‘Tis the season for entertaining, and also the time for relishing the beers produced for enjoying in the depths of winter. Doing a search for “Christmas ales” on beeradvocate.com results in a list of hundreds; almost every brewery produces a beer for Christmas. These winter ales are hearty—they are made with an abundant “malt bill” and typically are “winter warmers” (i.e., they have a fairly high amount of alcohol). There is no well-defined style for Christmas ales. Often, they are spiced, or especially hopped. Seasonal beers are made in short production runs, and are available in the retail market for only a short time—enhancing their demand. Beer geeks stock up on seasonal beers as soon as their favorites hit the market.
I was a little slow in my Christmas beer purchase this year—I would suggest stocking up just before Thanksgiving. I made my round of Christmas beer buying a week ago at Gomers in Lee’s Summit (my favorite local specialty beer store). I had been to another liquor store in search of Boulevard’s Nutcracker, and was told they had sold their entire allotment—it has been off the shelves in the Missouri grocery stores I visit. If you’re lucky, you may still find some this weekend. Boulevard purchases select Chinook hops for their Christmas ale, and has them flown in from the Yakima valley of Washington state. They go through an arduous task of “dry-hopping” with these—hung in bags in the fermenters for infusion of the hop flavor. I enjoyed this luscious beer last night with friends at the local tavern, the Canoe Club, along with a tasty turkey Reuben sandwich.
Also in Lee’s Summit, HyVee grocery store (on Hiway 291) carries a good selection of Christmas beers, including Anchor’s annual Christmas beer. I’ll be making a beer run to HyVee today, in hopes that they still have Christmas beers in good supply. I’m saving most of my Christmas ale to share with friends. My party will be a “Boxing Day” party (the day after Christmas), along with brewing and bottling some homebrew. Hosting your own party to feature Christmas ales could be a new twist on your Christmas festivities. I suggest having small tasting glasses available (I found some 2.5 oz. tasters online from Libbey) so that guests can sample without over-consuming. Present your beers along with an assortment of cheeses, charcuterie (sausage) and nuts. A great guide for hosting a beer and cheese party may be found on the new Brewers’ Association website, www.craftbeer.com.
Besides providing interesting conversation for parties, Christmas ales make great gifts for your friends who appreciate good craft beer. The packaging is attractively designed to catch the shopper’s attention. Like Christmas, holiday beer is an international tradition. My purchase includes a Belgian beer, Gouden Carolus Noël, in a large 750 mL bottle with a lovely depiction of a snowy town and Santa’s sleigh flying over. This beer consistently receives high ratings. Another outstanding Belgian beer is Delirium Noël. There are also English imports that feature Santa in a variety of beer styles; I chose Santa’s Butt, described as a winter Porter. Also on my list was Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome ale (brewed in Yorkshire’s oldest brewery). One prized bottle is from Norway, a beer called Peculiar Yule brewed by Nøgne. My Canadian beer is Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!’s beer called “Solstice d’hiver”; I’ll share a toast to winter on the 21st with this beer. If you want to present a gift of American beer, I’d suggest a locally produced 6-pack of Nutcracker, Bell’s Christmas ale (made in Michigan), or the perennial favorite, “Celebration” from Sierra Nevada. This last beer is available in a nice 24 oz. bottle that would make a fine present to put under the Christmas tree!