Home for the Holidays

Well, Christmas has come and gone again. You’re probably already munching those Christmas dinner leftovers and looking for a cold beer to wash them down. If you’ve been reading our holiday beer series, you have a good idea of some awesome Belgian, German, Austrian or British brews. If you’re more interested in wholesome, home-brewed goodness, there are literally dozens of holiday beers available from breweries right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. And, like holiday beers around the world, American brews have (almost) as much history as the holiday that inspired them.

Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco is often credited with brewing one of the first Christmas beers in the U.S. The brewery, whose roots go back to 1871, introduced its iconic Christmas Ale in 1975. The highly hopped ale was conceived as a modified version of its already-popular Liberty Ale—but the recipe is subtly changed each year. (Indeed, it’s a fiercely guarded company secret.) So, while today’s Christmas Ale may share a name with its nearly 45-year-old predecessor, it certainly tastes much different. Still, if you’re looking for an authentic American holiday brew, you can’t go wrong with this dark, thick, malt-forward ale redolent with piney hop flavor.

Though many will argue that Anchor was the first American brewery to produce a Christmas beer, old advertisements seem to tell a different story. An ad for Dubuque Malting’s “Extra Pale” Xmas Brew graces page four of the Dubuque Daily Herald’s Dec. 24, 1895 issue. In 1915, an advertisement in an unknown publication extols the Peter Barmann Brewery of Kingston, New York for producing a beer called Salvator. The name means “savior” in Latin and is usually associated with Lent or other Christian fasts. Another brewery said to have brewed a holiday beer before Anchor was Miller Brewing Company out of Milwaukee. A few years after Prohibition ended, many states banned any reference to Christmas or Santa Claus on the labels of beer.

While many holiday brews have a decidedly gentile slant, New York’s Shmaltz Brewing Company has created something for the Jewish holiday partiers to celebrate with. It’s Chanukah, Hanukkah: Pass the Beer! Jeremy Cowan launched Shmaltz in 1996 by with line of certified kosher beers dubbed He’Brew. Pass the Beer is a dark, sweet ale full of flavors: chocolate, vanilla and even a touch of coconut.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company was founded in Boonville, California in 1987. The brewery is known for being the first to revive and can the nearly extinct style of beer known as gose (go-zuh). Its winter warmer, dubbed Winter Solstice, is another widely applauded brew. Drinkers can expect to taste vanilla, caramel, toffee and nutty malts, with just a touch of hops.

America hasn’t always had a warm relationship with Christmas—it was actually illegal to celebrate the holiday in some settlements during the late 1600s—yet Americans have always enjoyed a healthy relationship with beer. And for that we can all be thankful. From my family to yours, have a very happy holiday season.