I wanted to figure out a clever way to tie beer into the popular carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Instead, after discovering what the “12 Days” were really about, other than gifts of a lot of fowl (hens, swans, geese, partridges, and calling birds), I discovered:
- The carol was really a secret way to teach children in England about the Catholic traditions while they were forbidden by the Church of England. (see notation at end of story)
- There really are twelve days of Christmas celebrated in different ways and with different intensity throughout Europe in famed beer-making countries.
- The 12 Days begin on Christmas Day and continue until the Epiphany (which is celebrated 12 days later – this is the whole star of David, Wise Men bearing gifts thing)
- Each day has a focus. Some days are more for reflection and appreciation rather than wild party-going and confetti throwing.
Here are my choices for holiday ales and winter warmers to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas.
- Christmas Ale, an Abbey Ale by St. Bernardus Brouwerij. This beer went especially well with the roasted ham and grilled pineapple we had for dinner. St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is the youngest descendant in the illustrious family of delicious Abbey Ales by Brewery St. Bernardus. This specialty beer of 10% alc. vol. is characterized by its deep dark color, with a creamy, thick head and a full, almost velvety taste with a fruity nose.
- Entendez Noel from Sound Brewing in Poulsbo, WA. Like most big Belgian holiday beers, Noel is bursting with subtly complex flavors and fits no particular beer style. Its explosion of sensations comes from just Belgian Pilsner malt, cane sugar, Motueka hops, Trappist yeast, water, and fermentation.
- Jubelale from Deschutes Brewing in Bend, OR. A dark, malty celebration ale with layered flavors and beautifully balanced hopping. Jubelale pours deep garnet in color, medium bodied, with notes of chicory, earth, spice and fruit.
December 28 The Feast of the Holy Innocents – King Herod had newborn baby boys killed trying to locate the Christ child who he saw as a threat to his rule – four calling birds.
- Since it is the final Seahawks regular season game en route to the Super Bowl, our four calling birds will be these popular local winter warmers, one per quarter; Winter/Port Townsend Brewing, Winter Bock/Silver City Brewing, Double Diamond/Dick’s Brewing and Storm Surge Winter Ale/Diamond Knot Brewing.
December 29 Celebrated for St Thomas Becket, murdered on this day in 1170 for challenging the King’s authority over Church – five gold rings
- Festivale from Terminal Gravity Brewing, Enterprise, OR.
- Festivus Holiday Ale from Black Raven Brewing in Redmond, WA. Brewed in the holiday spirit with cranberries, various citrus peel fruit and a brewer’s secret blend of spices.
- Seven Swans a Swimming from The Bruery, Placentia, CA. Belgian Quadruple style. Brewed with nothing but water, malt, yeast, hops and a bit of Belgian dark candi sugar. Rich and complex, this robust dark ale juggles notes of raisin bread, dried apricots, burnt caramel and roasted pecans.
January 1 This day remembers Mary, the Mother of Jesus – With this being the eight maids a milking day, I looked for some kind of holiday beer that may have derived from a milk stout. No luck there, but I scored big with . .
- Auld Acquaintance Ale from Pike Brewing in Seattle, WA. Pike Auld Acquaintance is a dark, toasty amber ale seasoned with orange peel, Yakima Valley hops, and spices. To achieve more aromatic orange notes, head brewer, Dean Mochizuki, used two varieties of orange peel: Curacao and sweet orange peel, along with coriander, cassia bark, and nutmeg.
January 2 Celebrating St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, two important 4th century Christians. The nine drummers drumming are wishing you good cheer.
- Monk’s Blood, from 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco, CA.
January 3 Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This remembers when Jesus was officially ‘named’ in the Jewish Temple. It’s celebrated by different churches on a wide number of different dates! And of course ten ladies dancing.
- Groomer brewed by Bayern Brewing, Missoula, MT. Celebrating 50 years of snowboarding, this new dark wintermärzen is a decoction-brewed lager that is cold-fermented and cask conditioned.
January 4 Celebrating St. Elizabeth Ann Seton/the feast of Saint Simon Stylites (who lives on a small platform on the top of a pillar for 37 years!) – eleven pipers piping.
- Hales Wee Heavy Winter Ale from Hales Ales Brewing in Seattle, WA. In December 1985 Hale’s Wee Heavy became the Northwest’s first designated “seasonal” ale. It is an award winning strong ale that is a perfect match for the cold weather months. Mahoghany colored and rich tasting, with an intriguing hop profile.
January 5 Epiphany Eve – Celebrating St. John Neumann who was the first Bishop in American. He lived in the 19th century. Twelve Lords a leaping. This is also Twelfth Night, a time a revelry and mischief. What better way to into that mood than with . .
- Merry Christmas & Happy New Year (Our Special Ale) (2014) from Anchor Steam Brewing, San Francisco, CA.
January 6 The Epiphany – marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas and celebrates the visit of the Wise Men to the baby Jesus. These men, often called Kings or Magi, brought valuable gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Epiphany is the day when all Christmas decorations need to be taken down otherwise it is said to bring bad luck.
- Today we will mark the end of the holiday season by not having any holiday centered beers. Stay tuned in to find out what we will have.
I know this does not square with America’s bastardization of the season, turning it into a commercial entity with comical grinches, snowmen, and santas – which is NOT how most of the world treats the season. I hope this article gives you a new appreciation for how this tradition started and is celebrated where Christ is actually still a part of Christmas.
Here are the coded meanings of the carol’s lyrics
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” celebrates the official Christmas season which starts liturgically on Christmas Day and ends twelve days later on the Feast of the Epiphany. “My true love” refers to God, “me” is the individual Catholic.
- The “twelve lords a leaping” are the twelve basic beliefs of the Catholic Church as outlined in the Apostles Creed.
- The “eleven pipers piping” are the eleven Apostles who remained faithful after the treachery of Judas.
- The “ten ladies dancing” are the Ten Commandments.
- The “nine drummers drumming” are the nine choirs of angels which in those days of class distinction were thought important.
- The “eight maids a milking” are the Eight Beatitudes.
- The “seven swans a swimming” are the Seven Sacraments.
- The “six geese a laying” are the Six Commandments of the Church or the six days of creation.
- The “five golden rings” are the first five books of the Old Testament called the Torah which are generally considered the most sacred and important of all the Old Testament.
- The “four calling birds” are the Four Gospels.
- The “three French hens” are the Three Persons in God or the three gifts of the Wise Men.
- The “two turtle doves” represent the two natures in Jesus: human and divine or the two Testaments, Old and New.
- The “partridge” is the piece de resistance, Jesus himself, and the “pear tree” is the Cross.