Written by Don Russell for craftbeer.com
Whatever you think about Christmas, you’ve got to agree that it is mankind’s greatest, most enduring tradition. Yes, it’s over-commercialized and most of the world doesn’t even celebrate it, but, you’ve gotta give props to any institution that’s been around for 2,000 years—especially one that comes with so much good craft beer.
Now, some will protest: “Ah, Christmas beer—a blatant commercialization of a sacred, family tradition just to sell more suds.” Indeed, for years after Prohibition, breweries were generally prohibited from using Christmas, especially jolly, old St. Nicholas, to advertise their brands. Just six years ago, the state of Maine grumbled “Bah, humbug!” to a brand whose label depicted Santa Claus, and declared it “undignified and improper.” But in fact, beer has always been a part of Christmas.
Before Prohibition, German immigrants brewed special, dark lagers for the holiday. Before that, the English served homemade wassail (spiced ale) to Dickensian carolers singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” In the Middle Ages, observant monks brewed their finest, strongest beer to mark the birth of Christ. Around 900 AD, as Norwegians converted to Christianity, they brought along their smoky Viking Jul (Yule) ale. At the risk of finding coal in my stocking, I’d argue that Christmas beer is older than Christmas itself.
Whether the date is divine or not, the traditions surrounding the holidays—gift giving, feasting and, yes, beer drinking—has evolved into the celebrations of Christmas. Which is why I say Christmas beer is not a style, it’s a tradition. It needn’t be spicy or strong, sweet or dark; it need only be special, a gift to be shared in the spirit of the holiday with family and friends.
Everyone has a favorite craft beer of the season. Here are 12 that are jingling my bells this year.
- Our Special Ale | Anchor Brewing | San Francisco, CA
Our Special Ale is the granddaddy of Christmas beer, and in my opinion the craft beer that reignited America’s passion for holiday ales. Famously flavored with a secret mix of spices that changes each year, this dark ale’s body is enhanced with delicious fruit-like malts. Continue reading “12 Beers of Christmas”