While summer may be the key volume season for beer sales, the arrival of winter brings the opportunity for retailers to stock festive, high-margin brews that lend themselves to gift-giving occasions. “Winter and holiday beers deliver on the consumer desire for seasonal flavors and limited-time offerings,” says Angela Knotts, director of brand marketing at Anchor Brewing Co., who notes they also bring a spirit of anticipation at retail.
The San Francisco-based brewery’s Christmas ale is a good example of a year-end release that sparks excitement among beer lovers. This year marks the 49th edition of Christmas ale—with each release different from the year before—and according to brewmaster Tom Riley, demand for the beer has spread far and wide from its California home. “There’s always anticipation for Christmas ale from consumers, even though the seasonal market has gotten very crowded,” he says, and at retail, “it’s a dependable sell-through.” Riley describes the 2022 Anchor Christmas ale ($12 a 6-pack of 12-ounce bottles) as a “festive, spiced, dark red ale,” brewed with rye malt and dry-hopped with floral hops. “It has a complex grain, firm bitterness and spices, with a touch of orange,” he says, adding that it pairs well with holiday meals like prime rib and rack of lamb.
Creative packaging has emerged as a successful tool to drive sales of holiday brews. In recent years, beer “advent calendars” and variety packs like Clown Shoes’ 12 Beers of Christmas have proven popular. Introduced in 2021, 12 Beers of Christmas features a dozen unique beers, with styles ranging from pale ales to double IPAs. This year’s collection includes Reindeer Games Bavarian IPA and One-Man Holiday Belgian quadruple ($30 a 12-pack of 12-ounce cans). According to Sean Geary, brand and sales director at Clown Shoes, early demand for the 12-pack this year has been brisk. “By changing the lineup inside of the pack each year, we’ve built a following of people—both retailers and consumers—who make it an annual tradition to grab the package in order to see what’s new,” he says.
Beyond holiday-themed beers, broader winter brews are also highly anticipated. Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery, for example, has once again released Jubelale, marking the 35th edition of the festive winter ale. Anderson Valley Brewing, meanwhile, is again offering Winter Solstice ale, first brewed about ten years ago, and the limited-edition Huge Arker Bourbon-barrel imperial stout. Kevin McGee, Anderson Valley’s CEO and president, notes that the brewery’s Bourbon-barrel stout, while available year-round, performs particularly well during the winter months. “Sales pick up as the days get shorter,” says McGee. In addition to the 12 Beers of Christmas variety pack, Clown Shoes is offering Snow on the Maple Tree imperial stout, Outer Limits cold IPA, and Blaecorn Unidragon imperial stout this winter.
Imported winter brews also continue to engage beer consumers. Samuel Smith’s 2022 Winter Welcome ale, which features a different label each year, is particularly timely. This year’s label pays tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee. Peter Timboe, marketing manager at importer Merchant du Vin Corp., says that with the Queen’s death in September, demand for Winter Welcome in 2022, its 33rd annual release, is expected to be higher than usual.
At retail, merchants make room for winter seasonals via displays and merchandising to stimulate gift-giving and other holiday-inspired purchasing occasions. Shawn Jones, beer manager at Boone’s Wine & Spirits in Eagle, Colorado says that while “nothing compares to the fall seasonals,” winter beer sales tend to be steady. Boone’s generally opts to focus on locally produced winter brews, such as Avery Brewing’s Old Jubilation English-style ale and Odell Brewing’s Isolation ale, both priced at about $12 a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans. “We put up a table at the front of the store with all of our holiday offerings,” Jones says, as well as secondary displays throughout the store.
Whether it’s on-premise or off, Clown Shoes’ Geary encourages retailers to “provide consumers with variety, but don’t overwhelm them.” When it comes to winter brews, a cultivated approach is best, he maintains. And at Anderson Valley, McGee sees wide opportunity for retailers to market winter beers. “Winter beers make for a good accompaniment to the things people do in season,” he says, “whether it’s meeting for holiday parties, downhill skiing, or just sitting by the fireplace.”