Beer notes: Ohioans love Great Lakes Christmas Ale

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Great Lakes Christmas Ale has a big fan following.

Even bigger than you might realize.

The popular holiday beer — sold only eight weeks out of the year — was the top craft beer brand in dollar sales at grocery stores in Ohio last year and finished ninth overall in the U.S. for the final 13 weeks of the year, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

Considering its limited release and lack of nationwide distribution, Christmas Ale just might be the most popular craft beer in the country, Great Lakes Brewing co-owner Patrick Conway said.

The demand for Christmas Ale continues to grow each year, and the beer has overtaken Dortmunder Gold as the brewery’s best-seller, Conway said.

He noted that Christmas Ale sold out in early December in outlying markets such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

“It’s going to be a challenge to keep up with demand because it’s one of those few products that has a cult following,” Conway said.

Great Lakes, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, has been making Christmas Ale for about 20 years.

The brewery produced 359 batches last year, using more than 215,000 pounds of honey (almost $500,000 worth) and 7,000 pounds each of fresh ginger and cinnamon.

The stories about obsessed Christmas Ale fans are legendary.

For example, Conway said, a man was sitting at the Great Lakes pub at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport last year sampling all the beers when the bartender mentioned he could buy six-packs to go.

The man disappeared. A little while later, he showed up with an empty suitcase and proceeded to stuff it full of Christmas Ale.

“That’s a true story and it happens all the time,” Conway said.

Great Lakes also finished an impressive 14th among craft breweries by dollar sales at groceries and other major retailers nationwide last year. The brewery had $21.5 million in sales at those locations, SymphonyIRI said.

The top five craft breweries were Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Shiner and Deschutes.

Top brewers

Three Ohio breweries made website’s list of the Best Brewers in the World for 2013.

Hoppin’ Frog Brewery in Akron is 17th. Great Lakes Brewing is 35th. And Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery in Athens is 97th. All three were on the list last year.

“Wow, once again I’m blown away!!” Hoppin’ Frog owner and brewer Fred Karm said in an email. “That is four years in the top 25, and six years in the top 100 — a testament to our intense focus on making great beer!”

Hoppin’ Frog B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher also was selected as the best beer in Ohio, and Hoppin’ Frog was chosen best brewer in the state.

The top brewery is Hill Farmstead Brewery in Vermont and the top beer is Westvleteren 12 from Belgium.

The annual Ratebeer Best awards — which involve ratings for more than 180,000 beers and more than 13,000 brewers — also include a slew of other categories.

To see a rundown of all the awards, including honors for the best brewpub, restaurant and grocery in Ohio, go to

Crafted deal

Crafted Artisan Meadery in Suffield Township has signed a distribution deal with Cavalier Distributing and its meads will be available in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Florida.

Crafted has seen dramatic growth since it opened in June, owner Kent Waldeck said.

“The quality of our ingredients and end products are critical to us,” he said. “As we experience this upward trajectory of growth, we will be keeping a keen eye on ensuring that we hold true to our own standards.”

Beer samplers

• The Cincy Winter Beerfest, one of the largest attended craft beer festivals in Ohio, is Feb. 15-16 at the Duke Energy Convention Center. For details, go to:

• Redd’s Apple Ale — a new brand from MillerCoors — hit the Ohio market last week. Brewed by Redd’s Brewing Co. in Albany, Ga., it’s described as “an apple flavored golden ale with low malt and bitterness cues.”

• Willoughby Brewing Co. in Willoughby and Fat Head’s Brewery in Middleburg Heights will showcase their beers at this year’s SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience in New York City. The annual high-end event is organized by the Brewers Association.

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or Read his beer blog at

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