Winter Seasonal Beer Judges Choice Award

Acceptable Style Description

What the Judges are looking for: This style description is provided so that Brewers will have some insight as to what the judges will be looking for in this competition. In general, winter is a time of bigger, stronger, sometimes darker, and generally fuller flavored beers. Winter seasonal beers incorporate the use of special ingredients or increased portions of traditional ingredients to boost flavor, body, and alcohol. American and British Barleywines, sour beers, IPAs, and other styles, unless specifically listed below, will not be accepted. Judges will be looking for beers that are flavorful, well made, and easily enjoyable during the holidays as a celebratory or reflective treat. Think of that evening closer you enjoy while sitting in front of the fire.

Aroma: A wide range of aromatics are possible, although many examples are reminiscent of cookies, toffee, fudge,
gingerbread, English-type Christmas pudding, spruce tips, or mulling spices. Any combination of aromatics that suggests
the holiday season is welcome. The base beer style often has a malty profile that supports the balanced presentation of
the aromatics from spices or hops and possibly other special ingredients. Additional
fermentables (e.g., honey, molasses,
maple syrup, fruit, etc.) may lend their own unique aromatics. Hop aromatics range from absent or subdued to moderately
intense. Some fruit character (such as dried citrus peel, or dried fruit such as raisins or plums) is optional but acceptable.
Alcohol aromatics may be found in some examples, but this character should be restrained or well 
balance. The overall
aroma should be balanced and harmonious, and is often fairly complex and inviting.

Appearance: Generally medium amber to very dark brown or black (darker versions are more common). Belgian
examples may be lighter. Usually clear, although darker versions may be virtually opaque. Some chill haze is acceptable.
The beer usually has a well-formed head that is often off-white to tan.

Flavor: Many interpretations are possible; allow for brewer creativity as long as the resulting product is balanced and
provides some holiday presentation. Special ingredients associated with the holiday season are typical (as mentioned in
the Aroma section). Rich, malty and/or sweet malt-based flavors are 
common, and may include caramel, toast, nutty, or
chocolate flavors. Optional
fermentables and spices should be supportive and blend well with the base beer style. May
include some dried fruit or dried fruit peel flavors such as raisin, plum, fig, orange peel or lemon peel. May include
distinctive flavors from specific 
fermentables (molasses, honey, brown sugar, etc.), although these elements are not
A light spruce or other evergreen tree character is optional, but found in some examples. The wide range of
special ingredients should be supportive and balanced, not so prominent as to overshadow the base beer. Bitterness and
hop flavor are generally restrained so as to not interfere with the special ingredients. Generally, finishes rather full and
satisfying, and often has some alcohol flavor.

Mouthfeel: A wide range of interpretations are possible. Body is generally medium to full, and a certain malty chewiness
is often present. Moderately low to moderately high carbonation is typical. Many examples will show some well-aged,
warming alcohol content, but without being overly hot. The beers do not have to be overly strong to show some warming

Overall Impression: A stronger, darker, seasonal beer that often has a rich body and warming finish suggesting a good
accompaniment for the cold winter season.


History: Throughout history, beer of a somewhat higher alcohol content and richness has been enjoyed during the winter
holidays, when old friends get together to enjoy the season. Many breweries produce unique seasonal offerings that may
be darker, stronger, spiced, or otherwise more characterful than their normal beers. Spiced versions are an American or
Belgian tradition, since English or German breweries traditionally do not use spices in their beer.


Ingredients: Winter Warmers are typically ales, although some strong lagers exist. Spices are not required, but when
used often include those evocative of the Christmas season (e.g., allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger 
and spruce
tips). Any combination is possible and creativity is encouraged. Fruit peel (e.g., oranges, lemon) and/or fruit may be used.
May use a wide range of malts, particularly those that add dark fruit or caramel flavors. Flavorful adjuncts are often used
(e.g., molasses, treacle, invert sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc.).


Vital Statistics: OG, FG, IBUs, SRM and ABV will vary depending on the underlying base beer. ABV is generally above
%, and most examples are somewhat dark in color.

Comments: Overall balance is the key to presenting a well-made Seasonal beer. The special ingredients should
complement the base beer and not overwhelm it. The brewer should recognize that some combinations of base beer
styles and special ingredients work well together while others do not make for harmonious combinations.

If the base beer is a classic style, the original style should come through in aroma and flavor. Whenever spices, herbs or
fermentables are declared, each should be noticeable and distinctive in its own way (although not necessarily
individually identifiable; balance with the other ingredients is still critical).

To allow accurate judging the brewer must list the special ingredient(s) used and the underlying style on the
which the beer is based. Entries not accompanied by this information will be at a disadvantage during judging.

Great American Beer Festival Base Styles Accepted: Acceptable styles for the GABBF Winter Seasonal Judges
Choice award 
are listed below. These styles are directly from the Great American Beer Festival Style Guidelines
(available here:

13.      Specialty Beer
18.      Other Strong Beer
           A. Subcategory: Other Strong Beer
           B. Subcategory: American-Style Imperial Porter
           C. Subcategory: American-Style Wheat Wine Ale
19.      Experimental Beer
           A. Subcategory: Experimental Beer
29.      Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer
30.      Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout
50.      German-Style Doppelbock or Eisbock
           B. Subcategory: German-Style Eisbock
84.      Belgian-Style Dubbel or Quadrupel
           B. Subcategory: Belgian-Style Quadrupel
86.      Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale
           A. Subcategory: Belgian-Style Pale Strong Ale
           B. Subcategory: Belgian-Style Dark Strong Ale
87.      Other Belgian-Style Ale
           B. Subcategory: Other Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale
95.      Imperial Stout
           A. Subcategory: American-Style Imperial Stout
           B. Subcategory: British-Style Imperial Stout
96.      Scotch Ale
           A. Subcategory: Traditional Scotch Ale
           B. Subcategory: Peated Scotch Ale
97.      Old Ale or Strong Ale
           B. Strong Ale




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