The Power of the Christmas Ale

Ah, Christmas and the holiday season. It brings a lot of joy to people all over the world. In brewing and craft beer, it’s no different.

Brewers strive all year to conjure up the proper recipe of mixed spice to create delicious tastes for consumers everywhere. However, no one quite understands Christmas Ales and the customer taste bud reaction quite like Bob Cameron, the manager for Drake’s in St. Matthews, Louisville, Kentucky.

Cameron has been working behind and consuming craft beer for as long as he can remember. He began his career in the comedy club circuit and eventually found his way to Drake’s a little over a year ago. Not only does Cameron really understand craft beer, but he also prides himself on his expertise and knowledge of the Winter seasonal and the customer reaction.

“It’s nice to have a bar where I have freedom to kind of play around with the beer menu how I please,” explained Cameron. This time of year Cameron updates the beer menu with a variety of Christmas ales, “… a lot of winter warmers, a lot of darker, kind of spicier beers.”

Cameron had just tapped Anchor’s 2014 Christmas Ale at the time of the interview. “They are definitely flying through,” said Cameron. “We’re ordering a small amount so that we can feature several different types rather than pick three or four of my favorites or our best sellers for a full month, I’m getting one or two kegs, maybe even half barrels … putting it on until it’s gone. I had a Schlafly Christmas [Ale] on, tapped it on Friday, it was gone by Sunday.” The Schlafly fly through was comprised of two sixth barrels.

“This time of year with Christmas Ales being my favorite, a lot of people’s favorite seasonal beer, I wanted to do as many different winter and Christmas seasonal beers in the month of December as we could,” said Cameron.

A week and a half into December Cameron said the St. Matthews Drake’s had already gone through nine different Christmas beers. When Cameron evaluates the winter seasonal beers it’s important to him, as a bar manager, to see beers come through that have a little marketing behind them. “Something with two legs to stand on, a good quality beer,” said Cameron. “You know, something that pairs well with the food on our menu. There’s a lot of beer that pairs well with fried fish, we have three different fried fish dishes. Something that pairs well with a nice juicy burger … something we can pair with everything, but also something people have heard of.”

Reputable breweries are another aspect of what Cameron looks for, but then his “craft sense” sort of kicks in and he gets creative. He searches for what tastes good, but may be unique to the market. It’s important that he can be in tune with everything distributing through Kentucky so that he can get what he wants before anyone else. Because, as Cameron knows, the craft beer competition is exactly that, a competition for the best, most unique beers possible.

“If it sits for a little while then we’ll just run that one out and try something new,” he said. “If that one flies out, then I’m going to call my distributor, even if it’s at midnight so I don’t forget and try to get more on. It’s one of those things. I knew the Schlafly Christmas [Ale] was a popular one, I knew it would sell well. The distributor only had about six barrels so I told her to give me two of’em and before I could even finish that first one … I sent her a text and asked if I could get any more of that Schlafly and she was like, ‘nope.’ So, you know it’s one of those things that next year I’ll order heavy on the Schlafly Christmas because I know it’s going to fly.”

Not everything Cameron encounters is as big of a hit as the Schlafly Christmas Ale, but it’s important that he receives information from the distributors so that he can make the best decision possible for his bar. Likewise, as he knows what was a hit this year, he’s twice as likely to jump all over it the following year.

The winter season is a wondrous time of the year for so many reasons, and craft beer is one of them. Cameron couldn’t be anymore spot on with his understanding of the customer — the winter seasonal and Christmas Ale are definitely in a category all their own.



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