Weihnachtsbockbier, Festbier, Starkbier

Pronunciation guide for English-speakers:
"veye-nuchts-beer" (never prounounce the "ch" like a "k," but rather like the "ch" in Rachmaninov, the name of the Russian composer, or Bach, the name of the German composer)

"Weihnachten" is German for Christmas, and Weihnachtsbier is the Bavarian seasonal specialty, a strong brew for when the days get shorter and the temperature plummets. Towards the end of November, the weather in this part of Germany often takes a quick turn for the worse in Bavaria, and out comes the Weinachtsbier, reserved for those times when the body needs more than a good quaff, when it needs real nourishment. In Bavaria, winter is Starkbierzeit (stong beer time). While "normal" blond lagers have an alcohol-by-volume level of about 4.5 to 5%, the "mildest" Weihnachtsbiers start at around 6% alcohol, while the strongest may pack as much as 8%.

Brewed with the first fresh malt and hops of the fall harvest, Weihnachtsbier makes its first appearance in the annual southern German beer cycle no later than the beginning of Advent, four weeks before Christmas.

By then, open-air Christmas markets are already crowded with busy shoppers, who, after a frigid day of buying Christmas gifts and tree ornaments might head for an adjacent beer hall to thaw out with a Weihnachtsbier, the perfect winter belly warmer.

As Christmas approaches and spirits rise, brewers craft ever stronger Weihnachtsbiers, usually reaching about 7 or 8% alcohol by volume. These are often called Weihnachtsbockbier (Christmas bock beer) or Festbier (fest beer), or just Starkbier (strong beer). In color, all Weinachtsbiers tend to be dark amber to hazelnut brown. Weihnachtsbiers go exceptionally well with sweets, desserts, and cockies—especially the spiced gingerbreads of Christmas.

Related beer styles: Bock, Doppelbock, Starkbier, Eisbock

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Photo (top) courtesy of the Bavarian Brewers Federation; Weihnachtsbier-Poster courtesy of
Heinrich Becker, CEO of the Gaffel Kölsch brewery in Colgne, Germany