IT WILL be a sad day, a generation from now or so, when everyone does his or her Christmas shopping online. That will be the death of the Great Xmas Beer Run.
Most beer lovers have their own version of the annual pursuit, I’m sure. An hour, an afternoon, a weekend devoted to scooping up special beers of the season. A favorite winter warmer, a mixed case of spicy holiday ales, a gift for sharing, an oversize bottle for a celebratory toast.
Nondrinkers might consider it a waste of time, unproductive hours lost to the pursuit of nothing more than a bottle of beer.
They’re wrong, of course, because the Great Xmas Beer Run is more than that.
One year, my beer run took me through a driving snowstorm and into a Virginia brewpub where – as I sipped on a glass rimmed with holiday spices – an office party broke into an earnest rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.”
Another time, I wound up with a malty Weihnachtsbier at the Christkindlmarkt in Munich, Germany, bouncing madly through the surging crowd that browsed the handmade puppets and decorations spread across the Marienplatz.
A few years ago, I flew 4,000 miles to Oslo, Norway, to share a traditional homemade Scandinavian Christmas dinner with a bunch of home brewers who proudly served the fruits of their own local beer run. Turned out, nearly every one of the bottles was available at a delicatessen less than a mile from my office in Philly.
I’m tempted to say the beer at each locale was secondary to the experience, but I know better than that. The beer was the essential ingredient that brought us all together – that wonderfully effective social lubricant.
This year, I kept closer to home, but the beer run was no less fulfilling.
It took me to Whole Foods’ Cold Point Pub at Plymouth Meeting’s madhouse mall, where the bottle shop is just brimming with holiday bottles. Those silly Pennsylvania liquor laws that limit takeout purchases to 192 ounces had me hauling the first load of bottles (Corsendonk Christmas Ale, Dupont Avec Les Bon Voeux) to the parking garage before hiking back for a fine-looking magnum of Mikkeller Red/White Christmas.
I’m glad I returned, because it was only then that I noticed the pub has installed a cool-looking gadget called a Fusion Tower that can be stuffed with hops or other ingredients to spice various draft beers. They were filling it with jalapeño peppers, to spike DuClaw Hellrazer IPA.
From there, it was onto the Blue Dog Pub in Lansdale, a bar that I’d resolved to visit before the end of the year. The taps were awesome (including a St. Somewhere/Funky Buddha collaborative saison called Du Citron Partie) and so were the bottles (Samichlaus is better than ever). But for me, the highlight was a thoroughly messy barbecue duck-and-apple sandwich, slopped down while watching Ohio State wax Michigan.
Just up the road, the new taproom at Round Guys Brewery wasn’t serving holiday ales, yet. Co-owner Rich DiLiberto told me that, in typical fashion, he and his partner Scott Rudich will “probably wait till the last minute to brew one.”
No big deal. Round Guys’ aptly named Slacker Ale took off the chill.
Here are other highlights of this year’s Great Xmas Beer Run.
¶Evil Twin Christmas Eve at a New York City Hotel Room (Denmark). Sounds more like an O. Henry short story than an imperial stout.
¶Troegs Mad Elf (Pennsylvania). This year’s version of the local favorite is a bit less spicy than last year’s stellar vintage.
¶Southern Tier 2XMAS (New York). A new spiced ale made with figs and orange peel, to complement Southern Tier’s malty Old Man Winter Ale.
¶YuleSmith (California). I didn’t notice till I got it home that this is the summer version of AleSmith’s holiday ale, a massively hopped imperial IPA. The winter version is an imperial red ale.
¶Santa’s Little Helper (California). I grabbed a growler of Port Brewing’s draft imperial stout intending to bring it to a holiday party next week. It didn’t last the weekend.
¶Delirium Noël (Belgium). A strong (10 percent alcohol) dark ale with a label featuring Santa’s sleigh pulled by a team of pink elephants. It’s my Christmas dream!