There are a few things that are hard to escape during the holiday season: kitschy Christmas music, resolution-inducing festive foods, and of course, family. Thankfully there’s alcohol, which makes all of the above slightly more bearable.

While classic holiday beverages like mulled wine and eggnog have long been seasonal go-tos, several winter beer varieties have been growing in popularity, blending traditional festive flavour profiles and long-standing local tradition with a growing international craft beer market excited to explore these new brews.

Nowhere is the winter beer scene more entrenched and diverse than it is in Europe. To get you into the holiday spirit, here are four European winter beer traditions worth skipping the holidays at home to experience.

European Winter Beer Traditions

Belgium

No European beer guide would be complete without mention of Belgium, whose strong brewing heritage and tradition extend to holiday brews as well. For centuries, Belgium brewers have concocted a variety of special brews to commemorate the holiday season. Most of the iconic national beer brands such as Gouden Carolus, Delirium, St. Bernardus and Chouffe all offer their own holiday brews, most of which fall under the category of strong dark ales, although there are deviations. Even the well known (but less interesting) international export, Stella Artois, was originally introduced as a holiday pilsner, taking its name “Artois” from the biblical star of Bethlehem.

While you can sample a variety Christmas beers around the country, a Christmas Beer Festival is held each year in Essen, a Belgian town near the border of the Netherlands, where upwards of 150 Belgian Christmas beers are sampled.

Winter Beer Julebryg

Denmark

The first Friday in November is met with unbridled enthusiasm across Denmark as the country’s Christmas beers, known as Julebryg, are officially released. J-Dag, as it’s now referred to, sees locals flock to cafes and breweries to consume an abundance of this freshly tapped holiday beer, which was traditionally delivered alongside the first snow of the season. Today, little is left to chance and gallons of fake snow are ready on standby in case the real stuff doesn’t fall. While Julebryg is produced throughout the holiday season by most Danish breweries, the name connotes the season more than a specific style of beer – though Julebryg often tends to be more alcohol-forward than the traditional Danish pilsner.

While travellers can find Julebryg throughout the country until the end of the holiday season, try to plan your visit to align with J-Dag for a holiday you won’t (or will) forget.

United Kingdom

British seasonal beers were historically labeled Winter Warmers, indicative of a stronger, maltier, heftier beer than a standard English Ale. These days, Winter Warmer has evolved into a more generic designation, although most generally fall into two categories: English Strong Ale that is often easy on the spice and Wassail, which is more like a spice-forward mulled beer. Bold flavours and high alcohol content make Winter Warmers the drinking equivalent of cozying up by the fire. Pubs will often stock a few seasonal varieties over the winter and well into the New Year but get your hands on some craft bottles to try some more unique variations.

Germany

Glühwein, which we English speakers know as mulled wine, is the standard beverage across the hundreds of Christmas Markets held throughout Germany. In the country where beer is king, it’s only natural that this idea has spread to include a beer-based version. Glühbier is often made using a fruit beer base, served warm, and spiced using traditional seasonal flavours like nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. While not a passed-down holiday tradition like the other styles of beer mentioned above, mulled beer is starting to catch on in Germany, Belgium and Austria. Like it’s wine counterpart, glühbier’s redeeming quality is its ability to keep you warm and liquored up in the cold weather.

Have you come across other holiday beer traditions or styles on your travels? Do you have your own? Let us know in the comment section below!