If we had to guess what Santa drinks, here are a few specialties that would certainly jingle his bells.
Samichlaus. Schloss Eggenberg, Vorchdorf, Austria
If you ever saw “Miracle on 34th Street,” you’d know that St. Nicholas is fluent in many languages. This one is Swiss-German for “Santa Claus,” and it has one of the most heart-warming stories of any beer. Nearly abandoned as a weak seller during a corporate takeover, Samichlaus was saved when beer-lovers, rallied by the late British beer writer, Michael Jackson, urged its owner to allow another brewery recreate the recipe. Today, Eggenberg uses the original Hurlimann yeast to brew it each December 6th, on St. Nicholas Day. At 14 percent, this warming, brandy-like triple bock is one of the world’s strongest beers. Sweet with hints of fruit (raisins), this beer mellows nicely if cellared a year or more.
Santa’s Private Reserve, Rogue Ales, Newport, OR
How brewer John Maier managed to tap into Santa’s stash is a mystery that may never be solved. Also available on tap and in 12-ounce bottles, it’s best served from a 22-ounce bomber, apparently decorated by elves with glistening, glow-in-the-dark snowflakes. Hopheads will love this red ale, spiced with Chinook, Centennial and a variety that Maier calls “Rudolph.” The flavor is nicely balanced with a touch of malt sweetness, while its creamy finish will have you cracking open a second and a third.
St. Nikolaus Bock Bier, Pennsylvania Brewing, Pittsburgh, PA
It was newspaper cartoonist Thomas Nast who gave us the Republican elephant, the Democratic donkey and the portrait on this bottle, the quintessential illustration of “Merry Old Santa Claus,” first appearing in Harper’s Weekly in 1881. (A version of the drawing appears on George Gale Christmas Ale, as well.) This is a classic Munich-style bock (not doppelbock), with a rich, dark, malty body. Subtle flavors of fruit and chocolate underlie a solid roasty character that’s enhanced with just a touch of hop bitterness. At 6 percent alcohol by volume, it’s lightly warming. For a stronger kick, look for the 25-ounce Brewer’s Reserve (9 percent ABV), lovingly packaged in an embroidered velvet bag.
Delirium Noel, Brouwerij Huyghe, Melle, Belgium
Santa Claus enjoys a joke as much as the next guy, so there’s no doubt he’d pick up a couple bottles of this strong dark ale from his North Pole distributor. There are several collectible versions of the label artwork, all involving pink elephants in Santa hats happily cavorting on handsome white ceramic bottles. While these make excellent holiday gifts, make sure you pop the cork on one for yourself. You’ll enjoy a rich, warming brew with a sweet kick and that classic Belgian yeast bite.
Stille Nacht, Brouwerij De Dolle Brouwers, Essen, Belgium
You don’t have to be fluent in Dutch to understand that this beer means “Silent Night.” Polish off a bottle of this high-alcohol treat (12 percent ABV), and it’s sweet dreams. It’s made with apples and pounds of candy sugar, fermenting into a sweet, spicy, foamy elixir that will remind you of a tangy dessert wine. It mellows with age, so hold onto a few bottles. Or head over to Antwerp’s famous Kulminator tavern and order a 10-year-old bottle from its famous cellar. Even more special: Stille Nacht Special Reserva, matured for 18 months in Bordeaux wine casks.
Winter Solstice, Anderson Valley, Boonville, CA
Santa knows his true roots reach back through the millennia, when ancient man celebrated the annual winter solstice with cups of beer, wine or mead to reach a happy, enlightened state. This brew, a winter warmer, is a nod to the tradition of adding exotic spices to that annual treat. Cinnamon is the most obvious flavor, but like the very best in this style, the spice does not overwhelm the malt character of the ale.
Winter-Traum, Kosterbrauerei Weltenburg, Kelheim, Germany
This monastery along the banks of the Danube almost predates St. Nicholas himself, with roots back to AD 600. The monks still use the brewery’s 300-year-old lagering rooms nearly 10 floors underground. Like (nearly) all German beers, it’s brewed with just four ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast. But in Winter-Traum (Winter Dream), they combine to produce an astonishingly complex aroma of fresh citrus and spice, and a delicious flavor of freshly baked beer.