Article Written by: Dillion Stewart
Great Lakes Brewing Co. owners Dan and Pat Conway first brewed their original Christmas Ale as a special Christmas gift. They’d fill up their cars with the now-iconic Cleveland brew and personally deliver it to the homes of their friends, family and co-workers.
With that origin, it’s no wonder Clevelanders have developed their own Christmas Ale traditions.
Some Clevelanders crack open their first bottle while handing out Halloween candy or wait until after Thanksgiving to enjoy their ginger-cinnamon-and-honey flavored ale as they put up the Christmas tree. Others wait to share a six pack with an out-of-town family member or friend. My own family saves a six-pack for any time my grandfather comes back into town from Florida — even if it’s closer to Christmas in July than actual Christmas.
“Traditions are such a special part of the holidays,” says communications coordinator Adam Ritterspach. “The story of the beer has evolved from this special beer brewed by the owners to it selling out in stores to people coming from out-of-state just to get Christmas Ale. It’s special for us to know that Christmas Ale plays such a central part in people’s holiday traditions."
But no Christmas Ale tradition looms larger than the annual First Pour event. GLBC fanatics wait in lines around the block of the Ohio City brewpub for hours to snag a sip of that first batch — before inevitably debating whether this year’s is better than last year’s (even though the recipe has been the same for decades).
Like most things this year, Thursday’s First Pour event is going to look a little bit different. Santa, who typically carries a keg into the brewpub to a choir of carolers, is staying quarantined to get ready for the holiday season. Social distancing requirements mean fans won’t be able to gather around the bar for the ceremonial first pour.
But there is still plenty of Christmas Ale fun to be had all weekend long. Reservations for Thursday’s in-person event and at-home experience, which includes everything from a crowler to a keg and some Christmas Ale merch, sold out within hours of going on sale in September. But if you can’t wait for Christmas Ale to hit stores on Monday, Oct. 26, this year’s batch of Christmas Ale will be on tap at the brewpub all weekend and six-packs can be purchased in the gift shop starting Friday.
Maybe it’ll even be the start of some new traditions, says Ritterspach.
“We know that the Christmas ale diehards, these superfans that come out every year, will still be able to enjoy the day and bring the same kind of energy and still have a festive time while understanding the limitations that we’re under,” he says. “If you’re at home, maybe you’re able to enjoy the event while working or over a Zoom chat with your friends and family."