A stocking-full of Christmas beers
A stocking-full of Christmas beers

Christmas Beer > A Generous Tradition

This centuries-old brewing tradition was born in northern France and Europe where the master brewers were accustomed to giving villagers, workers and favoured customers this special beer that they'd enriched with many spices: coriander, cardamom, cloves… Each brewer had his own production secrets.

In America, an enticing range of Christmas beers is produced from one coast to the other. Each has a unique personality, reflecting the originality of the brewer and offering distinctive aromatic notes. For instance, Winter Brew, produced in Merrimack, New Hampshire, is a dark-to-tawny colored beer with a strong malt flavor and overtones of chocolate, nuts and cream.

From Washington state, Thomas Kemper's Winterbräu has a lively aroma of both malt and hops with smooth body and lots of flavor, including toffee and licorice with an orange zest finish.

Oregon produces Saxer's Three Finger Jack Frost, a Doppelbock-style beer with a juicy, malty aroma and a fresh malt flavor that develops "dusty" cinnamon-like notes in the finish.

California provides a classic holiday beer, Anchor's "Our Special Ale," with a distinct aroma and flavor of powdered dark cocoa, with a long, warming finish that has notes of brandied raisins.

At Norway's oldest brewery, the Ringnes Brewery in Gjelleraasen, near Oslo, the beer throws off its traditional blond color beginning in November and takes on instead a characteristically reddish Christmas hue. And it moves briskly: every day, half a million liters come off the production line.

"We've been drinking Christmas beer in Norway for over 1000 years now, so this is obviously serious business," says Olaug Flakne, the only woman in the kingdom to hold the post of brewmaster.

Closely linked to the pagan feast of Jol that marked the winter solstice, beer was drunk in olden times to honor the Norse gods. Local mythology holds that it was Odin himself, the all-powerful god of war and poetry, who revealed to mortals the secrets of making beer.

What's more, it was important for the beer to be strong enough: if the revelers didn't fall into a drunken stupor, they risked being struck with a curse for not having shown due honor to the gift of the gods.

Today the recipe is a fiercely guarded secret, and differs from other beers by the types and amount of malts used, the addition of caramel malt which gives it its special warm amber tinge, and its fermentation period. It is richer in body than regular beer and is usually stronger.

Throughout the holiday season, Norwegians gather with family and friends to sample the various brands. It's a challenge, for with more than 50 kinds, Norway offers the largest selection in the world!

The centuries-old tradition of brewing Christmas beer was born in northern France where the master brewers were in the habit of giving villagers, workers and favored customers a special beer that they'd enriched with many spices: coriander, cardamom, cloves… Each brewer had his own production secrets.

In Belgium, the tradition dates back to the days when Belgian breweries outnumbered villages! The best barley and hops were set aside for the production of Christmas beers, given as year-end gifts to good customers. Did you know that "Stella Artois" was originally a Christmas beer? It was launched in 1926 and given the name "Stella," meaning "star" - a fitting name for a beer that would become a shining light of the Artois brewery, situated in Leuven, the capital of beer.

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