‘Tis the Season for Holiday Beers, Gift Spirits

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As the holidays draw near, more consumers are looking to brighten the season with selections of Christmas beers and wines that have grown in popularity in recent years.

“The young people are gravitating to the microbrews,” observes John Ragan, owner of Buckeye Beverage in Niles. “Five years ago, I’d dedicate two refrigerator doors to them. Now, I stock more cold microbrews than I do domestics.”

Microbreweries such as Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland and Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. in Akron have already launched their seasonal Christmas ales that Ragan says sell very well during the holidays.

“There may have been 10 to 15 different seasonal ales five years ago,” Ragan says. “Now, there’s probably 50. Just about every microbrewery has a seasonal ale.”

Price doesn’t seem to be a factor for those who enjoy a good-tasting beer and want to sample something a little different. “Penn Brewery out of Pittsburgh has a seasonal nut roll ale,” Ragan says. “I have so many seasonal beers right now it’s unbelievable.”

On average, specialty Christmas ales can sell for anywhere between $11.99 for six bottles to more than $17, Ragan notes. “Things start to heat up around Thanksgiving,” he says.

Craft beer companies have long brewed seasonal blends, Ragan says. Late summer and early fall is an especially busy time because that’s when microbreweries start to brew their Oktoberfest beers and pumpkin-spiced ales. Add festivities such as tailgating and football parties into the mix and sales tend to increase between November and New Year’s Eve.

“We do 30% of our business during this time,” Ragan says.

Statistics provided by The Brewers Association, a trade organization that represents the craft beer industry, confirm that sales of craft beers rise sharply during the four to five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, largely because of the seasonal craft beer effect. As it stands, the period between July and December accounts for 52% of craft beer sales nationwide, says the trade group.

In comparison, sales of domestic and premium beers tend to peak during the Fourth of July weekend and trickle off during the holidays, statistics show.

Craft brewers start to market and supply their Christmas ales toward the end of October, says Ryan Zocolo, store manager at Chalet Premier in North Lima. “It seems like they start arriving a little earlier each year,” he says. Meanwhile, retailers like Chalet Premier must work through their stocks of popular seasonal fall ales to make room for the Christmas onslaught.

“There are a lot of other seasonal ales out there, so customers can try some different ones,” Zocolo says.

Moreover, customers will pay higher prices for quality beers and liquors during the holidays, he notes. For example, it’s not unusual for a customer to spend $20 for a four-pack of St. Bernardus Christmas ale, which is among the top-selling Belgian brews during the holidays.

“We also tend to sell the higher-end Scotch and bourbons during the season,” Zocolo says. “The other day, we sold $600 worth of higher-end Scotch to a customer because he had family coming in for the holidays. They want to spend the money.”

Al Franceschelli, owner of A&C Beverage in Youngstown, says the onset of cold weather usually means higher sales of seasonal ales and red wines. “Craft beers and dry reds are really, really moving,” he reports. “With the colder weather, people want to drink the heartier and richer beers.”

Dry red wines are in favor during the holidays because they pair well with turkey, Franceschelli says. “There’s a big change in buying habits for the season. When you have company over, you want to make sure the whole meal is covered.”

Aside from hosting holiday gatherings at home, sales of spirits pick up because people like to give them as gifts and to have at office parties, Franceschelli says. “Gifts for our bosses, company parties, better bourbons and brandies – there’s a big increase compared to the summer.”

Pictured: Al Franceschelli owns A&C Beverage in downtown Youngstown.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.