“This year’s batch isn’t as good as last year’s,” your drunk uncle inevitably claims at the holiday party as he polishes off a six pack of Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s landmark achievement Christmas Ale.
Believe it or not, he might actually be onto something.
Since the beer debuted 29 years ago, the recipe hasn’t changed. The Ohio City brewery begins brewing Christmas Ale in the summer, and when it does, Ohio’s oldest purveyor of craft beer continues to spice the beloved holiday ale with real ginger, honey and cinnamon.
But while many other holiday and pumpkin ales use artificial flavoring, the beermaker uses natural ingredients — which does leave the slightest (and we mean slightest) possibility of a variation of flavor.
“Especially with the honey, it really depends what kind of flowers the bees were going to. Sometimes the honey might be a little bit sweeter or it might have a little bit of spice, you know, maybe it’s a little bit more floral this year,” says media coordinator Adam Ritterspach. “I've been working at Great Lakes for a long time. And yeah, sometimes maybe the Christmas Ale has had a little bit more of a kick of ginger or something one year.”
That said, Uncle Jim must have an incredibly discernible palate to be able to pick out the difference, Ritterspach says.
“The difference is really, really going to be subtle,” he says. “There are Christmas Ale diehards who say, ‘I definitely got a little bit more cinnamon last year than this year.’ I'm not going to tell them they're wrong.”
Before you pull out the dusty bottle from the basement for a side-by-side comparison, time also affects the taste of beer with natural ingredients.
“Beer doesn't really spoil, but the older it gets the more the flavors and aroma and the appearance will change over time, and usually not for the better” he says. "We recommend drinking all of our beers as fresh as possible."
The biggest difference, Ritterspach says, is the environment in which you enjoy the ale. We prefer to have our first one at the Oct. 21 First Pour event.
“I think when you’re drinking a Christmas Ale by a warm cozy fire, maybe the snow's falling, or maybe you’re at First Pour celebrating with all your friends, it’s going to taste amazing,” he says. “But if you’re stuck at an office party that you really want to get away from, that can influence how you perceive these things tasting sometimes.”