Christmas Beer From Upstate’s Southern Tier

Southern Tier Brewing brings us a unique take on the traditional holiday beer.

Holiday beers, in the generous spirit of the season, are typically about more: more malt, more alcohol and more sweetness. Brewers originally made them to say thanks to their regulars for supporting the brewery all year.

Christmas Beer

Southern Tier Brewing—whose beers are brewed near Buffalo, retailed at Whole Foods and poured at craft havens like Midtown’s Pony Bar—is apparently extra thankful, offering two different holiday beers, both going beyond the usual “more” approach.

The Swedish mulled wine called glögg lies behind one of the beers, the 2Xmas.

“We went to a Christmas party sponsored by a local low-power FM station,” says brewery spokesperson Nathan Arnone, ”and the party was a glögg party—a glögg-off.” (If that sounds unlikely, remember that the southern tier region of New York has a substantial Swedish population.) The brewer, inspired, announced that next year Southern Tier would make a glögg beer and, unlike most December resolutions, this one held up.

The recipe calls for fruit—figs and orange peel—and a mix of spices, including cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. That’s on top of two hop varieties and four different sorts of malt. Arnone says it’s fairly dark and dry, but the fruit and spice flavors stay on the palate for a while, disguising the 8 percent alcohol. Despite its warm inspiration, the 2Xmas ale should be served chilled.

The 2Xmas is sold in six-packs, but their other holiday brew is part of their Imperial series, and thus comes in 22-ounce bombers. However, it might actually be an anti-holiday beer. Consider: It’s a dry, amber lager when most holiday beers are dark, sweeter ales. It’s got no spices or unusual ingredients. It’s their most bitter beer, which hardly sounds like the holiday spirit.

And it’s named Krampus after a legendary Eastern European figure that Arnone calls “Santa Claus’s nightmare, or nemesis.” (At best you could say they work together, since Krampus was said to punish children who didn’t make the “nice” section on Santa’s list.)

In essence it’s a Germanic helles lager, but with ramped-up alcohol (that’s the “Imperial” for you) and a generous dose of Chinook and Willamette hops—American hop varieties that sport a piney note on top of the floral character more typically associated with European hop varieties.

Arnone says both their holiday beers are a change from the norm for the brewery: They don’t do too many lagers, and they don’t often use bucketloads of spices and fruits. But if we didn’t take a break from the norm at the holidays, how festive would they be?

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Jim Clarke is an in-demand writer and speaker on all things wine and beer-related, contributing to both consumer and trade magazines like Sommelier Journal, Beverage Media, Details, and Wine Enthusiast as well as newspapers like the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle. Jim has also been part of the New York restaurant scene for over ten years, working as the Wine Director at Megu, a high-end Japanese restaurant, before moving on to spend two years rebuilding the wine program at Armani Ristorante inside the clothing company's flagship store on Fifth Avenue. In September 2013 he left the restaurant industry to take a position as Marketing Manager for Wines of South Africa. When he's not working with wine he's usually busy trying to keep his 1978 Triumph Spitfire on the road.