Ale for All: a short history of holiday brews

December 10, 2016 • Edible Asheville Magazine


When Western North Carolina’s beer lovers perform their annual ritual of hunting down scarce supplies of Highland Brewing’s Cold Mountain Winter Ale at stores and bars across the region, they probably don’t realize they’re following a tradition that’s more than a thousand years old.

Beers made specifically to celebrate the winter holidays and New Year have a long history. Before hops became a primary ingredient in beer, spices and herbs were added to provide bittering and flavor, and sometimes to aid in preservation. These spiced ciders and beers became an important part of ancient winter solstice festivals…

Asheville Brewing Company, Asheville’s third-oldest craft brewery, brews a winter seasonal called Ninjabread Man Porter (5.6% ABV), now in its third year of production. The brewers start with brown porter and add a syrup that includes fresh vanilla beans, toasted cinnamon sticks, raisins, molasses and caramelized ginger. The syrup is stirred constantly as it is boiled down for at least a couple of hours.

“We thought it’d be fun to brew a holiday-spiced ale, but when we first released the Ninjabread Man, we had no idea how popular it would be,” says Pete Langheinrich, Asheville Brewing’s head brewer. “It tastes like a liquid gingerbread cookie, and complements holiday meals—whether you’re eating turkey or tofu.”

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