Happy holidays! What’s the best part about the cold weather and myriad gatherings with friends and family? The winter beers, of course! I have done a labor-intensive study of a few of the winter sampler packs available right now (you’re welcome) and made some comparisons that might help you better choose one for your next party. I know what it’s like standing in the liquor store staring at the shelves full of craft beers and just not being able to decide what to buy.. because I want to get them all. Sampler packs are a great way to get a feel for a brewing company and find your tastes along the way. Let’s get into it.
I chose these samplers based on availability in my area and their selection of winter-style varieties. I went with the Samuel Adams Winter Classics, Magic Hat Winterland, Leinenkugel’s Winter Sampler Pack, Saranac’s 12 Beers of Winter, and Long Trail’s Survival Pack. Sixty beers later, I think I’ve been able to make an educated decision on the pros and cons of each of the samplers. Final rankings after the descriptions. I’d like to note: I drank all of these beer from the bottle, as most of us do when we have sampler/party packs, for this review. To fully appreciate these beers I would pour them into a glass first.
Samuel Adams Winter Classics pack gives you a great set of beer appropriate for cold weather. Boston winters get frigid so they should know how to do it right!
Boston Lager – The quintessential lager and flagship beer of Samuel Adams, this is a classic that you’ve probably had many times if you’re a beer lover. A year-round drink.
Winter Lager – Another classic, this seasonal lager is quite similar to the Boston, perhaps a bit heavier with a malty, slightly spiced finish. A good winter standard.
Holiday Porter – An interesting porter that smells slightly of coffee and has a roasted chocolate taste. Malty and slightly bitter on the finish. Quite hoppy for a porter.
Chocolate Bock – Want a chocolate milk? Have a beer instead. This one is rich. Starts off with a delicious chocolate flavor and continues with it like drinking cocoa! It’s so rich and sweet yet light-bodied.
Black and Brew – My first experience with this beer– and it was a good one! A great coffee smell followed by a rich coffee flavor. It’s not as overpowering as some coffee stouts can be. Nice espresso/chocolate finish and aftertaste.
Old Fezziwig Ale – Complex and delicious, this ale drinks smooth and nicely blends chocolate and caramel malts. It’s hard to pick out the flavors with so much going on. Great roasted flavor and chocolate malt aftertaste.
Leinenkugel’s Winter Sampler Pack comes with a variety of beers that you might not initially think of as cold-weather beer. I quickly changed my mind. Don’t judge a beer by its label.
Fireside Nut Brown – Great nutty aroma followed by an amazingly smoky nut brown ale taste. You can really taste the nuts and the malts in this one. This is a fireside beer, for sure. Inside or out.
Classic Amber – This one is an average amber ale. Slightly carbonated and pretty refreshing. It might balance out the darker selections, but I’m not sold on it.
Creamy Dark – Bold flavor right from the start. It is smooth and creamy but not as thick as you might expect. A pretty decent beer.
Honey Weiss – This was the surprise standout for me. I thought, “Honey Weiss in a winter pack? Doesn’t sound right.” I was wrong. Its deep honey flavor is soothing, thick, and warm. It’s light enough to be refreshing but heavy enough for any cold night. I need a six pack of this.
Magic Hat Winterland offers up a nice selection of Vermont’s finest beer that will make you want winter to last a bit longer.
#9 – If you’ve ever had Magic Hat, you’ve probably had #9 and you know what it’s about. Apricot. The refreshing flagship beer tastes heavy of the fruit, making it a unique beer that fits in all of their variety packs.
Ravell – With a nice vanilla aroma I was slightly disappointed at first but came to enjoy it more as it warmed. The vanilla notes are complemented by tastes of toffee. It’s a bit sweet, but I enjoy vanilla.
Encore – The seasonal offering of the “IPA on Tour!” series is wonderfully refreshing and lightly hopped. I love this one.
Howl – The “Black-as-night Lager” is a fantastic beer for a cold night. Deliciously rich, somewhat creamy, and smooth. A little bitter on the finish. Tastes like I’ll have another.
Saranac 12 Beers of Winter is a collection of interestingly-named beers spanning the taste spectrum that scream Winter!
Chocolate Lager – One of the reasons I was looking forward to this pack, it has a mild chocolate flavor with some hops to boot. Maybe my hopes were too high. I liked it but it wasn’t love.
Lake Effect Lager – This one is malty and tastes of chocolate slightly. It’s pretty rich and a nice winter lager.
Vanilla Stout – Another one that compelled me to buy this sampler, I was pretty happy with the light vanilla flavor with hints of roasted coffee. It finishes strangely bitter, though, which is the only downside.
Bohemian Pilsener – This is a fairly standard clean, slightly hoppy pilsener. Good for any month.
India Copper Ale – I liked this one. It has a nice spicy, malted flavor with some tasty floral/piney hops to back it up.
Big Moose Ale – Smells of floral hops and the taste is malty followed by a good hop character. Pretty decent pale ale.
Long Trail’s Survival Pack is technically their Fall sampler, but it’s been a warmer-than-average winter here on the east coast, so let’s go with it.
Long Trail Ale – Their flagship beer is crisp, refreshing, and very drinkable with slightly bitter hops. A solid beer.
IPA – This was a nice light IPA with a clean hop taste. Citrus hops and sweet flavor.
Blackbeary Wheat – Can’t resist that name. A very good toned-down blackberry flavor and an overall tasty wheat beer.
Harvest – Slightly thick, sweet ale with a great hearty maple syrup flavor. I really enjoyed this one.
That’s all for the descriptions so let’s get to the standings! These were difficult to rank, but I’d recommend you take my notes into consideration and choose the ones that sound best to you!
#5 Saranac 12 Beers of Winter
Overall, this sampler just set me up for disappointment. I enjoyed a few of the beers like the pilsener and Big Moose, but in the end I was just underwhelmed.
#4 Long Trail Survival Pack
This was a tough call for the #4 spot, but overall the other three were just better. It’s not you, it’s me. I really loved the Harvest and Blackbeary Wheat flavors, so try this sampler if you can!
#3 Leinenkugel’s Winter Sampler Pack
The Fireside Nut Brown and Honey Weiss are the big standouts in this pack. They will keep you warm in any weather and the other two are fine beers as well. A good holiday party sampler for all types of beer drinkers.
#2 Magic Hat Winterland
Magic Hat has a fantastic array of beers here. It’s got enough variety while sticking to a darker flavor for the winter months. Always creative beer from this brewery as well as the added fun of awesome packaging and messages under each bottle cap!
#1 Sam Adams Winter Classics
Well, they call them classics for a reason. I wasn’t predicting this outcome, but when I look at them all together I really love this collection of brews. The Black and Brew was a fantastic new addition to this pack and I look forward to more of that. The Fezziwig alone is reason enough to pick this one up. With the Chocolate Bock to tell your friends about and the two lager standards this one is a no-brainer in hindsight. The only downside is you only get two of each!
That was a lot of fun! Can’t wait for next season to start sampling again. I hope everyone has an amazing holiday season and you get a chance to try plenty of new beer! Be safe and drink up!