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Season Ale

Highlights from a miserly selection of seasonal brews

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Is it too much to show a little holiday spirit? This is my new attitude regarding holiday beers, those vaguely Xmassy or otherwise winter-themed beers that come and go with the season. My old attitude was, "Why must we now have apple cider spices in beer? This seems unnecessary." I'd been passing them up for years.

These days, it being necessary to have blood orange and chile pepper and everything in between in our triple-hopped IPA, why not? I give up—I mean, celebrate.

Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hop IPA The little snowed-in cabin scene on the label sure fooled me—although the label does not lie. This is an earthy, more robust style of Sierra, brewed with fresh hops. Nothing spicy or otherwise seasonal about it. 6.8 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).

Lagunitas Brown Shugga' Sweet Release Yeah, it's made with brown sugar, but Santa's little helpers, the yeast, ate it all up, leaving mostly a strong, malt liquor profile—in the best way. At 10 percent ABV, it'll warm your winter, all right. My one wish: could the dog at least be wearing a little Santa hat?

Deschutes Jubelale This is what it's all about: liquid gingerbread man. Spicy and sweet-scented, this amber-to-brown ale is neither syrupy nor too dry on the finish. This Bend, Ore., brewery is fully in the spirit of the season. 6.7 percent ABV.

Fogbelt Armstrong Stout In the mix only because at one point, frustrated at the poverty of proper winter warmers on offer locally, I just started grabbing stouts. This reveals a nice surprise: sweet, foresty fresh, wreath-hop aroma. Consider that it's named after a mighty big tree in the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, and we've got a reasonably seasonal brew in this strongly flavored but not head-bangingly high-alcohol stout. Brewed with English Maris Otter malt and aged with American oak. 6.5 percent ABV.

Cloverdale Ale Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Stout Nothing says "holidays" about this 22-ounce "bomber." You have to read the fine print on the raisin-purple label to learn it's a seasonal winter ale—hey, that's code for "holiday." More than that: "You know Santa would rather have this than a plate of cookies." This cookie-inspired stout is no dessert in a glass, showing more like an Irish oatmeal stout with black roasted barley aroma and a creamy palate, but the flavors of raisin and cola liven up the center, and a note of cinnamon wafts over the nuanced but rich brew, as if freshly baked cookies have been set out nearby. I'm with Santa on this one. 8 percent ABV.

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