As fall settles in and the air turns a bit chillier, you’ll notice the small promise of snow on the horizon… and with that the bigger promise of the best beer season in Cleveland!
Christmas ales in Cleveland are kind of our specialty, and we’re super proud of it.
Of course, we’re not the only part of the country known for Christmas ales and holiday beers, but we sure do make the biggest deal out of it. Many breweries typically throw “First Pour” parties in October, and local grocery stores start packing the shelves full of the deliciously spiced winter beers soon after.
If you can’t tell, Clevelanders get very excited about it! Unfortunately, thanks to everything going on in the world, these celebrations are either being canceled or revised for 2020. However, just because you can’t attend a release party in person this year, it doesn’t mean you can’t gather up as many of these incredible winter beers as possible and celebrate at home!
I present to you: the best Christmas ales in Cleveland and some incredible holiday beers you’re going to want to try ASAP!
What is Christmas Ale?
Before we get into the deliciousness of the craft beer scene and the magic of Christmas [ales] in Cleveland, let’s talk about what Christmas ale, also known as winter ale, actually is.
According to The Oxford Companion to Beer, Christmas ales are “special beers made for Christmas and New Year celebrations, often with a high alcohol content of 5.5%-14% ABV and marked by the inclusion of dark flavored malts, spices, herbs, and fruits in the recipe.”
While Christmas ale in Cleveland and around the world seems like a relatively new concept, it actually has origins dating to medieval times and was called “lambswool.” Back then, ingredients included nutmeg, honey, ginger, and roasted apples.
Today, Christmas ales typically have popular holiday spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, honey, cumin, and citrus fruits, very similar to the items added to create mulled wine. However, many breweries love to add their own spices and flavors to create a unique Christmas ale, which is why there are so many varieties here in Cleveland!
What Other Kinds of Holiday Beers Are There?
Since we’re on the topic of holiday beers, Christmas ales aren’t the only kind! While technically a Christmas or winter ale is made from ingredients producing darker kinds of ales, many breweries in Cleveland enjoy getting creative with their holiday beers and spices.
So, while some beers may not be considered a Christmas/winter ale per se, they’ll still pack in the full-bodied flavors that comprise a beer you mostly want to drink during the colder winter months in Cleveland.
Some popular beers used for the holidays that aren’t Christmas ales in Cleveland include IPAs with winter flavors mixed in, oatmeal stouts, and other hearty beers.
Now that we know what Christmas and winter beers in Cleveland are, let’s talk about the ones you should be on the lookout for! Oh, and to keep that Christmas theme, let’s do it 12 beers of Christmas style.
The Best Winter Beers & Christmas Ales in Cleveland
1. Great Lakes Brewing Company Christmas Ale
Winter Ale | 2516 Market Ave., Cleveland (Ohio City)
To kick off the list of the best Christmas ales in Cleveland, we’ve got to start with the OG: Great Lakes Christmas Ale. This is the most well known, the most widely distributed, and the most celebrated. It’s easy to understand why after just one sip.
This smooth, perfectly spiced, and malty beer has hints of cinnamon, ginger, and delicious honey, and Clevelanders long for this year-round! It’s so popular that Great Lakes Brewing Company even throws a party on July 25th for a fun Christmas Ale in July! celebration.
Most years, there is a First Pour party around October 25th to celebrate the release of the current year’s Christmas ale. It gets super busy and crowded as locals and travelers alike partake in the joy that is this honored tradition of Christmas ale in Cleveland.
I was lucky enough to go last year, and the line was well down the street before the doors even opened! It was so much fun to have some of the first sips of 2019’s Christmas ale, eat a tasty Christmas Ale Fry Cake from Brewnuts, and spend time with fellow beer enthusiasts as we celebrated the kickoff of the best beer season!
However, this year, being 2020 and all, they are doing things differently. The event is still happening on October 22 starting at 10 AM, but by reservation only. However, they are also offering the option to enjoy the First Pour at Home.
For First Pour at Home you sign up for one of their 5 packages that comes with Christmas ale and other goodies. Just pick it up at the gift shop and enjoy at home!
For those of us who couldn’t get either a reservation for the event or the at home pour can pick up these ales starting on October 23rd in the gift shop (including in cans for the first time ever!) or where most Great Lakes beer is sold starting on the 26th.
2. Festivus Ale by Market Garden Brewery
Winter Ale | 1947 W 25th St., Cleveland (Ohio City)
This is named for the made up holiday called “Festivus” that was popularized by the episode “The Strike” on Seinfeld. Drinkers are also encouraged to “air their grievances” and perform “feats of strength” as they did in the episode.
This beer is full of holiday spices including ginger, cinnamon, and allspice, and has a smooth and malty taste. They also include brown sugar and caramelized wort to kick up that holiday flavor even more.
Plus, they also usually have their own release party that competes with Great Lakes Brewing Company. They are both held on the same day and just down the street from each other, making it an interesting and fun rivalry between the breweries… or really just an opportunity for you to go to both in one day!
However, in 2020, it doesn’t appear that they will be having a party. This beer becomes available around October 25th.
3. Holly Jolly Christmas Ale by Fat Head’s Brewery
Winter Warmer | 17450 Engle Lake Dr., Middleburg Heights (Largest Location)
Fat Head’s Christmas ale is a delightful winter warmer, or a sweet, malty, and strong ale. It has a spicy combination of ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg, with a lot of honey and malt to keep it sweet.
This is a very popular beer around the holidays in Cleveland, and you’ll find this is an addition to almost every holiday party in the area! While you can get it in many stores around the holiday season, there are also several Fat Head’s Brewery locations around northeast Ohio to stop in and enjoy it at, including in Middleburg Heights, North Olmstead, and Canton.
You’ll start seeing this beer on the shelves around the beginning of November in most places, and at the brewery around mid-October.
4. 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale by Thirsty Dog
Winter Ale | 1085 Old River Rd., Cleveland (The Flats)
Originally from about an hour south in Akron, Ohio, this brewery opened a location on the East Bank of the Flats a few years ago and brought its tasty beer with it!
Known for many favorites named for our furry friends like Old Leghumper and Irish Setter Red, they also have a delicious Christmas ale called the 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale.
This ale is packed with honey, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and “Santa’s secret recipe.” Bring on the yule tidings with this beer.
Like some of the other breweries around Cleveland, they also have a Christmas ale release party. Hosted a bit earlier than the others, you can start snagging this beer around mid-October. Their party was on October 10th this year with masking and social distancing enforced.
5. Three Hos Christmas Ale by Saucy Brew Works
Spiced Red Ale | 2885 Detroit Ave., Cleveland (Ohio City)
Another great brewery in Cleveland that is brewing up a unique Christmas ale, Saucy uses a red ale and adds in “Cleveland” style spices. Caramel, dark cherry, and holiday spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger wrap up this festive seasonal beer.
They also had a release party, which took place on October 3 this year at both their Ohio City and Pinecrest locations, so you can get a pint of it now.
For those in Columbus and Detroit, this brewery is coming to your cities soon!
6. 8 Crazy Nights by Collision Bend Brewing Company
Winter Ale | 1250 Old River Rd., Cleveland (The Flats)
This delightful holiday ale is named for the 8 nights of Hanukkah. With honey, cinnamon, and being steeped in Ohio-grown apples, this beer will warm you up on a cold winter’s night with its spicy, malty, and smooth flavors.
While they typically have a release party for 8 Crazy Nights at the end of October (last year’s event took place on October 29th), it does not appear to be happening this year.
However, it is usually on tap around the end of October!
7. Robot Santa’s Christmas Ale by Masthead Brewing Company
Winter Ale | 1261 Superior Ave., Cleveland (Downtown)
Masthead is definitely one of the top breweries in Cleveland thanks to their incredible IPAs and their wood fired pizzas. So when it comes to the holiday season, of course they had to release a Christmas ale.
While their IPAs are definitely where they shine, you’ll still find this Christmas ale filled with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, coriander, and orange peel pretty enjoyable.
Masthead first released this beer in 2019, and they have an ever-rotating list of beers each year. So it may be released this November again, or they may have a new holiday beer. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see and keep checking their beer list!
8. Snow Job Christmas Ale by Working Class Brewery
Spiced Red Ale | 17448 Lorain Ave., Cleveland (Kamms Corner)
Located in Kamms Corner on the west side, Working Class has been brewing many delicious beers like Clock Out Peanut Butter Chocolate Stout and Boilermaker Stout for the last few years.
This red ale is full of body with a touch of sweetness. Enjoy the honey, cinnamon, and ginger flavors of this delicious beer. It is the perfect way to finish a long day of decking the halls!
This beer usually is available on tap starting around the end of October.
9. Esther by Platform Beer Company
Belgian Strong Dark Ale | 4125 Lorain Ave., Cleveland (Ohio City)
This brewery began in 2014 and has seen a ton of growth over the years! Aside from their original location in Ohio City, they also have a couple other places in Cleveland as well as a spot in Cincinnati, Columbus, and a location in Pittsburgh opening soon.
This Belgian-style beer has flavors of honey, dark cherries, and, as the glass warms, a bit of toffee. While this is a beer you’ll definitely enjoy, it’s a slow sipper. At 9.5% ABV, it will sneak up on you!
Plan to see this available around the end of October.
10. Christmas MiraCLE by Avon Brewing Company
Winter Ale | 37040 Detroit Rd., Avon
A crowd favorite is the Christmas MiraCLE from Avon Brewing Company! Full of caramel malt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and honey, this sweet and smooth ale is perfect to wash down a hearty Thanksgiving feast or holiday dinner.
Also, while Christmas ales in Cleveland tend to be around the 7.5% ABV range, this one may be sweet but packs a punch at 9.3% ABV – so watch out!
This beer is also released around the end of October so expect to see it on tap soon.
11. Pimp My Sleigh by Fat Head’s Brewery
Belgian Strong Dark Ale | 17450 Engle Lake Dr., Middleburg Heights (Largest Location)
Another Fat Head’s Brewery Christmas ale makes the list, and this one is Pimp My Sleigh. This Belgian-style holiday ale has dark malt, dark fruit, figs, raisins, anise, and spicy phenols. This is poured with a thick, creamy head for the best flavor.
But with an ABV of 10.5%, you better not be operating that sleigh ride home! However, this is the perfect way to warm up after a chilly Cleveland winter day.
Expect to see this out in mid to late October in the brewery and on shelves in November.
12. Shinny Belgian Quad by Forest City Brewery
Belgian Quadrupel | 2135 Columbus Rd., Cleveland (Duck Island)
Named shinny after “pond hockey” or “street hockey,” this strong 10% ABV beer has allspice and cloves added to warm you up after a game of hockey.
While most Christmas and holiday beers in Cleveland are released during the month of October, this beer usually is on tap the weekend of Thanksgiving during their Annual Deck the Beer Halls Tree Trimming Party.
Honorable Mentions for the Best Winter Beers and Christmas Ales in Cleveland
While we kept the list above to beers with traditional holiday spices, there are plenty of other breweries in and around the northeast Ohio area brewing up tasty brews that have various other wintery flavors. Here are a few of our favorites:
1. Sleigh All Day IPA With Spruce Tips by Masthead Brewing Company
Red IPA | 1261 Superior Ave., Cleveland (Downtown)
This is arguably Masthead’s most well-known holiday beer. As they are known for their IPAs, expect this one to be a great one as well!
They combine spruce tips with hops to create a hoppy, piney, slightly bitter, and malty beverage that’ll keep you refreshed during any family holiday celebration.
This beer gets released around the end of October.
2. Ohio City Oatmeal Stout by Great Lakes Brewing Company
Oatmeal Stout | 2516 Market Ave., Cleveland (Ohio City)
Nothing will put you in the cozy winter mood quite like an Ohio City Oatmeal Stout. From the roasted maltiness to the charming label featuring a horse and buggy sliding along the snow lined streets of Ohio City, winter just isn’t complete without a pint of this beer.
This beer is released around the same time as the Christmas Ale, so expect to see it in stores and on tap at the end of October.
3. Frosted Frog by Hoppin’ Frog Brewery
Winter Warmer | 1680 E Waterloo Rd., Akron
I’ll be honest here, if it weren’t for the fact that this brewery is located in Akron it wouldn’t have been in the honorable mentions. It would’ve been number 1. But, as it is a northeast Ohio beer, and you can get it in Cleveland at various grocery stores, I’m counting it because this list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about this beer.
If you want a Christmas ale that truly packs in the holidays in one sip, this is the beer for you. Full of rich malt, holiday spices like cinnamon, clove, and ginger, it’ll make you feel like you’re wrapped in a blanket by the fire watching the snow lightly fall outside. It truly is a holiday hug in a bottle.
Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but this beer is on my list of all-time favorite beers let alone Christmas ales. So if you’re visiting Cleveland around the holidays, you better get a bottle of this somewhere to enjoy or go to the brewery and get it on tap! You can thank me later.
Be sure to try their barrel aged version while you’re at it too!
This is released at the end of October.
Whether you live in Cleveland or are just passing through on a road trip, if you’re here between the months of October and December, you have to try the best beers of the season!
READ NEXT: The Best Things to Do in Cleveland in Winter
Which is your favorite holiday beer or Christmas ale in Cleveland?
Kat is a Cleveland transplant and has lived here for over 4 years. She loves to eat, drink, and explore the gems across the city, and has made it her personal mission to find the best breweries and pizza in Northeast Ohio. She also runs a couples travel blog and podcast called World Wide Honeymoon.