Centuries ago, North European monks used their finest ingredients to brew an extra rich beer to celebrate Christmas. Commercial brewers picked up the tradition and rewarded their loyal clients with a specially brewed beer as a holiday treat. Today, nearly every beer brewing country produces Christmas beer. Belgium, however, the beer country par excellence, outnumbers them all.
At the annual Christmas Beer Festival in Essen, a short train ride from Antwerp, over 100 Belgian Christmas beers are presented. While the style of these beers varies considerably, all have this in common: they are stronger and more complex than their year-round cousins. To enhance the beer’s aroma, many are dry-hopped, a method in which dry flower hops are added into the maturing vessel before filtering and bottling. In addition, many beers are bottle-conditioned in which fresh yeast is added to the beer just before bottling. The beer continues to age, becomes mellow and gains in complexity. When poured, it sports a big foamy head.
The following beers are worth seeking out. Most can be found in Belgian or French restaurants. These types of beers should not be guzzled, but savored and sipped slowly. Serve them almost at room temperature to release their full flavor.