A Brief History of Your Favorite Holiday Beer Labels

Christmas lights, carolers, a wreath in every window . . . these are just a few of the signs that another holiday season is upon us. In recent years, a new tradition has begun popping up. Walk down the cooler aisle of your favorite beer distributor, and you will be greeted by any number of distinctive holiday beer labels, each ringing in the season in their own special way.

In honor of this festive event, we thought we’d offer a brief (and certainly not comprehensive) look at the history behind some of your favorite Christmas beer labels.

Anchor Brewing: Celebrating 40 Years of Hand-Drawn Labels

Every year since 1975, the Anchor Brewing Co. has crafted a new and distinctive Christmas Ale recipe. And each unique recipe has been accompanied by an equally distinctive hand-drawn Christmas tree label – an unveiling that has become almost as celebrated as the beer itself.

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Label Artist Jim Stitt holds the honor of hand-drawing nearly every label, a practice that aligns with the beer’s handcrafted spirit. “We made a point that each product would be truly distinctive, and crafted from scratch,” says Frits Maytag, Chairman Emeritus, Anchor Brewing Co. “And, Jim Stitt with his wonderful drawing skills and his instinct for hand-drawing is the perfect fit.”

So what tree has the place of honor this year? In celebration of the California State Park system, Anchor Brewing chose to make the Giant Sequoia the centerpiece of their 2014 Christmas Ale label.

The Adolph Coors Company: Christmas Beer Labels Go National

On the opposite end of the holiday beer label side sits the Adolph Coors Company’s Winterfest Amber Ale. Since 1986, Coors has been offering their Winterfest in limited quantities.

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And while Anchor Brewing may be responsible for sparking a Christmas beer label tradition from a microbrewery perspective, the Coors Company has helped spread the tradition on a national level.

Recognized as the first seasonal brew to be offered by a national brewery, the Winterfest recipe has remained relatively untouched over the years. However, one thing does change each season: The festive and spirited label that adorns each bottle.

Shelton Brothers Brewing: Santa Label Creates Controversy

In 2006, a Christmas beer label featuring Santa’s fully-clothed rear-end perched atop a barrel caused quite the controversy. Deemed “undignified or improper” by the Maine Bureau of Liquor Enforcement, the beer (appropriately named “Santa’s Butt Winter Porter”) was banned from distribution in Maine.

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Over the following weeks, the beer label controversy remained in the headlines as the brewing company countered by filing suit against this alleged act of “government censorship.” The matter would eventually be settled out of court when the Maine Liquor Licensing Unit Inspector rescinded the ban.

From majestic Christmas trees to controversial depictions of Santa, Christmas beer labels come in a variety of styles and forms. However, one thing seems certain. The label, just like the holiday brew inside the bottle, has become a beloved addition to the season.

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