The advent of good beer: The Growler guide to creating 24 days of cheer

I remember when I was a kid and the holiday season would roll around.

I was raised in an English family, so we leaned towards the more traditional types of celebration and a big part of that was getting a package in the mail from my gran that contained, among other things, a Woolworth’s advent calendar for December. It was always large and ornate, with a beautiful scene of Father Christmas flying through an old village or carollers singing in an old village or holly and ivy strewn about an old village. Come to think of it, England really is fond of its old villages.

It could be hung up, usually on a wall in our kitchen, or hidden away every day to remove us from the temptation of overindulging on days we shouldn’t. When I arrived home from school or when the holiday started, after supper, my mum would bring out the calendar and we’d reveal the surprise chocolate of that day. Would it be an angel? A candy cane? A Christmas tree? We had no way of knowing until we opened it up, but the results were always the same; a delicious treat to have every day for the 24 days leading up to Christmas (or, if you were lucky enough to get a calendar with it, 25).

Now I’m in my thirties and I can honestly say that I haven’t done the whole chocolate advent calendar thing in years. But, as I’m sure all of us have seen over the course of our lives, the advent calendar model can be applied to literally any product. Cheese, makeup, pictures of the many faces of famed actor Brian Blessed, and even bottles and cans of craft beer.

Now, beer advent calendars are nothing new. They’ve been around in the States for years and even here in Canada some intrepid beer stores and importers have released special 24-packs that have a single beer for each day in the holiday season.

Here in Ontario, this year has been a pretty lucky one, seeing us get a hold of the Craft Beer Importers coveted BeerAdvent® calendar without ordering it special from the LCBO. Counting down the 24 days using beers from 12 countries, this calendar is perhaps the most famous one in people’s minds. It gained quick popularity after its first release in 2012 in Canada by being both fun and diverse in its selection. We also notably saw the arrival of a calendar from the Ottawa Craft Collective. Headed up by the folks at Nita Beer Co., the calendar features two beers from each of 12 breweries located in the Ottawa region. Only available to Ontario residents, the calendars are a wonderful sign of the collaborative nature of local craft breweries in the province.

However, with a few exceptions, pre-made calendar packs have rarely come up here, and Ontarians have settled for making their own. After all, as is the case with many gifts, while buying a special item for yourself or someone else can be a lot of fun, nothing can quite beat the thoughtfulness that comes with making it yourself.

The construction of a beer advent calendar is fun because you have full control of what you want to do with it. It can be as easy or as complex as you’d like it to be. I’ve seen people get as complicated as cutting up some mail packaging tubes and arranging them as a Christmas tree, complete with decorations to as easy as taking a box-cutter to the top of a 2-4 and writing numbers on each door. Heck, I’ve seen others that completely forgo concealing the beers in a box by simply wrapping them up in festive paper and assigning a number to a random one so even the person making it doesn’t know which one will be which. The possibilities are endless and the only limit is your imagination.

Now, in terms of logistics, I can offer a few pointers:

  1. Limiting the number of beers to 24-25 is more in line with tradition and can make construction of a calendar easier. Anything more than that and it just gets bulky.
  2. If Christian-based holidays or religion itself isn’t your bag and you still want in on the fun, that’s no problem! You can use the advent calendar model to countdown to any number of things, from weddings and special birthdays, to the opening screening of the new Hellboy movie which, actually, that’s not a bad idea, I might do that.
  3. Make sure you put a varied, eclectic mix of beers in your calendar. Fortunately, in today’s climate where Ontario is certainly not starving for choice, you should have no problem finding individual beers!
  4. Not all of the beers necessarily have to be the best beers. This is another instance where the customization of your own beer advent calendar can be fun, since you can choose to throw in a couple of less-than-great beers to make the mystery a little dangerous.
  5. You don’t even have to make it all beer. You can make the rules. No gods, no masters! Want to throw in a book or some brewery merch in one of the days? Do it!

And that’s really all there is to it. Now, if you’re a little stuck on what exactly to include in your custom calendar, I’d suggest opting for a healthy mix of thoughtful and festive if you’re making this for a friend, putting in a few of their favourite stand-by beers along with some of the many special seasonal offerings from your local brewery. And, like I said earlier, don’t be afraid to have fun with it and shake things up. One day could have a Nickel Brook Immodest Imperial IPA, another could have Sawdust City’s Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus imperial stout, and another could have a glass and t-shirt from Muskoka Brewery’s store.

The most important thing, however, is that you have fun and if you’re making this for someone else, that you both stay warm in these cold winter months with the feelings of friendship and joy that can only come from the people you care about most.

And, hey, I mean, a nice strong beer to warm the corners of your own village along with all that good joy and happiness wouldn’t hurt either.

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