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Craft Beer in North County: Plenty of local holiday cheer on tap as season gears up

It’s the most wonderful time … for a beer!

If you are like me, you enjoy the holiday season. The long stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s provides plenty of opportunities for getting together with friends and family. And nothing goes with celebration like beer. It can bring a party to life, and it can give you life if Aunt Becky is getting on your last nerve. Either way, there is a long tradition of specialty Christmas beers and the brewers of North County have you covered.

If you didn’t spend your whole holiday budget at big box stores on Black Friday, remember that Nov. 30 is Small Business Saturday. Our local small businesses, including our local small breweries, could use your patronage at this time of year. Probably, after braving those crowds, you could use a drink, too. So, head on down to your local brewery.

While you are there you can pick up some bottles or cans to bring to your office party or family dinner.

And don’t forget that beer swag makes a good gift for the beer lover in your life — brewery shirts and hats are perennial favorites, and you can’t go wrong with a brewery’s branded stainless-steel growler. (A growler is a reusable to-go container for beer that you can get filled at a local brewery. The downside, or upside depending on your mood, is that you have to finish your growler within a couple of days before the beer goes flat.)

Here’s a holiday tip for new parents: Santa doesn’t have to drink milk with his cookies. For all your kids know, he drinks beer. Seriously, if you were Santa and spent all year cooped up in a dirty workshop — at the North Pole, of all the desolate places — making fiddly little toys alongside those annoying elves, wouldn’t you want to cut loose on your one night out of the house? How else could Santa stay so jolly and red-cheeked all the time? More to the point, wouldn’t you enjoy a beer after the stress of buying presents, wrapping them, hiding them, and lying to your kids about the fat guy?

One of the original California holiday beers is San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale, brewed with a different recipe every year since 1975. You can likely find it at your favorite bottle shop.

Nearly as famous is Santa’s Little Helper, an imperial stout with flavors of chocolate and coffee, plus a nice warmth from the 10% ABV, by San Marcos’ Port Brewing. That beer is currently available on tap at the brewery, in both the standard and barrel-aged versions, but bottles are currently sold out. There should be another run ready before Christmas, however.

Another top choice at the same brewery, this time from the Lost Abbey side of the house, is Gnoel de Abbey, a holiday brown ale with hints of coffee, cocoa, vanilla and holiday spice. This is the beer Santa will enjoy at my house this Christmas eve. It comes in a large bottle with a pretty green label and a champagne-style cork, making it an elegant gift to bring your hosts if you are invited somewhere for dinner.

While you are in San Marcos, swing by Wild Barrel Brewing for their imperial hazy NEIPA called Santa’s on the Juice, available in cans. That’s a good one if you want to tell your kids Santa drinks orange juice, since that’s exactly what it looks like in the glass. Just don’t let the kids sneak a sip.

Over at Mason Ale Works, after Dec. 7 you can pick up coordinating packs of “Naughty” and “Nice.” The can art makes the beers look like Christmas sweaters, one red and one green — another fun gift idea. Or, if you keep the Nice and given them the Naughty, a wonderful way to send a passive-aggressive message to someone you are supposed to love.

In Vista, Wavelength Brewing will release a Wee Heavy called Off Kilter at their annual Festivus party (check their website or social media for details; note that the beer is only available on draft). Vista’s Mother Earth Beer Co. just released its 4Seasons series “Winter” beer, an imperial mint chocolate stout, available this year for the first time in 16-ounce cans instead of bottles.

In Oceanside, check out Kilowatt Brewing for a draft pour of a Christmas ale that pays homage to another famous holiday beer from Great Lakes Brewing.

And, lest we forget, Stone Brewing’s specialty Mexican-hot-chocolate-inspired stout, Xocoveza, is available in cans and bottles. You can find it at the main Stone location in Escondido, at the Oceanside taproom, and at various grocery stores and bottle shops.

The beer bounty of the season means that you’ll find more holiday beers at just about any of North County’s fifty-four local, independent breweries. Here’s to good “cheers” this holiday season!