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17-12-2014, 10:33
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http://boakandbailey.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/wb_Dec_1986.pngFor a long time, Britain had beers associated with Christmas that weren’t explicitly billed as*Christmas beers.If*Frank Baillie’s 1973*Beer Drinker’s Companion*is anything to go by, there were certainly winter ales released in November or December in*time for Christmas, but they didn’t feature Father Christmas on the pump clips or labels; they weren’t called things like Rudolf’s Throbbing Conk; and they weren’t dosed with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Based on looking through old copies of the Campaign for Real Ale’s*Good Beer Guide (thanks again, Ed!) it looks as if the idea of marketing*‘winter warmers’ as Christmas beers really took off in the increasingly competitive real ale*scene of the 1980s. The 1987 GBG (published in 1986) lists around ten beers that we would classify as definitely Christmas seasonals, such as Mauldon Christmas Reserve, Wood’s Christmas Cracker and the Bridgewater Arms’s Old Santa.
A couple of*names stood out among this crowd of (ahem) pioneers: family brewers Greene King and King & Barnes. Tracking back through the decade, the other Christmas ale brewers drop off one by one, until Greene King’s Christmas Ale first appears in 1984, and*K&B’s Draught Festive pops into existence in*1981.
While these beers were all relatively strong and dark, none of them seem to have been dosed with spices, at least according to a set of tasting notes provided by Danny Blyth in CAMRA’s newsletter,*What’s Brewing, in December 1986. The same issue does, however, include an article by Peter Pearce on mulled ale traditions involving ginger, nutmeg and cloves — perhaps that kind of talk gave people ideas?
http://boakandbailey.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/011-1988-Anchor-Christmas-Ale-label.pngSOURCE: Anchor website. (http://www.anchorbrewing.com/blog/magnanimous-magnums-the-story-of-anchorschristmas-ale-magnums/)Across the Atlantic, Anchor’s*Our Special Ale, aka Anchor Christmas, was first brewed in 1975 and was certainly intended as the revival of an ancient tradition. (There’s more on this from*Tom Acitelli, author of*The Audacity of Hops, in an article published yesterday (http://allaboutbeer.com/american-christmas-beer-history/).)*Using a different recipe each year, by the late 1980s, it routinely contained Christmassy spices. The 1988 version was available in the UK through Majestic Wine Warehouses, as reported by Ronald Atkins in the Guardian*on Christmas Eve that year and, we suspect, made a splash among beer geeks.
In the 1990s, it was probably the more general clamour for guest ales and seasonal specials, and the subsequent interest in wacky ingredients (Brew Britannia, Chapter Ten), that led to beers such as Lichfield’s Mincespiced, Blackawton’s Winter Fuel (‘a dark spiced beer (http://www.cambridge-camra.org.uk/1999/wintfest99-beers.html)‘) and Swale Christmas Spice becoming more-or-less obligatory in*the product ranges of British brewers.
This piece is based on a couple of hours research over breakfast this morning (we were up early because a gale was blowing a tin can round in circles in the street) and is by no means intended to be definitive. Not that we ever need to ask, but do correct us in the comments below if you know better.
Where Did Christmas Ales Come From? (http://boakandbailey.com/2014/12/where-did-christmas-ales-come-from/) from Boak & Bailey's Beer Blog - Over-thinking beer, pubs and the meaning of craft since 2007 (http://boakandbailey.com)


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