Art of Craft ~ brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson


December is the month we tap into Christmas beers and winter warmers.

The idea of Jul beers originated more than a thousand years ago with the Vikings. Their tradition persisted as Christmas replaced Jul and the Vikings settled in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

While Christmas brewing takes different forms in many countries, my understanding of Christmas beers and winter warmers comes primarily from England. Old ale is a term which commonly refers to dark, malty English beers which are generally above 5% ABV, or alcohol by volume. Old ale can also be associated with the terms stock ale or keeping ale because beer is often held at the brewery.

Traditionally, old ales complemented mild ales. Pubs would serve a blend of a sharper stock ale with a fruitier, sweeter mild ale. Eventually brewers began to keep some ales at the brewery, age them into old ale, and sell them to pubs. 

Winter warmers are traditional malty-sweet strong ale which is brewed during winter months. They are usually dark, but not as dark as a stout, and have a big malt presence. Some winter warmers have a few spices, especially in the United States, though spices are not required. The primary quality of a winter warmer is strength. Winter warmers generally average from 6.0% to 8.0% ABV, and some reach 10.0% ABV or higher.

Christmas beer is a type of winter warmer, strong in alcohol content and often spiced. Traditional Christmas beers are strong and spiced with a variety of ingredients like cinnamon, orange peel, cloves, and vanilla.

The term winter warmer is most often associated with the United Kingdom while Christmas beer or Holiday beer is more typical of the United States.

Anchor Brewing Company release of Our Special Ale in 1975 sparked the renewal of commercial holiday beers in the United States.

December begins in a liturgical season called Advent. Advent is a season of anticipation and preparation for Christmas on the Christian calendar.

Advent is taking time to prepare and anticipate. It is not the anticipation of eagerly reaching forward, trying to hasten the arrival of the present, the gift, the payoff.  It is the savoring of the anticipation, recognizing it and letting each day teach us its lessons. Advent is rooted in mindfulness of the present moment, not our desire for the future or regret about the past.

Advent teaches us to anticipate without rushing.

Above all, Advent is about combining the challenges and joy that come from waiting and preparing in anticipation. We are quiet enough to listen, yet expectant enough to continue.

Advent gives us ways to prepare and get ready for what we anticipate.

Some of us tend to see anticipation as a competitive advantage. We try to anticipate our competition's next move or what obstacles we might face next.

Anticipation is a strategic strength which takes us closer to achieving our goals.

The anticipation in Advent is different.

People who practice Advent anticipate and prepare for receiving great joy.

Individuals and groups who value Advent are looking forward to receiving a great gift. Their gifts are not presents under a tree. The shopping and buying of The Holiday Season tend to distract us from Advent.

Advent is about the spiritual life and meaning which underlies the economic activity. We practice savoring deep, sacred truths in the midst of all the distractions. It can be easy for us to get lost, frustrated, and frazzled until we miss what is most important.

Advent is about finding ways to remind ourselves of the deeper reasons underneath everyday life.

Advent's anticipation is not about overcoming a competitor or an obstacle. The anticipation in Advent has more to do with moving us into the blessings waiting for us. We spend time each day practicing being open to receive.

We learn to anticipate and prepare for the celebration of Christmas the way we anticipate tasting winter warmers.

For me, the anticipation of Advent is more about giving than receiving. Each year I practice Advent as a way to pay attention to the wonder of the season, not merely how many days I have to shop.

I appreciate Advent because it is the liturgical season, just as December is the month, during which I was born. This year I am celebrating my birthday by raising money for the Mitzvah Circle Foundation. You can learn all about Mitzvah Circle and my friend Fran Held, and how you can help them raise money on Facebook at Thank you for your help.

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor in Pasadena, California. He is passionate about craft brewing, listening, and monks and monastic life. Greg is a recovering attorney. Greg’s website is and he is on Twitter @StrategicMonk. You can email Greg at, and he writes a blog for the Contemplative channel on

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