Brew Crew

A few years back I started a new tradition: The holidays really aren't over until the last bottle of Christmas Ale is gone.

Got a case left in the downstairs refrigerator? Feel free to keep your lights up and the inflatable Santa on the lawn until the Super Bowl. It tells folks you're still in the spirit and happy to provide cheer for your guests.

Last year, mine held on until March (though my wife wouldn't let me keep the lights up) as I'd tucked away a single bottle to celebrate some unexpected special occasion.

Our thirst for Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s seasonal beer seems unquenchable. The release of Christmas Ale has reached local holiday status, right up there with the Indians home opener. At the 2012 First Pour event in late October, Great Lakes reportedly served just short of 6,300 pints of the stuff over 13 1/2 hours. That's one every eight seconds or so. In fact, demand has grown so much that Great Lakes needed 220,000 pounds of local honey and 7,200 pounds of both ginger and cinnamon for this year's 27,600 barrels. And the brew, which is only available for eight weeks, now reportedly accounts for 20 percent of Great Lakes' total sales.

But if that was the only local holiday seasonal you tried this year, you might as well have eaten only turkey and mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. Among the magazine's staff, this year's Christmas favorites also included Market Garden Brewery's Festivus Ale, the Brew Kettle's Winter Warmer and Thirsty Dog Brewing Co.'s 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale.

As this month's cover story attests, our brewing community has come a long way since 1988 when Patrick and Daniel Conway opened Great Lakes in Ohio City. With 19 craft breweries in Northeast Ohio, we are enjoying the greatest era of suds in the past 100 years. Back then, before refrigeration, neighborhood taverns flourished. Beer was produced locally and drank locally by Irish, German and other European immigrants.

Today, it's worth the drive to try Willoughby Brewing Co.'s Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter or to North Olmsted for Fat Heads Brewery's Head Hunter IPA or to Medina for a Barnburner Lager from Lager Heads Brewing Co. So if you're left with a bit of a holiday hangover, we can recommend plenty tasty remedies to lift your spirits for the rest of the year.

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