Christmas Beer by Don Russell - Book Review

Christmas Beer by Don Russell - Book Review

Winter approaches. As the days shorten and darkness blankets the sky by late afternoon, the only saving grace is the anticipation of Christmas – the lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Center, candlelit parties, and the sharing of holiday cheer. No one shares holiday cheer better than Philadelphia beer writer Don Russell, who celebrates the season with his newest book, Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Beers.

Snuggle into an overstuffed chair by the fireplace and revel in the charms of this delightful and insightful book. In the turn of each page, you will be immersed in traditions of Christmas past. Russell, alias award-winning author Joe Sixpack of the Philadelphia Daily News, seduces the reader with welcoming warmth as he alights on a journey across generations. He regales us with stories of wassailing and ancient yuletide raucousness. Among his many narratives is the tale of a grisly butcher and the miracle of Nicholas, the bishop of Myra. He recounts stories of the European and Viking traditions of Sinterklass and relays the history of American Thomas Nast who gave us our image of that jolly old elf.

Russell takes us through Europe to Nordkapp Bryggeri, the northernmost brewpub in the world, located just 1,311 miles from the North Pole, and southward to Castle Eggenberg in Austria to see the blessing of Samichlaus Beer. We travel to America, into the little town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with its sassy Rude Elf Reserve, and westward to California, where Anchor Brewing celebrates the Christmas Beer of medieval villages and Shmaltz Brewing celebrates the Festival of Lights with He’brew Jewbelation.

Christmas Beer features more than 150 Winter Specialty beers that celebrate the season. Mr. Russell presents a chapter of “The World’s 50 Best Christmas Beers,” along with full-color photos that stimulate desire for a splash of malt and spice across the lips, accompanied by that warming sensation down the throat. Among this connoisseurs’ cache are such beers as Mad Elf from Troegs Brewing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Avec les Bons Voeux of Brasserie Dupont in Belgium, Baladin Noel of Birrificio Le Baladin in Italy, and Mahr’s Christmas Bock of Brauerei Mahr of Bamberg, Germany. Russell expands the list with 100 more Holiday beers in the subsequent chapter. I was astounded by the breadth of choices available for the season.

For those of us who love trying our own hand in the kitchen, Mr. Russell includes recipes for crafting your own holiday brews and cuisine a la biere. He explains styles, serving temperatures and the aging process as it applies to Christmas Specialty Beer.  He also includes a section on places to purchase or taste these superb beers. I wondered why no one had written anything like it before. Even the late Beer Hunter Michael Jackson would have been impressed with this brilliant little gem. This promises to be a valued stocking stuffer long after the tree and lights are put away for the season.

For information about getting your own copy of this book in time for the Holidays:

Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Brews

If you are visiting the Philadelphia area during Christmas week in 2008, be sure to schedule time for the First Annual Philly Christmas Beer Festival at the Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 3260 Spruce Street on Saturday, December 27th, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.  More than 50 beers from both European and American craft breweries will be included in the festival, with an optional three course tutored luncheon, presented by Don Russell.

For information about the Philly Christmas Beer Festival, visit:


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