For me, winter beer is all about Nutcracker, Frambozen and increasingly Shiner Holiday Cheer (for the warmer days in winter). But, I've forced myself off the reservation to try out some other winter beers just to see if I could find something else to add to the pantheon of winter beer.
Christmas Ale is a solid beer and priced right at $8.99/sixer. It's pretty cheap when you consider that it has a 7.4% ABV. The problem with it is it's completely forgettable. I never eagerly anticipated drinking one though I did enjoy the dark fruit and spice taste of it. Christmas Ale just didn't do its thing for me and I don't think I'll be going back to it this season.
New Belgium 2 Below
Oh New Belgium, I do believe I've outgrown you. I enjoyed 2 Below as recently as 2 years ago and I kind of looked forward to drinking my sixer of it. 2 Below is chock full of bready flavors with a pretty strong hop flavor on top. There's nothing wrong with 2 Below and I found myself anticipating it but it continually left me disappointed which sums up my thoughts on New Belgium now (with the very notable exception of Frambozen).
For some reason, I've never had an Anderson Valley beer. I decided to rectify that by trying out Winter Solstice. I'm better for the experience. I looked forward to drinking every one of them and rather enjoyed each of them. It's got a real light mouthfeel for a winter warmer style beer. It's rather sweet and has a good spice and fruit flavor. I'm not adding Winter Solstice to the pantheon or anything but I'll probably have another sixer. The only downside to Winter Solstice is the $10.50 price tag on a sixer.
Sam Adams Winter Lager
Sam Adams main seasonals are some of my favorite Sam Adams beers. I very rarely buy one of their year round offerings but I truly enjoy Summer Ale, Octoberfest and Noble Pils. Winter Lager is no different. It's quite hoppy but has a nice crisp taste. It's better for a warmer winter day than the other 3 and was my favorite of this bunch (Winter Solstice was very close). I could easily drink Winter Lager all evening and it joins Goose Island Mild Winter and Lagunitas Brown Shugga' at a level just below the pantheon of winter beers.