While it’s still winter, I wanted to get around to writing about the holiday ale advent calendar I created this Christmas. Here in Portland, we have the Holiday Ale Fest that happens the first weekend of December. It’s a fun festival with all the local winter warmer holiday beers. And one of the things I love about winter in Portland is trying new winter ales and meeting up with friends at Portland breweries. So as part of embracing winter, and doing my annual adult advent calendar, I started thinking of a way to do a more social calendar with beer and friends. And that’s where this “Holiday Ale Fest” Beer Advent Calendar came from.
How to Make a Beer Advent Calendar
This isn’t your dad’s holiday “beer advent calendar” (well maybe it is, you might have a cool dad) like the ones from World Market or Costco. What’s fun about this is that you can customize it to whatever you like and local beers. We decided to go with a 12 days of drinks, starting December 12, and ending Christmas Eve – which gave us a bit more time in early December to gather all the drinks we needed. One of the things I like about actually going to a brewery in winter is just getting a pint or a taster of a seasonal drinks, not committing to a 4 or 6 pack of beers from the store. Especially winter beers that are pretty strong and you might not want all of them! Plus, the price of these can add up quick! So here’s how to make your own beer advent calendar.
1. Decide on the # of people participating & budget
4 to 6 people makes the beer math simpler, if you’re getting 4 and 6 packs of drinks. We did 6. Some of the those six were individuals and some were couples (so they shared the days drink). Then we decided on a rough budget of about $50 per person. The total ended up being $51/each with price per drink being $4.30.
2. Decide who will plan, buy and divvy up drinks
Since it was my idea, I was the main planner of this project. And I asked one other friend to help with some of the drink pickups and beer selection. Then for the rest of the group, if they had any particular beers they wanted to get that was fine, but optional, otherwise, they just paid for their share. So I bought half of the beers, a friend bought 4 of the packs, and then a couple other friends had been at the store and snagged their favorite winter ale for the group.
Next time, we’ll probably do about the same, keeping the bulk of the drink selection to a smaller group just for ease of planning! The only hard part of this is a few of the breweries don’t sell 6 packs, so we had to get a few extra and just keep that amount. Well there went my alcohol budget for December! :P
3. Choose your favorite winter warmers and holiday beers
Next up was finding holiday ales. First, I searched for my favorite Portland breweries like Great Notion, Breakside, Level etc and a couple Bend breweries, and also came across a few articles about new release Oregon winter ales for the season. Here’s what we ended up with!
12 Oregon Winter Warmer Beers
Little Beast Brewing • Portland, OR
Oatmeal Stout • 6.0%
Smooth and soft, with subtle notes of coffee and chocolate, this oatmeal stout is a fine choice for any time of day, whether you’re an early bird or a night owl.
Breakside Brewery • Portland, OR
SALTED CARAMEL STOUT
Stout • 6.7% • 33 IBU
A collaboration with Salt & Straw Ice Cream. The base beer is a full-bodied stout, and we add both sea salt and a specially made caramel to the wort before fermentation. The finished beer is rich and balanced with a luscious caramel flavor in the aroma and mid-palate, a hint of salt in the finish, and a smooth, rich roast character.
Level Beer • Portland, OR
Winter Warmer Ale • 7.2%
This winter warmer has lots of malt complexity with caramel, toffee, rye, plum, fig and rich bready undertones. The maltiness is balanced with a nice blend of piney, floral, and earthy hops that give Neon Snowsuit a pleasant bitterness and hop bouquet which makes for a totally rad experience. Shaka brah.
Baerlic Brewing Co • Portland, OR
IPA • 7.2%
IPA with Centennial, Cascade, Simcoe, and Chinook hops. In honor of the greatest Christmas film of all time, this beer’s got enough resinous pine to take down a terrorist with enough malty sweet left over for the love of his life…Yippee Ki Yay Mother Gruber!
StormBreaker Brewing • Portland, OR
Winter Warmer • 8.5% • 22 IBU
A winter warmer from StormBreaker.
Double Mountain Brewery • Hood River, OR
FA LA LA LA LA
Winter Ale • 7.5% • 85 IBU
Classic winter ale from Double Mountain.
Wayfinder Brewery • Portland, ORBEYOB
Quadruple-decocted Doppelbock • 7.7%
Quadruple-decocted, extra-strong lager, spawned in homage to Oregon’s legendary doom-metal band YOB. A deep, intense and nourishing brew, conditioned at below-freezing temps for weeks. Epic, crushing, heavier than heavy.
Pfriem Family Brewers • Hood River, OR
BELGIAN STRONG DARK
Belgian-style Dark Ale • 10% • 38 IBU
Belgians say, “Op uw gezondheid’” when toasting, but you don’t have to speak Flemish to appreciate the bold, complex flavors of fig dipped in dark chocolate, ripe fruit and toffee in this immense Ale. Op uw gezondheid!
Deschutes Brewery • Bend, OR
Imperial Winter Warmer • 10.4% • 50 IBU
Inspired by Jubelale. It’s the brewer’s re-creation of this delicious elixir without the freezing, which is technically considered distillation. Malt forward with notes of toasted caramel, raisins, dates and figs that are complemented by spicy and herbal hop aromas.
Hair of the Dog Brewing Co • Portland, OR
Barley Wine Style Ale • 11.5% • 70 IBU
Barley Wine made in the West Coast style. Big malt and hops make this copper colored ale one of our most popular. Produced in September and October and released in November, this Beer will improve for years to come.
Deschutes Brewery • Bend, OR
Barrel-aged Imperial Stout • 11.7%
Immeasurable depth and complexity. Hints of molasses, licorice and other alluring flavors make it something not just to quaff, but contemplate.
Great Notion Brewing • Portland, OR
Imperial Stout • 11.75%
This thick and decadent Imperial Stout is simply swirled with sweet vanilla…. like a cupcake.
4. Divvy up the beers
I ended up organizing the drinks by ABV, which was kind of a fun way to do it, starting with the lowest and ended on Christmas Eve with the booziest beer (Great Notion won that one with a 11.75% Imperial Stout!) After we had collected all the drinks, I reorganized them to give 12 beers to each friend. I used dot stickers with numbers 1-12 to put on the cans and bottles so everyone would know which day to start. We had quite the beer collection going for a week or so. Ha! I also printed out a “holiday ale guide” reminiscent of Holiday Ale Festival program which was pretty much just a print out of the beer list above with beer descriptions, brewery, ABV etc. Then, we did porch pick up or drop off to our friends and awaited the starting day of Dec 12!
5. Get social with daily beer checkins
On December 12, we did a kick off zoom call with our group of 6 households (some couples and some single friends) to open the first drink and chat. Then for the following days we used the Marco Polo app to chat, talk about the beer and just general silliness of life check ins. After almost a year of COVID social distancing, it was a really fun thing to look forward to every day. And not just the drink, lol, we’re all doing that anyway right?! but the social aspect of seeing friends.
And we all did our advent calendar part slightly differently. Some just put their beers in the fridge. one friend wrapped them in pretty paper and ribbons and wrote herself a daily festive challenge (“give 3 compliments” etc). And I made a punch through box for the first half of the calendar. And with a kiddo around I knew the box wouldn’t last long, ha! So the second half I just used the dot stickers instead of over-achiever mode.
Overall this beer advent calendar or holiday ale calendar was super fun and a nice way to end the year. Especially December, which is usually a much more social time. So I loved having an extra way to connect. We’ll definitely be doing this again in the future. And what’s fun about this project is that you could really do it any time of year with seasonal drinks! It would also be fun to do a bracket style and rate the drinks against each other like a single elimination bracket. Ha! Maybe next year.
Originally published December 2020.