Christmas comes but once a year. But Christmas beer? Well, that’s so special that it now comes twice. Many Ohio breweries are releasing new batches of their holiday beer this month as part of “Christmas in July” promotions. Bars and restaurants also are hosting special Christmas events, hoping to attract more customers by offering the popular spiced beers that are usually reserved for the bone-chilling dead of winter as opposed to the heat of summer.
"It seems like a fun little gimmick and people love Christmas ale in this town more than any other town," said Rick Seibt, brewmaster at Willoughby Brewing Co., which will have a new batch of its Wenceslas Spiced Christmas Ale available soon. The Willoughby brewpub has a giant beer board alerting customers about the current selections and what’s coming up. As soon as people saw the Christmas beer, they started getting excited, Seibt said. "There’s a buzz around," he said.
Christmas beers are highly coveted in Northeast Ohio, thanks in part to Great Lakes Christmas Ale — a Cleveland beer brewed with honey and spiced with ginger and cinnamon. It helped define the style and the beer has a cult-like following. "It is more of an Ohio thing than anywhere in the country," John Najeway, co-owner of Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. in Akron, said about Christmas beers. "I give credit to [Great Lakes Brewing owners] Dan and Pat Conway because they’ve made a great Christmas Ale for decades and people love that style."
If you just can’t wait for a taste of winter, here’s a rundown of holiday beer releases and events:
• Thirsty Dog brewed 100 barrels of 12 Dogs of Christmas. The beer is available at select retailers, including in bottles at Acme Fresh Markets for $10.99 a six-pack. It’s 8.3 percent alcohol and made with honey, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and "Santa’s secret recipe."
• Great Lakes will release a special batch of Christmas Ale at its Burning River Fest from 6 to 11 p.m. July 23 and 1 to 6 p.m. July 24 at the Historic Coast Guard Station on Whiskey Island in Cleveland. Advance tickets are $8 a day or $15 for both days. More details about the event are available at http://www.burningriverfest.org. Christmas Ale may be sold at the brewpub after the fest — if there’s any left over. Great Lakes makes sure to point out that the Burning River Fest is the only place to find fresh Christmas Ale. Some retailers just save kegs from the winter to serve during the summer, but the brewery doesn't condone that because the beer is beyond its expiration date.
• The Buckeye Beer Engine in Lakewood will offer drafts of 10 holiday beers, including its Buckeye Christmas Girl, a Belgian-style golden ale, at the brewpub on July 23, 24 and 25. The others are: Lagunitas Brown Shugga, Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas, Sierra Nevada Celebration, Troegs Mad Elf, Delerium Noel, Affligem Noel, Corsendonk Christmas, Weyerbacher Winter and Southern Tier Old Man Winter.
• Willoughby Brewing will have two Christmas in July events. The brewpub will tap its Wenceslas, an 8 percent light brown ale with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and other spices, at 6 p.m. July 18. There also will be a special release party at noon July 22 at Shooters on the Water in downtown Cleveland.
• Rocky River Brewing Co. will release a special batch of Christmas Ale, an amber-colored ale made with cinnamon, ginger, coriander and orange peel. It will be released in the middle of the month, but a specific date hadn’t been picked yet.
• Fat Head’s Brewery & Saloon in North Olmsted is tapping its Christmas Ale on July 12, according to a Facebook post.
• Main Street Grille & Brewing Co. in Garrettsville will release its 12 Daze of Christmas on July 26. It's an 11.1 percent, spiced Belgian-style quadruple that was aged on dried cranberries, brewer Virgil Drayer-Reed said. The beer was kegged in January 2010 and has been aging ever since. "The longer it ages, the better is is," Drayer-Reed said.
•?Several Christmas beers, including Hoppin’ Frog Brewery’s Frosted Frog Christmas Ale, will be available at Ohio Brew Week, which begins July 8 in Athens. Check out http://www.ohiobrewweek.com for a schedule.
• The Winking Lizard Tavern, which has restaurants throughout Northeast Ohio, will tap a few kegs of Great Lakes Christmas Ale, Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas and Avery Jubilation at 2 p.m. July 22. "Last year, we had two kegs per store and did not tap until 4 p.m. Most stores were out by 5 p.m.," said John Lane, a Winking Lizard partner. For the day, the restaurants will be decorated with a Christmas theme and Christmas cookies will be served. "It is one of our biggest Friday nights of the year," Lane said.
• Herb's Tavern in Rocky River will have Great Lakes Christmas Ale and a special appearance by Santa at 6:30 p.m. July 22.
If I missed any Christmas events or releases, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will include them. Also, a story about the Christmas in July trend will appear in the July 13 edition of the Akron Beacon Journal on the Food page.