham, or head down to check out Chuckanut’s new South Nut location at the Port of Skagit.
Be sure to try the Schwarzbier as well, a black lager on tap now for the season.
Kulshan boasts a full lineup of winters seasonals, including a Harvest Ale, Smoked Stout, and the big two I’m about to tell you about. First is Kitten Mittens, contender for cutest Bellingham beer name ever, and an annual favorite. It goes down smoothly for a beer boasting 7.4% ABV and 89 IBU. With rich chocolate notes, Kitten’s “balanced bitterness and playful hop aroma fit like a mitten.”
Kulshan’s other big holiday hit is their Royal Tannenbaum Christmas Ale. Highly sought-after since winning a gold medal at the Washington Beer Awards earlier this year, Tannenbaum is made with additions from “Four happy little trees from Everson’s Fullner Christmas Tree Farm”. Can you taste the Norway Spruce, Douglas Fir, Colorado Spruce, and White Fir? Try it at Kulshan’s Ugly Sweater X-Mas Ale Release Party, November 25 at K2.
Stone’s Throw Owner and Head Brewer Tony Luciano is excited to offer some unique and interesting choices this year. Slam Dunkelweizen is an autumn lager, made with wheat and specialty grains. For those who prefer their winter warmers without the bitterness, this dark beer comes in nice and low at 16 IBU. With caramel and toasted bread crust flavors, it’s “as inviting as a campfire”.
Personally, I’ve never heard of an amber ale described as a winter warmer. But Stone’s Throw’s Embers Amber is just that: a very dark, toasted amber “with hints of fresh peaches and dates rising to the top”. I recently tried this new brew on tap, and found it to be roasty and robust with a balanced bitterness.
Additional seasonal offerings to try this holiday season:
- Boundary Bay Brewery
- While Cabin Fever comes on strong at 8.5% ABV, cold conditioning smooths out the flavor for a deceptively easy-drinking winter warmer. A classic Bellingham holiday brew.
- Gruff Brewing
- ??? — You never know what Gruff’s going to brew up next. But if past recipes are any indication, I for one want to find out. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for weekly updates.
- North Fork Brewery
- North Fork’s Mount Baker Highway location is a bit of a drive from Bellingham, making it a mandatory stop for skiers and snowboarders on the way home. Their Barleywine — perhaps the strongest beer around — will warm you right up.
- Structures Brewing
- ??? — Structures always has something new on tap — they brewed 50 different beers in their first year of operation. Check their Facebook page for updates, and watch for four new bottled and canned beers to be released on December 2.
- Wander Brewing
- In November, Wander is offering a brew from their award-winning Millie Sour series, Plum Millie. This one promises to be a bright departure from the otherwise dark beers on our list. Wander’s Raspberry Millie Sour took 1st Place in Sip Northwest‘s “Best of the Northwest” awards in 2015 — reason enough to give the plum version a try.
Looking for holiday beer events in Bellingham? Check out the Tap Trail calendar for an updated list. Hoppy holidays!