Not many brewers wait until after Dec. 25 to brew their Christmas beers, but it’s a necessity for Matt Glidden.
Once the holidays are past, the founder of Ass Clown Brewing in Cornelius will pull off the ornaments, unstring the lights and haul his Christmas tree outside to cut it into little pieces.
No, he doesn’t suffer from post-holiday withdrawal. He’s brewing beer.
For the past two years, Glidden’s personal tree – the one he always goes up to the mountains to get – has found its way into a fermenter. It started innocently enough, with the brewer wondering if he could pull any sap out of the branches.
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“That’s kind of what sparked it,” said Glidden. “Then I bought 3 pounds of spruce tips and chopped up a bunch of the branches and threw in some juniper berries.”
All of this went into an India pale ale, a style that often exudes notes of pine without the addition of an actual tree. Finally, Glidden added Vojvodina hops, a seldom-used variety that can contribute notes of cedar.
You really could get a lot of qualities of what a Christmas tree would taste like if you boiled it down.
Matthew Glidden, founder of Ass Clown Brewing
“You really could get a lot of qualities of what a Christmas tree would taste like if you boiled it down,” said Glidden with a laugh. “We’ve had a few requests for that one.”
This “Recycled Christmas Tree” beer has been a tradition of Glidden’s for the past couple of years, but it’s far from the traditional approach to Christmas beers. Usually these beers fall on the maltier side of the spectrum, perhaps an amber or brown ale that’s been spiced (some not-so-subtly) with cinnamon, nutmeg or brown sugar. In truth, they’re not so different from the pumpkin ales that precede them.
Glidden isn’t the only brewer who finds the venerable India pale ale a fitting style for the season, though. For the second year in a row, Charlotte’s NoDa Brewing has released cans of Hoppy Holidays, an IPA brewed with a variety of different hops as well as spruce essence (the oil extracted from spruce tips).
“It is our version of a holiday beer without the spice,” said Todd Ford, co-owner of NoDa Brewing.
If you’re not a fan of IPAs (there are such people out there, I’ve been assured), then you can seek out several other unique seasonal beers from North Carolina brewers. Some brewers are inspired less by trees, and more by treats. Brothers Walt and Luke Dickinson, they of Wicked Weed Brewing in Asheville, fashioned their Milk and Cookies after their grandmother’s oatmeal raisin cookies. The beer is an imperial milk stout, brewed with oats, cinnamon, vanilla and raisins.
Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem also looked to the cookie, though in their case it was the Moravian cookie so popular in that area. From it they took ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, and by adding these to their People’s Porter created the ever more festive Moravian Porter. They first brewed it last year, but bottled it for the first time this November. Ten other Triad-area breweries also used Moravian cookie spices in Black Lamb, a barrel-aged imperial stout they brewed in collaboration.
Four Saints Brewing in Asheboro is recognizing everyone’s favorite seasonal saint with its St. Nicholas Christmas Ale on graham crackers. Fonta Flora Brewery in Morganton has chosen to eschew spices for chestnuts, which they have added to a new brown porter.
Maybe you’re cringing at the idea of a beer brewed with a Christmas tree, cookie spices or chestnuts. Maybe you’re so puritanical, so staunch a traditionalist that you think beer is no place for even a hint of cinnamon.
Well, you’re in luck. The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte recently released its Yule Bock, which – like all of that brewery’s beers – is brewed using just malt, hops, water and yeast. How’s that for nontraditional?
Daniel Hartis is the digital manager at All About Beer Magazine in Durham and author of “Beer Lover’s The Carolinas” and “Charlotte Beer: A History of Brewing in the Queen City.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @DanielHartis.