Fifteen years ago, the Maine Civil Liberties Union saved Santa’s butt — or, rather, Santa’s Butt. Ridgeway Brewing, a British beer maker, had released a porter called Santa’s Butt with a label depicting St. Nick’s broad posterior atop a wooden cask (butt is the British term for a 126-gallon beer barrel). State regulators here deemed the image too “undignified or improper” to allow the brew to be sold in Maine, and only relented after the MCLU stepped in to enforce the First Amendment.
Although Maine brewers are free to slap Santa’s ass on cans these days, most prefer not to. “I learned not to call a beer after a holiday, because the day after the holiday, no one wants to drink it,” said Jim Denz, owner of Island Dog Brewing in South Portland. Instead, Denz calls his 7% ABV seasonal ale Winter Red, as in “Winter Red: you can drink it all winter long,” he quipped.
Exceptions to the trend include Gritty McDuff’s brewpubs, which continue to tap their hearty Christmas Ale (also available in 22 oz. bottles). Santa’s Reinbeer, from Scarborough’s Nonesuch River Brewing, is a brown ale “spiced with a blend of holiday cheer and Christmas spirit,” according to brewer Michael Schuler. It tastes like there might be nutmeg, cinnamon and clove in there, as well.
The Friar’s Brewhouse in Bucksport releases St. Nicholas Ale in hand-numbered, cork-and-cage bottles every year. Sebago Brewing’s Slick Nick (named after Fishbone’s holiday ballad “Slick Nick, You Devil You”) is a 7% ABV dark amber ale with a label depicting a demonic version of Santa hoisting a massive beer chalice. And Bissell Brothers’ Angels with Filthy Souls, a heavy porter aged in maple bourbon barrels, refers to the classic Christmas film Home Alone. “Save the milk n’ cookies for the reindeer,” the brothers’ website advises, “this beast of a beer is what any bad Santa is really after.”
Shipyard Brewing releases Prelude Ale to coincide with the Kennebunkport Business Association’s Christmas Prelude Festival, the official start of the shopping frenzy. A malty English ale with no spices, Prelude is one of the most approachable winter brews around.
Geary Brewing’s Welcome Home Milk Stout and Rising Tide’s Fireside Hoppy Amber Ale don’t have much in common other than the bright and inviting fireplaces on the labels — inviting to everyone but Santa, that is. Foundation Brewing has a gingerbread ale called Ready, Set, Bake! that’s made by adding cinnamon, ginger and vanilla as the milk stout ferments. This one does taste like a pint of milk and cookies (but never give beer to reindeer!).
Baxter Brewing’s Ice Storm ’98 IPA recalls the week in January that 700,000 Mainers spent without electricity. Banded Brewing’s Lightbringer, a red IPA, is not named for the crews that restored power after that storm. “With so much attention paid to the holidays, we thought it would be fun to celebrate … the winter solstice and the slow return of the sun,” said Tony Lynch, Banded’s general manager.
Banded has also released Aglow, a peppermint and cacao stout. In keeping with the spirit of the season, 10 percent of proceeds from the sale of this beer will be donated to Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, which is presenting its stunning Gardens Aglow light installation in Boothbay through the end of the year. Aglow follows last spring’s Gro, a birch-sap pale ale that Banded also brewed to benefit CMBG.
Markathon, a session IPA from Lone Pine Brewing, benefits the Center for Grieving Children (the brewery’s donation will be presented live on-air during Mark Curdo’s eponymous five-day fundraiser on WCYY). And sales of Maine Beer Company’s Little Whale Boat IPA promote the Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s campaign to acquire and preserve Little Whaleboat Island, off the coast of Harpswell (MBC contributed $50,000 to that effort, and 1 percent of all of MBC’s sales benefit its philanthropic partners).
Enjoy this year’s winter warmers and wrap up some Aglow stouts and Whaleboat and Markathon IPAs — they’re gifts that truly keep giving.
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