Drink this now: Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale

As someone who champions drinking autumn beers at their appropriate time (and not a moment before), is it hypocritical of me to suggest you drink a Christmas ale three weeks before Thanksgiving?

Short answer: Yes. But I’m doing it anyways.

Because in Cleveland, folks have been drinking Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale for weeks now, so this hardly seems a crazy suggestion. Much the way Chicagoans will be lining up early for Bourbon County Stout on Black Friday, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that people were lining up to drink Christmas Ale at a tapping party at 11:30am on October 24. They also brought us this damn-near-unbelievable statistic:

"Consider this: During last year's inaugural pouring, Great Lakes poured a pint of Christmas Ale every 7.7 seconds for 13.5 consecutive hours (it's about as fast as beer can be poured, we're told). Great Lakes servers filled 6,298 pints of the ale and 6,868 of its other beers."

The Christmas Ale is a revered beer in the Rust Belt. Criminals in Cleveland recently broke into the brewery and stole 500 feet of copper wiring, but left the Xmas Ale untouched. I choose to believe that this is less an indication of the idiocy of thieves, and more a belief that not even scofflaws would dare touch the Christmas Ale. As such, it’s perfectly okay to crack a few of these open well before the holiday.

This year’s Christmas Ale pours a translucent and appropriately ruby-copper color with an extremely minimal head. It’s mid-bodied and sparkling with waves of berries and hearty bread on the nose. This beer sets the bar once again—as it does most years—for what a winter warmer beer should be: It’s rich without being overwhelming. It's complex, spicy, savory and subtly sweet. And it's very drinkable. It's brewed with honey, ginger and cinnamon and it would be easy to overdo things in any particular direction with this beer, but Great Lakes has certainly learned about balance in its 25 years of brewing experience. The ginger is up front and prominent but it doesn’t overwhelm; instead it all washes over you with cascades of spice and finishes with a delicate touch of honey sweetness.

Drink this now, or if you feel conflicted about it, buy it now and bring it to Thanksgiving. At a 7.5% ABV, I don’t recommend drinking too many before dinner. Or go ahead and do it anyway—Thanksgiving was made for mid-afternoon naps.

This beer hasn’t made it to many tap handles yet, but it can be found at Binny’s, Capone’s and more in 6-packs. If you’re ready to drink it tonight, Great Lakes owner Pat Conway will be on hand at Red Ivy for the Christmas Ale tapping party.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)