by David Nuttall
The holiday season is the time for giving, and there is no better occasion for beer lovers than the period where autumn turns into winter.
Not only are there remnants from the fall/pumpkin beers still hanging around, but the new winter warmers and spice beers begin to appear, along with seasonal mixer and unique packs bearing glassware and other goodies. Notably, probably the most anticipated items to arrive are the advent calendars. Yes, a veritable cornucopia of gift ideas abound!
Although brewers the world over have being creating beers to celebrate the winter solstice since close to forever, it wasn’t until the Vikings began brewing in honour of Jul (Yule), around when the calendar hit four digits, that we started getting the strong, dark beers we could recognize today. By the time Scandinavians introduced this holiday tradition, now combined with Christianity, to North America in the 17th century, it had already been practiced in Germany, Britain, and Belgium for centuries.
Today, with all the craft breweries new to the world, there is no shortage of options. For gift ideas, you can give on many levels. The easiest, of course, is the single bottle. Find something special or unique, and since most standard beers are under $5 and bombers well under $10, this also makes it very affordable.
If you don’t want to seem cheap, then look for an exceptional beer that the recipient may not buy for themselves. There are some available up to the $40 range, or you can buy a collection of single beers as an ad hoc variety pack. The next step up is the mixed pack. Many breweries have these available all year round now, some changing one or more of the contents as the seasons change. Find one from your friend’s favourite brewery or introduce them to a new one.
Some gift packs include glassware, so these become the most precious. What beer aficionado doesn’t like drinking out of a glass designed for that beer? The European breweries are especially good at producing these products, but they often are in limited supply, so grab them when you can.
Finally, the pinnacle is the beer advent calendar. When introduced in Alberta in 2012, sales exploded, and continue to be so strong that there are now multiple versions available in sizes from 12 to 24 beers, and from multiple breweries and countries. They are not inexpensive, depending on the package, but you should find one in your price range if you are willing to go over $50 and beyond.
Here are some suggestions for the beer fan on your list.
Many breweries do a special edition beer for the holiday season; when in doubt, the Europeans have the most history behind them, and their offerings have stood the test of time. You can also look for magnums and mini kegs (5 L) of certain beers.
Most Alberta breweries are so new, they don’t have much tradition to follow, but still, expect almost all of them to produce something exclusive for the season. This may require a trip to a brewery with a growler, as not all will be bottled or canned, but that’s just a good reason to see what the locals are brewing.
There are numerous 2/3/4/6/8/12 mixed packs available all year round. Some are from a single brewery, but now you can also find multi-brewery and collaboration packs too. Look for versions with special editions or seasonal beers in the pack.
The most coveted versions come with a glass. Here, again, is where the Europeans shine, as seemingly every brewery has its own unique vessel. Since the branded glasses generally can’t be bought on their own, this is the best way to acquire them.
Howe Sound Carton of Coal 3 X 1 L pack, CSPC +760989, $35
Triple Karmeliet 4 pack with glass, CSPC +715774, $40
Duchesse de Bourgogne 2 X 750 mL pack with chalice, CSPC +798131, $28
Since German Lutherans created the advent calendar, I am sure drinking a different beer every day in December was what they had in mind. Now too numerous to mention them all, the original from Craft Beer Importers this year will have beers representing 12 breweries from 12 countries and collaborations with different breweries for the other dozen. You will also find Canadian examples, German versions in either bottle or can formats, and even in-store hand-made examples. At time of writing, there were rumours of an all Alberta 24 beer calendar coming too. Search it out.
Craft Advent Calendar, CSPC TBD, $160