The modern-day concept of Christmas Ale started in England as a dark, strong, and spiced winter warmer brew. American Christmas beers can differ from brewery to brewery and are made in a variety of styles. Most holiday beers are amber or darker-colored beers. Spices that are associated with Christmas such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, clove, honey and orange are often included in the mix.
Brewing a Christmas or holiday beer usually starts about 3-4 weeks prior to shipping and will last about a month or more in the bottle. Holiday brews are made with a higher ABV (Alcohol by Volume), generally 8% – 9%, and are fuller bodied with a complex mixture of flavors. If holiday beers are made too far in advance, the spices will fade and the flavor will be lost.
Thirsty Dog Brewery, in Akron, Ohio, brews the 12 Dogs of Christmas and has been brewing it since 2007. Owner John Najeway said they startbrewing their Christmas Ale on September 1 to keep it fresh. The first release is always during Cleveland Beer Week in October. What makes the 12 Dogs of Christmas taste so good?
“It’s a special combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, honey, and Santa’s secret recipe,” said Najeway. A Christmas Ale can be a complicated brew with many layers of flavor. Thirsty Dog does a test run every summer for Christmas in July. He added, “While there are many ingredients that go into this beer, we brew some every summer for Christmas in July so we can adjust the recipe to be consistent year to year, as some of the ingredients and suppliers change from time to time.”
How long can you keep Christmas Ale? According to Najeway, “We suggest drinking the 12 Dogs of Christmas 6 months from the bottling date for best taste; however, some customers swear it is best after about 3 months as the flavors blend and the sharpness of ginger settles, and others swear they keep it all year if they get their hands on enough of it.”
Another brewery that has a famous Christmas brew is Fat Heads Brewery that just opened its Canton location this year. Their Holly Jolly holiday beer has flavors of sweet malt, ginger, honey, and cinnamon spice. Great Lakes Brewing Company combines flavors of honey, ginger, and cinnamon to create their popular Christmas Ale. In Hartville, Maize Valley Winery and Craft Brewery creates a Jingle My Bells Holiday Ale. This brew combines flavors of brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, coriander, orange peel, and vanilla bean. As you can see, the names of these brews are as fun as the beer!
IRI Worldwide, a marketing research firm, shows data that lists Ohio as the largest consumer of Christmas Ale. The intense, warm flavors do lend themselves to colder weather environments. Great Lakes Brewery created their Christmas Ale nearly 30 years ago, and started a craze that spread throughout the state and country. Now every craft brewery has a personal holiday brew.
Does any of this make you want to create your own holiday brew? You can add your own spice combination or use an online kit. Many major breweries started from the small beginnings as a home brewer. A good resource for information for home brewers is the home brewer’s association website, www.homebrewersassociation.org. Whether you’re a brewer or a taster, don’t let this holiday season pass without sampling a holiday brew or Christmas Ale from your local craft brewery.
Merry Christmas Ale