It wouldn’t be Yule without a Santa-on-the-label flap

IF IT’S December, it must mean the Shelton Brothers are in trouble again.

Last Christmas, authorities in Connecticut nailed the Massachusetts specialty beer importers for their bottles of Ridgeway Seriously Bad Elf, which depicted one S. Claus on the label.

This year, same thing, different state, as New York authorities warned they wouldn’t OK Shelton’s labels for several other beers, including Warm Welcome Nut-Browned Ale. The label, which depicts Santa dangling above fireplace flames, might appeal to underage drinkers, the State Liquor Authority said.

The Sheltons quickly filed a lawsuit, claiming a violation of their free speech rights.

Turns out, the label rejection was only a preliminary decision. The New York agency reversed itself Tuesday and OK’d the label.

So never mind, the Clausmeister is safe for another Christmas.

But the label hoo-hah did get me thinking about the current state of Christmas – er, holiday – beers. Many brewers produce special beers for the season, but often they’re hesitant to put anything Christmas-y on the label.

This isn’t a Fox News-style War on Christmas brouhaha. Mainly, the breweries are worried that after Dec. 25, nobody’s going to want to buy a beer with Santa on label – even if it’s perfectly drinkable in January and February.

The shame is that the tradition of brewing a special wintertime beer is clearly tied to the holidays. The monks of medieval Europe, the world’s first professional brewers, celebrated Christmas with these special beers. And before Christianity, ancient pagans observed the winter solstice festival, Saturnalia, with special ales that were strengthened to keep them warm till spring.

Two thousand years later, you can put together a case of Saturnalia beers, from a shelf near you.

Good-looking Santas

These breweries aren’t afraid to put Kris Kringle on their labels:

  1. George Gale Christmas Ale (England). A winter warmer with a very jolly Old St. Nick.
  2. Penn St. Nikolaus Bock (Pittsburgh). Technically that isn’t Santa, it’s the fourth-century saint who started all this fun.
  3. Petrus Winterbeer (Belgium). I think this is the same Santa who used to sled on that Norelco razor.
  4. Ridgeway Santa’s Butt (England). They were going to call this “Heinie,” but that one’s already copyrighted.
  5. Delirium Noel (Belgium). Look closely. Yes, that’s Santa and his eight tiny pink elephants.
  6. Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve (Oregon). With his fist raised in the air, Claus is hailing the extreme hops in this ale.

Politically (and seasonally) correct

Beers you can give to non-(Santa) believers:

  1. Saranac Season’s Best (New York). A nut brown lager with a snowy Adirondack mountain scene, in case you were confused about which season we’re talking about.
  2. Smuttynose Winter Ale (New Hampshire). That’s not Santa on the label of this pale ale, it’s Mom carrying home the presents.
  3. Avec les Bon Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont (Belgium). With the brewery’s best wishes, it’s a spicier version of its famous Saison.
  4. Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig (Boston). You’d know who he was if you hadn’t been dozing in 10th-grade English literature class, Scrooge.
  5. He’Brew Monumental Jewbelation (California). “The most award-winning Hanukkah beer ever created,” the brewer boasts. And, perhaps, the only Hanukkah beer ever created.
  6. Left Hand XXXmas (Colorado). “X” is shorthand for “Christ,” but I don’t think they’re talking about Baby Jesus here.

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