The history of festive beers reaches back to before ‘Christmas’. The winter solstice on 21st December was always a point of celebration for pre-Christian European religions, marking the end of short days and the slow, steady march to spring.
The Viking celebration of Jul incorporated the winter solstice and was when they offered beery tributes to Odin, Frey, and other members of the Æsir. It was law for farmers to have a beer drinking party, with at least three farmers attending, to start Jul, and a smaller private function for family at the end. Even when farms were too remote to host a party the farmer legally had to brew enough beer to cover three people (and then presumably drink it all themselves – those Vikings took their beer seriously) .
The first Christmas ale
‘Jul’ became anglicised as ‘Yule’, leading to ‘Yuletide’ as a name for the winter season from late-November to late-December and when Christianity co-opted the winter solstice period as the time Jesus was born it also adopted Yuletide ale; leading to Christmas beer becoming a tradition across Christian Europe, and beyond.
What is a Christmas beer?
Any ale drank during the festive period can be a Christmas beer. The name refers to the season and celebrations, not a particular style, so pick a glass of your favourite drink and enjoy yourself.
Having said that, there is a trend for ‘Christmas ale’ to be defined by strength or flavour and all traditions start somewhere so, if you want to be at the forefront of making ‘festive ales’ a style, here’s some to try:
Erdinger Hefe Dunkel
With plenty of dark malt, yeast, clove, and banana flavours, this ale harks bark to the original German wheat beer brewing methods, giving you a taste of what festive drinkers in the 1500s enjoyed.
Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout
From the Viking’s homeland of Norway, and inspired by the Russian’s love of strong stouts, this warms from the inside as a roaring fire does the same for your extremities.
Maredsous Brune Belgian Dubbel
Originally brewed for Christmas drinking, this abbey ale is strong, dark, with aromas of warm bread and rich fruit.
Previous Guinness World Record holder as strongest beer in the world, this ale is brewed annually on 6th December then aged for 10 months, when it’s ready for the next festive season.
The tradition of Christmas beer has its roots in the depths of Northern-European culture. This winter take the opportunity to pick up your favourite drink, christen it a festive ale, and celebrate with friends.