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Holiday Beers Dating Back to Antiquity

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Holiday Beers Dating Back to Antiquity

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November 18, 2015

Five words or less(NewsUSA) – With the craft beer market growing an astounding 20 percent each year, brewers are looking for more ways to stand out from the crowd. While the recent crop of “Holiday” beer popping up in the aisle might elicit eye rolls, the category has grown a whopping 200 percent over the last four years.

Maybe the reason for holiday beer’s recent surge in popularity is a deep-seated love for the first holiday brews enjoyed by our ancient ancestors. What exactly makes a holiday beer? Generally, it’s a higher-alcohol beer made for the late autumn and winter months that often has notes of seasonal spices, herbs, chocolate or fruit.

Dating as far back as 650 AD, before hops were used as a preservative, Viking brewers often resorted to mixes of herbs, spices, seeds, peppers, and even tree bark to help stabilize their brews. These proto-beers were strong, malty and most often enjoyed during the Viking holiday of Jul — or Yule.

The other piece of the puzzle comes from a tradition started in fifth-century Britain during festival season when bowls of ale were passed around the tables for people to drink. Centuries later, slices of Yule cake were placed in the bottom of the bowls and the ale poured over it, flavoring it with seasonal spices.

On this side of the Atlantic, holiday beers were widespread by the early 20th century, with Stella Artois being introduced in 1926 as a Christmas beer (ergo, Artois or “star”) and beers creating packaging that reflected the season, such as Miller Brewing Co.’s 1930s “Christmas Special Beer,” replete with a Norman Rockwell-esque painting of a family surrounding a fire.

The 1980s saw a rise of brewers incorporating “warming” spices into beers, and more recently, brewers have looked to richer, heavier beer styles -; stouts and porters — that are packed with flavors that evoke thoughts of sitting inside by a warm fire.

This brings us to today’s holiday beers. While heavier beers still rule the season, one new offering in the lineup is the Traveler Beer Company’s Jolly Traveler Winter Shandy. Like holiday beers, shandys originated in Europe, where brewers mixed ale with citrus for low-alcohol refreshment. Although traditionally seen as a warm-weather beverage, Jolly uses seasonal spices and fruit, including orange and pomegranate, to create a new kind of holiday beer that’s both warming and seasonable.

So whether it’s a winter warmer or holiday shandy, go on and enjoy a beer with your holiday dinner. It’s what our Viking ancestors would have wanted.


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