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Winter brings a host of seasonal beverages perennially enjoyed by Athens residents and OU students alike in stores, at home and at the bars.
Each city has its own rhythm when the holiday madness hits. December in Athens means finally finding a parking spot uptown, shopping for gifts at one of the 10 stores in the Market on State and alleviating stress with a holiday-inspired beverage at the end of the day.
With more than 60 breweries operating in the state, some point to Ohio as a national leader in holiday-inspired ale. Local brewers and bartenders say they don’t expect an upsurge in Christmastime attendance, but they’re hoping this year’s quarters-to-semesters change will get Ohio University students into the holiday spirit.
Among the many winter ales brewed in the Buckeye State, Cleveland-based Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale tops just about every list of best holiday beers in the nation. Made with a mix of smooth honey and spicy ginger and cinnamon and brewed with Hallertau and Cascade hops for a perfect balance of bitter and sweet, Great Lakes calls it “the yuletide merrymaker.” Only available in November and December, it’s the drink that distributors cannot keep on the shelves.
“We started brewing it around 1992, and around that time, the craft beer scene was pretty new,” said Marissa DeSantis, communications assistant for Great Lakes Brewing Company. “It’s become part of people’s traditions.”
Jackie Siekmann, media and government relations manager of Kroger’s Columbus division, said the state’s top-selling holiday ales include Sam Adams’ Winter Lager and White Christmas, Here’s to Beer, Leinenkugel’s Fireside Nut Brown, Akron-based Thirsty Dog Brewing Company’s Twisted Kilt Scotch Ale, Columbus’ Elevator Winter Warmer and Woodchuck Draft Amber Cider — all ranging from $8 to $15 per six-pack.
But the hands-down best-selling beer for this time of the year, she said, is Great Lakes Christmas Ale, $12 for a six-pack.
“People will call our stores ahead of time to see when it’s coming in, and when it does come in, it flies off the shelf,” she said.
Skye Milliken, manager of Bella Vino, said the store orders 30 cases when the popular ale is initially shipped during the second week of November, but the entire stock is sold out in one day. After the first week, Bella Vino will only order about five to 10 cases per week, Milliken said, because that’s the most available.
“Great Lakes Christmas Ale and some other Christmas beers shoot up sales for microbrews the minute they come out,” she said. “People wait for them to come in, and I have noticed a lot of those people are students.”
Other popular sellers at Bella Vino during the holidays are Anderson Valley Brewing Company Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale, $9.99, and Thirsty Dog Brewing Company’s 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale, also $9.99.
Thirsty Dog Brewing Company, based in Northeast Ohio, is also often named on best holiday beer lists with its Twisted Kilt and 12 Dogs of Christmas ales.
Though Twisted Kilt is available year-round, 12 Dogs of Christmas is a seasonal brew, made with honey, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and “Santa’s secret recipe,” its website states.
Brad Wharton, owner of Broney’s Alumni Grill, calls 12 Dogs of Christmas his favorite holiday ale. The most requested, however, is Great Lakes Christmas Ale, which Broney’s doesn’t sell.
“It will be different this year because the students will actually be here, but I don’t anticipate it being much different than previous years,” he said. “I know that Christmas Eve is a big night to go out, but that’s not really how it is here. In Athens, most (bars) are closed on Christmas Eve.”
Among the handful of Christmas ales that Casa Nueva Restaurant & Cantina offers, ranging from $3.25 to $6.50, Great Lakes Christmas Ale is the most popular, said Greg Lyle, cantina coordinator, and the only one they have on draft. This year, the bar ordered 20 kegs of the popular beverage.
Casa Cantina honors Ohio beers Thursday through Saturday nights each week. It offers deals on brews from Northeast Ohio, Central Ohio and Southeast Ohio on each respective night, Lyle said.
“It’s weird to see student rental houses decorated,” he said. “But (the holidays) have always been about the townspeople and people who are away at different colleges and coming back. It’s usually a lot slower, and the townspeople like that, having their town back.”
Brad Clark, brewer at Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery, said the holidays are a busy time for bars because people from out of town are looking for something to do, and Athens residents, he added, are looking for ways to get their guests out of the house.
Of the 38 tap lines at the Jackie O’s bar, Clark said there are a number of winter stouts, seasonal holiday beers from other breweries and more spiced Christmas ales offered.
The winter stouts are dark beers made with malt, hops, water and yeast. They’re known for having a potent flavor.
Among the winter stouts offered at Jackie O’s are Java the Stout; Bourbon Barrel-Aged Sweet Chocolate Love, an oatmeal, chocolate milk stout; Cinnamama, a cinnamon spice India Pale Ale; and an unnamed stout brewed with walnuts, cinnamon, ginger, brown sugar, pumpkin and butternut squash.
Clark said he likes to switch up the stouts often, but that they sell equally for $4 a pint. He said though it isn’t offered at the bar, his favorite holiday beer is Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, a red ale heavy in hops.
“I think many people get excited to be with their families during the holidays, and beer brings people together,” DeSantis said.
Post editors get in the spirit and pick their favorite holiday beverages.
I’m an Arbor Mist girl; if I’m at a party on any given day about 11 months out of the year, that’s probably what I’m drinking. But get me to December, and I’m all about spiced wine. The citrusy, cinnamony taste, set off with a little bit of a brandy kick, is good enough, but warming that all up is pure genius. You know, scratch December — I’d drink spiced wine year-round.
—Rebecca McKinsey, Managing Editor
It’s my understanding that Glögg (“glug”) is synonymous with Christmastime in Sweden. I discovered the beverage with my good friend Zach Poulson (of Swedish descent) at a family party in Erie, Penn.
The skinny: It makes you happy, keeps you warm and puts you to bed — so mix to taste. Ingredients often include: port wine, bourbon whiskey, white rum, cardamom pods, a cinnamon stick, cloves, orange peels, cheesecloth, white sugar, dark raisins and almonds.
So cheers with a “skål” (“skoll”), and enjoy a winter’s warm embrace with kith and kin. It’ll knock you on your keister whether you drink it fast or slow, so, have at it, slugger.
—Pat Holmes, Editor-in-Chief
In my family, whiskey sits on the same tier as food at holiday gatherings. It’s a tradition that was inaugurated the year my grandma mistakenly prepped our Thanksgiving turkey a week early and snubbed her nose at the idea of basting the parched bird. Adding the libation to our menu whet our appetites in ways week-old white meat couldn’t, which in turn gave it tenured reign over future holiday cocktails. Though many of my relatives enjoy the beverage on the rocks, I prefer an Irish Winter, which in my book, is the favored brethren of the Irish Coffee. With one part Kahlua Coffee Cream, one or five parts Jameson Irish Whiskey, strong coffee and whipped cream for garnish it’s not likely you’ll be disappointed with the result.
—Sarah Grothjan, Asst. Culture Editor
Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Every year, one beverage seems to disappear from Athens shelves faster than any other — Great Lakes Christmas Ale. Its magical blend of Christmas-y flavors stands out even among the thousands of other holiday beers available as the season approaches. Unfortunately, because it’s so good, it can be hard to find in Southeast Ohio, turning a simple shopping trip into an all-out war for the most incredible winter warmer. It’s all worth it though. One sip of the spiced, flavorful ale and you’ll nearly forget that winter is coming.
—Joe Fox, Associate Editor