Over the past two millennia, Santa Claus has evolved to become the symbol of Christmas the world over. But, before he became the Jolly Ol’ Elf, he was a real man known for protecting children and, in at least one occurrence, saving them from a life of prostitution. Yes, Kris Kringle dealt with some heavy issues when he was called Nicholas of Myra, a small town on the southern shores of Greece. Later, after his death, he became known as St. Nicholas, the patron saint of many, including children and brewers.
Eventually, St. Nicholas became revered as a bringer of gifts to deserving children and the harbinger of punishment to wicked ones. Hence, the legend of Santa Claus took shape. There were notable asides, like when St. Nick fell out of favor during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, when the baby Jesus took over the job of gift-giver; the enforcer job went to much scarier sidekicks, like Krampus and Pelznickel.
In the early 19th century, the pendulum swung back in favor of a more jolly holiday entity, due to poems like “A Visit from St. Nicholas” – now known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
This Santa Claus – a name derived from The Netherlands’ Sinterklaas – was not yet the red-suit-sporting, kindly resident of the North Pole we all know and love, but he was getting closer. And, as popularity grew, advertisers took notice and the red-suited version became the hawker of everything from cigarettes to soda to beer.
Here things ran afoul of the delicate sensibilities of temperance types. Santa, teetotalers said, was too wholesome an image to be associated with beer, which was, in their opinion, inherently evil. Unfortunately, these abolitionists made an impression on lawmakers. Until recently, it was difficult to get a beer with even a passing reference to Santa Claus in its name or on its label.
That meant that beers like the whimsically dubbed Santa’s Butt Winter Porter, Bad Elf India Pale Ale, Very Bad Elf Special Reserve Ale and several other brews from Ridgeway Brewery in Oxfordshire, England were not available to beer-lovers in nearly 30 American states. Oddly, it was possible to obtain the strong lager Samichlaus, which translates to “Santa Claus,” from Germany’s Schloss Eggenberg.
To right this egregious wrong, Shelton Brothers, a Massachusetts-based beer importer, filed suit in 2006. The suit alleged First Amendment rights violations by states censoring the labels. Thereafter, states slowly relaxed their bans.
Today, if you are very, very good, you may even find one of these Santa-themed beers under your tree.
Rogue Ales Santa’s Private Reserve Ale
A three-time Gold Medal winner at World Beer Championships, this double-hopped red ale is sure to bring out the jolly in any ol’ elf.
Ridgeway Brewing Criminally Bad Elf Ale
At 10.5 percent ABV, this English Barleywine packs a sleighful of holiday cheer. Just be sure to park the reindeer in a safe place.
Brouwerij Huyghe Delirium Noël
All right, so it doesn’t have Santa on its label, but it does have a pink elephant in a Santa hat and I say that’s good enough. As a holiday treat, this Belgian Strong Ale is hard to beat. At 10 percent ABV, though, don’t over-imbibe or you’ll be seeing pink elephants everywhere.