As some of you may know, in my everyday life, I am the co-owner of Shakespeare’s Pub in downtown Kalamazoo, MI. Since 2003, Shakespeare’s has been one of the premiere craft beer bars in our city, and we have tapped over 1300 different beers. For almost 2 decades, we have seen many different Holiday themed brews come through our doors, and some that we are eager to try. Here is a list of 10 worth checking your local watering hole, party store, or grocery store for.
Rogue Brewing- Santa’s Private Reserve
The first Christmas beer ever tapped at Shakespeare’s was Rogue Brewing’s, “Santa’s Private Reserve”. In 2003, the year Shakespeare’s opened, Craft beer in Michigan was in its infancy. Most bars around us were still Budweiser and Miller houses, so attempting to differentiate from those places, we adopted craft beer as our focus. In that research of what brews we had available to us, Rogue had a highly rated stout called “Shakespeare’s Stout”. How could we not do this beer? Luckily for us, it was well respected within the craft beer community, giving us notoriety for carrying “hard to find” delicious craft beer. It just made sense when the holiday season came around, to adopt beer from the breweries that helped make us. Santa’s Private Reserve changes it’s recipe annually now, and this year’s version, Rogue partnered with a Oregon confectioner named, “Honey Mama”, to create a stout with flavors and aromas of tahini, tangerine, and chocolate. Although we won’t have draft at Shakespeare’s this year of Santa’s Private Reserve (availability is limited for draft in Michigan these days), cans may be found at your local grocery or party store.
Great Lakes Brewing- Great Lakes Christmas Ale
Often one of the best, if not the best, selling Christmas Ales year to year in the Nation, Great Lakes Brewing Company Christmas Ale has become an annual fixture at Shakespeare’s on draft. Brewed with fresh honey, cinnamon, and ginger, and coming in at a whopping 7.5% Alcohol by Volume (ABV), if you have love for Christmas beers, more than likely you have had this one. Great Lakes is known for their perfection of making classic and traditional styles without going to outside the box. In a day and age where to some fans of craft beer have yearned for the return of the classics, this is the brewery to hold firm in that logic. They are deserving to be on any Holiday beer list, and the beer speaks for itself. If you haven’t had it, do yourself a favor and remedy that. This is the absolute definition of a Christmas Ale who set the bar high.
Bell’s Brewing- Bell’s Christmas Ale
Maybe it’s because they are Shakespeare’s Pub’s next door neighbors, or that they are one of the pioneers of the Craft Beer Movement, probably both, but Bell’s Christmas Ale has found a soft spot in my heart to make the list. Easily and widely available from Late October – December in Michigan, it isn’t the typical spiced holiday ale or stout you would assume during the season. Instead, it is a traditional Scotch ale, rich and malty with notes of caramel and a warm finish. Also coming in hot at a 7.5% ABV, it is full-bodied with a slightly sweet and biscuity profile. I truly believe it could replace any Fall/Winter seasonal offering that Bell’s has, but it’s a nice offering even if it’s limited to 1/6th of the year. If Christmas was everyday, it wouldn’t be as special either.
Southern Tier Brewing- Frosted Sugar Cookie
There are many sweet and dessert-like beers throughout the world, but arguably, no one does it better than Southern Tier Brewing Company. They have a series of stouts they call, “The Blackwater Series” which includes options of Thick Mint, Hot Cocoa, Creme Brulee, and S’mores. They are Nitro-infused, making them creamy with less carbonation, much like the Irish classic, Guinness stout. I tap all the varieties of the Blackwater series when they become available to me, and they do very well at Shakespeare’s. Southern Tier also is the creator of “Pumking” Imperial Pumpkin Ale, the best-selling draft pumpkin ale each year at Shakespeare’s. I bring up these credentials, because based on them, I can say I have never had or seen “Frosted Sugar Cookie Imperial Ale”, but I would go out of my way to get a keg if it was available. It is brewed with lactose (milk sugar) and natural vanilla, and described as having soft and airy vanilla and cake notes, iced to perfection. As most of the dessert beer offerings from Southern Tier, it has a high ABV of 8.6%. You won’t be drinking many of these in one sitting, but as a fireside sipper, I am absolutely intrigued.
New Belgium Brewing- Holiday Ale
In 2005, I learned about this Colorado brewery that had an Amber ale named, “Fat Tire”, which was one of only a few “Holy Grail-like” beers we couldn’t yet get in Michigan. I sent the CEO (at the time) Kim Jordan an overnight package of home made chocolate chip cookies, a letter, and Shakespeare’s Pub swag, begging her to come to Michigan, particularly my Pub in Kalamazoo. Credit where credit is due, she called me, to tell me it wasn’t in the cards, but thanked me for the cookies. It was a few years later that New Belgium made its way to Michigan, and although they wouldn’t allow me to be the first to tap Fat Tire, I have held to my word and kept it on draft since the first day it was available in Kalamazoo. Over the years, New Belgium has been a good friend and supporter of us, and it is without question that we think they make great, great beer. New in 2022, New Belgium Holiday Ale is brewed with flavors of cranberry, orange, cinnamon, and spice. We have it on draft at Shakespeare’s and it stands out with it’s unique fruit offerings, not found in any other Holiday ale. 7.5% ABV, it’s dangerous, because it drinks as if it is less. It’s worth picking up, as you finish prepping for Thanksgiving or sitting in front the fire on Christmas Eve.
Abita Brewing- Office Party
The first beer I ever tapped from Abita Brewing was called “Purple Haze”, a raspberry lager that at the time, no one in town had heard of. It was shortly after, that I started to see it around town, and little by little, more fruit beers made their way into the market, leaving poor little Louisiana-based Abita and their Purple Haze to fend for itself against local heavy-hitters like Founder’s Brewing’s Rubaeus and Shorts Brewing’s Soft Parade. Abita continues to be innovative, and whenever we tap a new brew from them, it does exceptionally well. This was the first year I saw “Office Party Holiday Stout” available in kegs and I jumped at getting it. Brewed with oats, caramel and chocolate malts, cocoa nibs, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg, it screams Christmas! Available in 6-pack bottles at your local store, it’s for sure not one to miss!
Revolution Brewing- Fistmas
Revolution Brewing does beer well. From their “Hero series” to Eugene Porter, it’s rare that I have ever heard of a bad offering from them. Any draft offering that has ever come to Kalamazoo, I have bought with the exception of “Straight Jacket” (Nobody is buying a barley wine on draft). “Fistmas”, named appropriately based on the fist logo of Revolution, is a Red Ale steeped with ginger and orange peel. With notes of fresh baked bread, caramel, and stone fruit, its subtly sweet, with a 6.5% ABV, to let you have more than 1.
Sierra Nevada Brewing- Celebration Ale
One of the many questions that gets debated at a bar is, “If you were on a deserted island, what beer would you take?” My answer since the first time I was asked is always Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. At a time when craft beer was being discovered, Sierra Nevada was one of the founding fathers of the genre. As time has gone on and we have went from 400 breweries to 6000 breweries in the United States (and counting), Sierra Nevada has remained a standard setter of quality. Sierra Nevada Celebration is considered a Christmas IPA but in reality, it’s just a really great fresh-hop IPA with citrus, pine, and floral notes at their absolute peak! If Sierra Nevada isn’t the greatest brewery in the world, they deserve to be in the discussion at the least.
Short’s Brewing- Slurma Claus
In 2004, Joe Short made a visit to Shakespeare’s Pub to attempt to get a beer on draft. Short’s was about 6 months old at the time, and Joe left me a sample bottle of “Bellaire Brown”. I am not a fan of brown ales, but I know what a brown ale should taste like, and at the time, I was less than enthusiastic about what I had sampled. When Joe came back and asked my opinion, I told him it reminded me of orange juice that I discovered at the back of the fridge, where I wasn’t sure how long it had been there, but I was really thirsty, and decided to chance it, and that chance turned out horribly wrong. It is a wonder after that, that Short’s would not only get on draft at Shakespeare’s but remain on the tap list with multiple handles daily, including a beer that Short’s makes for us called “Ironic Ale”. All and all, Joe Short is a good sport, and has more than proven his worth to the Craft beer community, despite my unpopular opinion at the time. He is one of the innovators of experimental brewing with flavors and ingredients most brewers would shy away from, and I would say his success rate is much greater than his failure rate.
Short’s “Slurma Claus” is tied for the biggest dry-hop addition in Short’s history. With flavors of pungent orange zest, tropical fruit salad, pine, and mango, it finishes with a pleasant bitterness. It’s a Double Dry-hopped Hazy IPA and represents what Short’s is all about; Innovation.
Three Floyd’s Brewing- Alpha Klaus
Three Floyd’s Brewing was also one of the “Holy Grail” breweries not available in Michigan until recently. The Indiana-based brewery owners often visited Bell’s for shows and beer events but hadn’t planned on being in Michigan, no matter how many times I would ask when they stopped in the pub. “Dark Lord Day” at Three Floyd’s saw many of my staff and craft beer enthusiasts travel to Munster, Indiana just to get what they could of Dark Lord Imperial Stout. Zombie Dust, Gumballhead, and Alpha King were often requested at the pub more times than I could count. So when Three Floyd’s finally did come to Kalamazoo, Shakespeare’s made a permanent home for Zombie Dust while rotating other options they provided on draft. Alpha Klaus is a Porter brewed with chocolate malt and Mexican sugar. On draft, it’s hard to come by, but it’s available at specialty stores in bottles, coming in at 7.3% ABV. If you like a good porter, this is unbelievable.
That rounds out 10. Feel free to message me if you have others you think I should check out, I am always looking for a good beer. Hope you find this helpful in your quests, and Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday season!