Christmas beer… The name alone reminds one of warming, herbal flavours. Yet Christmas beer is far from a defined style. The recipes are simply too diverse. And there is a reason for that!
The spirit of Christmas Past
At the end of the nineteenth century, Christmas beer didn’t exist. At that time – believe it or not – Belgian beer was not as popular as today. They even imported a lot of beer themselves. One of the more beloved styles was Scotch Ale. During the winter season they simply relabeled them with a nice Christmas label, and a “new” drink was born.
Soon, local breweries tried to jump on the bandwagon, and they presented their own variants. While some Belgian breweries have stayed true to the English ideas, there was no official definition. That is why your Christmas beer could just as well be a lighter Tripel.
In Scandinavia the tradition goes back even further. In the tenth century they celebrated their winter solstice Jul with a strong beer-like beverage, also called Jul. As they were known to roam around the world, these rituals found their way into England and many other countries.
The spirit of Christmas Present
Most agree that a Christmas beer should be a strong dark beer, with some seasonal spices. Typically, this means a Strong Dark or Scotch Ale that is flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove. In recent years, pine needles are also a popular ingredient.
In recent years Stouts and Porters have also moved into Christmas property. The heavy, but often sweet drinks fit the feeling of winter days and they pair wonderfully with herbs and spices. Or even Christmas cookies, for that matter, if you look at Pastry Stouts.
The spirit of Christmas Yet to Come
But as we said earlier, there is no such thing as a standard Christmas beer. In recent years there were even Christmas IPA’s, Wits and Sours, beer styles that are often linked to hot summer days.
And what to think of a Gluhbeer? This beverage is heated before consumption and is based on the popular German Gluhwein. Although mainly a gimmick, this totally changes the perception of drinking beer.
Therefore, Christmas beer should be seen as marketing tool first and foremost.
24 Days of Christmas beer
Quite new is the Beer Advent Calendar, a craft beer answer to the commercial phenomenon once reserved for children. It is a big box with 24 beers, that are hidden behind a closed door. From December 1st until Christmas Eve, you can discover – and drink – one beer every day. Isn’t that a nice Christmas experience?
Have yourself a malty Christmas!
Team The Swaen
Since the rise of craft brewing, a lot of historical, nearly forgotten beer styles have been resurrected from oblivion. Today, we will take a look at our “own” Kuit, also known as Koyt, Kuyt, Koite or Dutch Kuit.
In the thirteenth century, beers were very different from what we drink now. It was a very light beverage, mainly made from oat and sometimes a little wheat. Also, people didn’t know about hop yet. Instead, they used a variable herb collection known as Gruyt.
The introduction of hop
The Dutch government decided to monopolize and start taxing Gruyt. So when hop was introduced in the fourteenth century, brewers gladly experimented with this cheaper alternative. Of course, the government included hop in their taxing list soon after, but brewing was forever changed.
Around the end of the century, brewers in Hamburg replaced the oats with barley. These “white” beers became very popular. The Netherlands responded with its own variant with 3 parts of oat, 2 parts of barley and 1 part of wheat, that became known as Kuit. Historians claim the beer would have had around 4 to 6 % ABV.
Kuit quickly became the standard beer in the country. Cities like Delft, Gouda and Haarlem produced it on a large scale. The beer was exported through the entire northern Europe. It remained quite popular until the seventeenth century, when Lagers started to dominate the Dutch market. By that time, the quality of Kuit was reduced a thin Table Beer, because of rising grain prices.
The only official Dutch beer style
Since The Netherlands is heavily influenced by neighboring countries Belgium (through Wit, Blonde, Dubbel and Tripel) and Germany (with Pilsner and Weizen) there aren’t a lot of explicitly Dutch beer styles. In fact, it is the only Dutch style that the renowned Brewers Association has acknowledged.
Therefore, it is nice to see modern breweries reinvent Kuit. It is good to know that the original recipe cannot be matched. The oat races that were used back then no longer exist. Although the new variant is still mainly made in the Netherlands, examples can be found in as far as Russia and the United States.
For those who want to try their hand at brewing a Kuit, we recommend using Swaen™ Oat, Swaen™ Dutch Pale Ale and Swaen™ Wheat Classic. To keep it as close as possible to the original recipes, you should use noble hop varieties and neutral yeast strains. You can find our recipe here.
Not so long ago, non-alcoholic beers had a bad name. They usually were watery, light versions of the big beer brands. Honestly, most people only drank it when they had to drive, but wanted to drink something that remotely tasted like beer.
At first, the Craft revolution didn’t help much. Because they rarely brewed pilsners or lagers, there was no need for alcohol free versions. Slowly but surely, they wanted to offer their clients a non-alcoholic alternative too. But this time, all beer styles were an option.
Now, there are non-alcoholic IPA’s, Bock beers, Sour ales and even Stouts. What has also changed is the quality. No longer is alcohol free beer an unwanted alternative. This time around, you will want to taste them. There are some that can easily match a “normal” beer. And the big breweries followed by increasing the quality of their existing ranges.
What is non-alcoholic beer?
It is important to tell that each country has its own rules and laws about alcohol. That is why several countries have low- and non-alcohol labels to tell the difference between beers with still some alcohol (usually up to 0,5%) and beers that are totally free of alcohol.
For example: in the United States 0,5% is still considered alcohol free, while in the United Kingdom that number is 0,05%. So if you want to completely avoid drinking alcohol, you should double check the label.
How is non-alcoholic beer made?
There are two ways to reduce the amount of alcohol. First, we take a look at making sure no alcohol is formed during the brewing process. This can be done by interfering with the yeast during the fermentation process.
But you can also remove alcohol from the finished beer. One of the most common practices is to boil the alcohol out of the beer. Another way is to pass the beer through a special filter.
Why should you drink / brew non-alcoholic beer?
Let us start by saying that drinking many non-alcoholic beers still isn’t a healthy choice. The beverage usually has no significant nutritional value. That being said, they do tend to contain fewer calories.
Maybe non-alcoholic beer is still largely consumed by people that have to drive. But nowadays, that is no longer an inferior alternative.
Oktoberfest is the largest beer festival in the world. It originated in Germany, but today it is celebrated all over the globe.
The very first Oktoberfest was held in 1810, for the wedding of Princess Theresia of Saxe-Hildburghausen and Crown Prince Lodewijk of Bavaria. The five-day festivities included horse races and a celebration of culture and tradition. It became an annual event, centered around beer.
Every year the festival starts on the first Saturday after September 15th. It ends on the first Sunday in October, unless this is on October 1st or 2nd. In that case, the event will be extended until October 3rd, the Day of German Unity. Oktoberfest therefore lasts 16 to 18 days.
Traditionally, Oktoberfest is still celebrated on the Theresienwiese in Munich. Today it receives more than 5 million visitors. The men are often dressed in lederhosen and the ladies in dirndl.
They can go to one of the huge tents, or the surrounding beer gardens. However, not every brewery is allowed to participate in the official Oktoberfest. That honor is reserved for a special selection of Munich brewers. Currently these are Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu München, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten. They serve a special Festbier, which is served in a Maß, a beer glass of no less than 1 liter.
You will also find a fair and the largest carnival in the world. Because who wouldn’t want to go on a roller coaster or rocking boat after a few large pints of beer?
Nowadays, Oktoberfest is no longer only celebrated in Munich. In addition to numerous parties, there are large editions in Stuttgart, Düsseldorf and even the Dutch Sittard. But the event is also gaining ground in the United States.
Beer enthusiasts have claimed several historical persons. The legend of Gambrinus is one of those stories. Another well-known patron saint is Arnold of Soissons, better known as Saint Arnoldus.
Arnold (then Arnulf) was born in 1040 in Tiegem, Belgium. At the age of thirty, he entered Saint Medardus Abbey in Soissons, France. There he lived as a hermit for years. Although that role suited him well, Arnold was – reluctantly – promoted to Bishop Arnoldus. Legend has it that he wanted to escape his responsibilities, but a wolf brought him back to the abbey.
In that capacity, he was sent to Flanders in 1083 to help with peace negotiations. This tour was a success and was awarded with the founding of St. Peter’s Abbey in Oudenburg. Arnoldus then resigned as bishop. He died a short while later.
But why is this man still revered by beer lovers? Since his death, his unofficial status became the patron saint of brewers, hop pickers and innkeepers. This has to do with a legendary statement that he is said to have made.
In the eleventh century many infectious diseases were circulating. These were partly spread by polluted water. Arnoldus therefore called on people to drink beer. Since the water was then cooked, there was a smaller chance of contamination. According to tradition, Arnoldus saved countless lives with his own abbey beer.
By the way, don’t immediately think of modern beer when reading this story. In that period, it was more comparable to today’s low-alcohol Table Beer and it was even drunk during breakfast.
Nevertheless, Arnoldus is often depicted with a beer keg or mash paddle. His feast day is August 14.
Namaste! June 21 has been designated International Yoga Day. These spiritual, physical and mental exercises have their origin in Hinduism. That’s all very well, but what exactly does this have to do with beer?
Around 2013, a new, playful form of yoga emerged in the United States. While it’s not exactly clear where or how it started, Brooke Larson is the one who brought it to a large audience in 2015. She started an official company that now provides lessons throughout America.
Around the same time, German teachers Jhula and Emily discovered the phenomenon at the Burning Man festival. They decided to teach in Berlin and through various events it spread throughout Europe.
You should of course taste some beer during and after the exercises, but that is not all. In beer yoga, the popular drink is really integrated into the classes. By adding a beer bottle you can play with balance and weight. It is not the intention to get drunk. With beer yoga you normally only get one or two bottles for the entire lesson.
Breweries are more than happy to capitalize on the hype. They regularly organize events where beer yoga is central. With a little searching you will probably find a participating venue nearby.
Not everyone is positive about beer yoga, however. Fitness experts call it an unhealthy marketing gimmick. And although it is indeed mainly a fun movement, there is some historical awareness. In as early as the sixth century, yogis used alcohol to get closer to their Gods.
The basis is entertainment, but beer yoga has become a serious phenomenon. It does seem more suitable for a pleasant day than for a weekly workout. Will you soon be tipsy with a bottle of beer on your head, balancing on one leg?
Image © Otwarte Klatki