My traditional Christmas shopping routine is COVID-dashed this year. Normally it starts on a bar stool - usually at Humpy’s or Glacier Brewhouse downtown - where I muster up enough liquid courage to plod along and engage in the very kind of purchasing I hate – unplanned, spontaneous, and with little thought. But that only applies to the non-beer lovers in my group. Beer-inspired gift shopping is very easy for me.
There’s no bar stool prelude this year. I don’t want to sit outside in a tent and eat and enjoy my traditional holiday libation. I did most of my non-beer shopping online. Except for the bar-stool prelude, I could get used to the online shopping world. I can do it in my sweats with a beer in hand and never leave the house.
Let’s start with beer. I like to give beer to my more discerning beer drinking friends. This is a no-brainer and this tradition will survive this year. Our liquor stores weather COVID better than most retail sectors and actually do pretty well, considering the options. My intention is to do some door-dashing this year, which in my world means building gift boxes of holiday beers, doing a drive by and drop off run, then following up with a text or phone call alerting my recipient that there’s something tasty outside for them that I don’t want to freeze or to have some porch pirate grab instead.
I went shopping accordingly. This means I went chasing winter seasonal beers.
Just as it was for the fall seasonal selections, winter and Christmas beers seem sparse this year. Normally, the shelves are packed with seasonal winter-warmers and the bigger, bolder and more festive beers.
When I asked about this situation at one of the bigger box stores, I was told “they’re trickling in.” I suspected as much; the season’s almost over and I won’t see much this year. I didn’t have much better luck at the smaller boutique stores, either.
Undaunted, I shopped ahead. My focus is always on local beers, but especially so this year since or craft breweries can really use a boost, given COIVID-created challenges, especially for those that don’t package products to sell at liquor stores.
Resolution Brewing Company’s Noel Epice Spiced Holiday Ale is an aggressively spiced Belgian Quadrupel that’s aptly described by one drinker as “this tastes like Christmas.” It does. The ample dosing of holiday spices with a huge emphasis on clove, along with a hefty 9.5 percent Alcohol by volume makes this beer festive and warming indeed. Bomber bottles and growler fills of this heady stuff are available at the east side brewery.
Turnagain Brewing did something interesting this year. The brewery paired up with Brown Jug Liquors to create an exclusive beer that’s only available at the brewery and within select chain stores. Biscbrau is a spiced/herb beer brewed with all kinds of interesting and festive ingredients including the expected cinnamon (Ceylon), nutmeg, clove and cardamom, but toss in some anise, Belgian candi sugar, Ceylon and lactose, then make the beer with the inspiration of European Speculoos (Speculaas) – the main ingredient in cookie butter, and you’ve got an interesting beer indeed.
This light beer – with a very sessionable 4.6 percent alcohol by volume – gets a lot of funk from the Belgian yeast used in fermentation. The intended cookie-sweetness of the beer pushes right through and steps over the modest spicing that was intended to accentuate, not dominate the beer. This one’s available in six packs at the Brown Jug stores – and perhaps across the growler bar at select Brown Jug locations, and certainly at the brewery in growlers to go.
Juneau’s Barnaby Brewing’s Crew Brew is a winter warmer released on December 11. It’s a strong, malty beer, traditionally flavored with spices associated with winter and the holidays. Like many others, look for cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, star anise and vanilla in this flavorful brew if you happen to be in Juneau over the holidays. Dammit that we don’t get a lot of Barnaby suds up here, and I haven’t seen Crew Brew, but the brewery’s Whatever Forever, a hefeweizen, is on tap right now at Tent City Alehouse downtown.
This is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, Tent City is getting some suds no other establishments are getting up here, and Barnaby beer is one brewery Tent City’s been able to procure. Second, because Whatever Forever is one of four beers that just distinguished Barnaby as the first Alaska brewery to place in the annual U.S. Open Beer Championship. The other distinguished beers include Barnaby’s Third Anniversary Tequila Barrel Aged Pineapple Jalepeno American Sour, and Berry Fresh 2020 , both gold medal winners, and Hey Victor, a beauty of a Rauchbier taking a bronze. Whatever scored a silver medal in this prestigious show.
Gifting growlers at Christmas takes some logistical jostling; growlers have a pretty short shelf life of a couple of days or so, so you’d have to be able to grab and gift something noteworthy like Whatever from Tent City very quickly. Still, it’s a very distinguished gift, as would other beers from Tent City that aren’t widely available including selections from Cooper Landing Brewing Company, Grace Ridge Brewing out of Homer, Gakona and Valdez Brewing Company, Forbidden Peak Brewing Company out of Juneau, Harbor Mountain Brewing out of Sitka, Lazy Mountain Brewing in Palmer, and Black Spruce Brewing Company out of Fairbanks. These are standouts in Anchorage and you’d distinguish yourself by gifting them to the more discerning beer drinkers on your list.
Costco’s selling Kenai River Brewing Company’s 2020 Beervent Calendar, a case of select Kenai River Brewing’s canned beers including two each of Two Timing Trout Pale Ale, Pineapple PBR, Skilak Scottish Ale, Double Pole Black IPA, Peninsula Brewer’s Reserve and Spruce Tip Double IPA to drink forward the 24 days to Christmas. If you gift this one, your recipient will have a whole 24 days of catching up to do, so you could hand deliver on Christmas Day and help with the drink back.
Then there are the barleywines. Although not necessarily Christmas beers, these heady monsters are the bold basters of the season, both in flavor and booze intensity and always make a good gift when bottled selections are available, and they usually are since these are not designed to be consumed in growler doses unless you’re with a bunch of people to share it, and that’s verboten during the current COVID outbreak.
Consider Midnight Sun Brewing Company’s Arctic Devil Barley Wine, Kassik’s 2020 Barrel Aged Barley Wine, if it’s release before Christmas, and any barely wine from Anchorage Brewing Company. There are more; look for them.
Gift Cards; don’t forget gift cards, but especially from our smaller breweries with distribution challenges. I used to think gift cards are a cop out. That’s all changed with what are craft breweries are facing this year. A gift card is sort of like a loan. The purchase of a gift card quickly infuses a small brewery with badly needed cash to help weather the pandemic. The same goes with brewery merchandise. Brewery merch is some of the easiest stuff to gift. There’s not a year that goes by that I don’t send my brother and out of state friends brewery tees and hoodies, and I often buy for me at the same time.
Really, what makes a Christmas beer gift a Christmas beer gift is you finding something special that inspires you to gift it, so don’t let seasonal beer selections limit you. Although in terms of beer, seasonal selections might seem sparse this year, but new releases show up every day, so watch for them; social media is your friend.
Use your foamy imagination to please your beer drinking associates out there while at the same time, doing everything in your power to support Alaska’s craft beer industry. This way, you’re gifting in both directions, and that’s really important right now. Get a little something for yourself along the way. You deserve it. It’s been a tough year and it isn’t over yet but beer-inspired gifts make everyone’s season a little brighter.