In January this year, after a hectic and indulgent holiday season, I wrote a post that ended and summarised my attempted Christmas beer themed Advent Calendar from the previous month. In it I vowed that this feat would never be attempted again and that the experience had taught me it’s difficulties and pains. By mid-March of this year I realised I’d already collated 15 beers that could be put in an Advent calendar and knew that I would be doing it all over again.
I’ve barely spoken of much else recently and my search through beer shops and online stores has been for anything Christmas themed once more. A recent trip to Belgium, where I limited myself to buying just 9 beers (we were flying,) was dominated by my hunt for Christmas beer. I am truly excited to meet the challenge once more and to feel the coinciding exasperation and agony again.
The beer hunt has, just like last year, turned into excess. I started to panic buy anything remotely Winter themed when it was still October to make up numbers, forgetting again that most Christmas beers are released late in November. I’ve had to try and whittle down a list of potential Advent beers I have from 37 to 24. I was as ruthless as I could be but still only managed to get down to 27, so 3 windows will have two related bottles behind them, similar to last year. There’s a good mix this year between new British efforts, classic Belgian affairs and rarer, untried American beers, as well as others. Amongst the breweries I’ve amassed Christmas themed beers from we see the likes of Ilkley Brewery, Jolly Pumpkin, Amager, Rogue and Hitachino Nest.
I choose the beers to be Christmas themed because I’m a Christmas geek. It’s that simple. I could probably do an Advent Calendar of Christmas jumpers if I decided, write about my 24 favourite holiday films or eat a different chocolate that’s been cut into the shape of a festive character for 24 days. I am Mr Christmas and beer that is stuffed with cloves and wrapped in a neat tinsel package is still fine with me.
Last year I learnt much about what makes a great Christmas beer. My favourite was the Brunehart Brewery’s Abbaye de Saint Martin Cuvee de Noel and Shepherd Neame, who return to this year’s calendar, earned the title of least joyous offering. I discovered what makes a great Belgian Christmas beer and how British breweries get it wrong too often by making thin bodied brews in an attempt to keep ABV’s down. I was disappointed with beer from esteemed brewers such as Mikkeller and Nogne, but delighted and surprised by Ridgeway and La Binchoise. I’m prepared for anything once more.
There was talk of making a fancy visual calendar for this year. I considered printing pictures of the beer and sticking them behind windows, or designed a beer box so that it’s contents remained surprising. In the end the format is the same as last year’s. I’ve put 24 beers randomly into a 6x4 holed box from Beers of Europe. I’ve then drawn an empty 6x4 grid and pinned it to the notice board at work. On each date, a colleague picks a square at random, I take the corresponding beer out of the box from the hole he’s picked and therefore it remains randomised. Not as slick as I’d hoped but it works.
I hope you join me on another December journey, making my favourite season and most wonderful time of the year just a little more special. It’s what the birthday boy would have wanted.