In the craft-beer-lover’s world, there are two principles which tend to ring true. One, every season brings about a new batch of limited releases brewed with the weather in mind. For instance, every Black Friday, fans scramble to acquire even one bottle of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout. Meanwhile, each February, crowds engulf Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa, California, for a glass of Pliny the Younger, a 10.25% ABV triple IPA.
Locally, Wilmington’s breweries purvey their own seasonal must-haves. And like any craft-beer aficionado, the brewers have their own personal beer traditions both at the brewery and at home with family and friends. Thus, this is the second rule of craft beer: Sharing with others is what it’s all about. Bottle shares are increasingly popular, where groups gather to sip rare and vintage brews from around the world, which friends either collected in their travels or traded with other beer fans in other states.
Perhaps there is no better time than the holidays to pull up a kitchen bar stool with loved ones and partake in the spoils of the season. (Not to mention increased travel means increased opportunity to snag good beer for next time!) Wilmington Ale Trail inquired with a few of our city’s breweries to find out their favorite holiday beer traditions—and to encourage our readers to revel in their own ceremonial celebrations.
Broomtail Craft Brewery
“At Broomtail we have our annual Christmas party, where we have some special beers saved for the occasion to share with our Broomtail friends,” owner Lisa Owings explains. “We also have a little something special we’ve been working on and a few interesting and hard-to-come-by beers that Barry [Owings, owner and brewmaster] brings back from his travels. Our special release this year is a collaboration brew with Lowes Foods. It’s a winter warmer ale called Jolly Elf which we delivered mid-December to Lowes Foods and will be available in our tap room. We enjoy getting everyone together to celebrate the season and celebrate great beer!”
Flytrap Brewing Company
“My holiday traditions tend to focus more around time spent with friends and family,” Mike Barlas, owner and brewer, shares. “Sure, some tasty brews are inevitably involved. Usually some careful selections are made from the beer cellar. Visiting breweries with family and giving gifts of great beer are a few of my favorite things. The holidays are for sharing some quality time and beers with people we love.”
Front Street Brewery
“Although I’ve been involved in the craft beer scene since I was legal to drink, at 26 I’m still developing traditions involving beer,” head brewer Kelsie Cole reveals. “There’s one release that I look forward to every year, simply because I was able to be at the brewery with my family for the release: Highland Cold Mountain. I know it’s a beer that gets a lot of hype, but to see a North Carolina-brewed beer accumulating such a strong following, it makes me proud. Since I’ve had the honor of being there for the release, I promised myself I’d buy at least one bomber every year as a tribute to that one fine memory.
“Of course I also have to throw in Tiny Tim’s Christmas Porter brewed at my brewery, Front Street. I always looked forward to this release when I was a server. Two of my favorite things blended together: a rich, robust porter and fresh, cold-steeped French Vanilla coffee. Now that I’m the one producing it, it makes it that much more special and sentimental.
“I’ll have to mention one more beer I look forward to drinking around the holidays: Brooklyn Black Ops. A few years back I tasted my first Brooklyn Black Ops and it was love at first sip. Bartending at a local craft beer bar at the time, I bought a bottle and managed to save it until last year’s holiday season. Feeling celebratory, I cracked open the 2012 vintage alongside a 2013 and 2014 with my family. I’m a firm believer that good things come in threes, so I don’t like to age anything over three years. The vertical tasting was magical.
“I tend to be more of a spontaneous spirit, so planning annual traditions doesn’t come easy. Whether it’s a well-made spiced brown or a delicious bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout, as long as I’m drinking and sharing it with the people I love during the holidays, I’m happy.”
Good Hops Brewing Company
“Our son owns Lookout Brewing in Black Mountain, NC,” Good Hops owner and brewer Richard Jones shares. “For several years now we receive beers from other breweries and customers. We save those and sit around the dinner table and share all of those wonderful beers.
“[As for at the brewery,] we do not brew a pumpkin beer because we love the other flavors of the season; this year we made an apple beer from Honey Crisp apples, a sweet potato beer (Batatas) from local NC sweet potatoes, and a Christmas Ale of local honey, cinnamon and ginger.”
Wilmington Brewing Company
“We brewed our annual Oyster Stout [on December 10th],” owner Michelle Savard details. “That seems to be our brewery’s holiday tradition. It’s fun to do something unique this time of year, and using oysters in our brewing process definitely creates some holiday cheer.”