From bustling holiday parties to cozy nights around the fireplace, Christmas Ale has been a part of many fond memories for thirty years. The perfect harmony of whole cinnamon sticks, fresh cut ginger, and raw honey was crafted with these meaningful moments in mind. Our entire team, from brewers, to the packaging line, sales team, brewpub servers, and more take extra effort to ensure beer drinkers throughout our region can enjoy this beloved brew with their families and friends during this special time of year.
So, after three decades of Christmas Ale, it’s no surprise this beer has had as big an impact on our employee-owners as it has our fans. We asked a few members of the GLBC team to share some of their favorite Christmas Ale stories from their careers at GLBC, and their own personal memories.
Justin Michalovic (Operations Manager)
I first started working at GLBC on the bottling line, with prime access to every brewery employee’s favorite – low-fills! I shared a short fill of Christmas Ale with one of my good friends before it had hit the market. He was so happy with this early “present” that I thought he was going to cry! He gave me a big hug and continued to thank me every time I saw him the rest of the year. That’s when I first realized how big of an impact Christmas Ale has on people.
Personally, every Christmas Eve, my wife and I go to a little bar by our house and have a Christmas Ale before heading out to our family parties. I love that little tradition of spending some quality time together before the hustle and bustle of holiday events. Plus, a Christmas Ale pint gets us in the festive spirit, something that never hurts before family events.
Marissa DeSantis (Brand Marketing Manager)
My dad was always a big errand guy. He loved checking off a to-do list, taking quick trips to the store, and tending to the small things that needed fixing. The Christmas season can be a pretty satisfying time of the year for list makers and checkers. When all his adult children reached drinking age, my dad added picking up a case of Christmas Ale for our Christmas Eve dinner to his to-do list. Even though he wasn't much of a drinker, he wanted to make us all happy and knew we loved Christmas Ale. When I first started working at GLBC, I told my dad I could take over the tradition, but I could tell he secretly wanted to keep doing it, so that first year shared in the responsibility and we both ended up bringing a case. We lost my dad two years ago, so memories of the triumphant Christmas Ale case delivery and all the other little things he and my mom did to make Christmas special are so precious to me.
In my work life, I've had the pleasure of spinning holiday records as DJ Misfit Toy at First Pour since 2014. It's always such a magical day. There are regulars I look forward to seeing every year, and I always love to see folks with that Christmas Ale glow light up when one of their all-time favorite (or a new favorite!) song comes on. The first year was especially unforgettable. I work full time in the GLBC Marketing Department, but I also collect Christmas vinyl. When I let our managers in on my secret, they said, "you should play some records at First Pour!"
One thing about First Pour is that there are bodies everywhere. Because I work in the offices and start pretty early on First Pour Day, I had the luxury of setting up in our beer garden before anyone arrived. I hauled all my gear and crates into a quiet space and prepared in peace. But after the five hour set I was asked to play, I looked around and thought, uh... how am I supposed to get out of here? It was so packed that year that instead of fighting the crowd, I decided the path of least resistance was to just keep the records playing. I ended up playing for around eight hours straight, after already working a full day at the office. Of course, I had to drop Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" every hour, but a set that long meant I also got to mix in some truly weird and wonderful holiday tunes that don't always make it into the rotation. When things died down enough to load out, I grabbed a Christmas Ale, slammed a burger, and absolutely crashed at home. I felt like I needed an ice bath for the next 48 hours, but it was worth it!
Nathaniel Urban (Gift Shop and Tours)
As a tour guide, gift shop, and brewpub employee, First Pour is usually a 14-hour workday for me, but it’s the best and most fun day of the year! First Pour reminds me that Christmas Ale is more than just a beer: it celebrates the reunion of friends and family, road trips to Cleveland, days off work, and just plain good old business in and around the community. Then, on tours throughout the season, if I pour a guest's first taste of Christmas Ale, I jump up and down like a little kid (and they usually do too!) I love sharing the quantities of the ingredients we use in each batch with them (which, if you didn’t know, is 20 pounds of fresh cut ginger, 20 pounds of whole cinnamon sticks, and 612 pounds of local honey!) and watching their eyes bulge with amazement. Christmas Ale season is the truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Christmas Ale’s influence extends to my personal life as well. During college, a dear friend and I would reconnect when we were both home for the holidays. We would buy a 6-Pack of Christmas Ale (and a 4-Pack of Blackout Stout), sit in my parents' garage with a space heater, drink, laugh, and catch up. If it wasn't too cold outside, we'd open the garage door and enjoy the cool fresh air. This was our tradition for years until we both found ourselves living back in the Cleveland area. So, for me, Great Lakes is more than just my employer; it’s beer that represents dozens of memories and several other traditions in my life.
Adam Ritterspach (Multimedia Specialist)
Having worked at Great Lakes for almost nine years, my memory is packed with Christmas Ale stories, many of which revolve around First Pour day. I’ve been involved in the planning of the event for the past few years, and I love getting to meet folks that travel from all over the country to get first taste of Christmas Ale. With early morning news crews arriving at the brewery around 3:30AM each year, First Pour day is easily my longest day of the year to work, but it’s also the most fun. But, if I had to pick one special Christmas Ale memory to share, it’d be one that happened two years ago.
Ever since I was a kid, a Christmas Eve tradition in my family is to light the sidewalks in front of our house with luminaries. There was once a time when a lot of families in my neighborhood would do this, but over the years my family has become the only one to carry on this glowing tradition. As my siblings and I grew into adulthood, we’d all still meet on Christmas Eve at my parents to help my dad get the luminaries filled with sand and candles, and placed accordingly. Naturally, a thirst is usually worked up while doing this annual tradition, so cans or bottles of Christmas Ale are always shared and enjoyed. It’s a holiday highlight I look forward to every year.
But unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this tradition couldn’t happen in 2020. Even if we had felt comfortable driving down to help my dad place the luminaries outside, we physically weren’t able to. A wicked snowstorm was blowing in and traveling on the highways wasn’t safe. It was going to be my first year not lighting luminaries with my dad, and I was feeling pretty bummed. What should have been a joyous white Christmas with family was turning into a blue Christmas fast.
With nothing else to do on Christmas Eve, my partner and I decided to jump in my car and (carefully, slowly) cruise the empty snowy side streets of my neighborhood, taking in the lights while listening to our favorite Christmas tunes. We ended up making a turn into a secluded neighborhood I hadn’t spent much time in, and I was thrilled (and very surprised!) to see several houses with luminaries lit up and glowing in the falling snow. Seeing so many houses in this one tiny neighborhood carry on this tradition made me feel like a kid again, and in some ways, made it feel like I was back home.
So, what was the first thing I did once we got back from our snowy Christmas Eve drive? I cracked open a Christmas Ale, FaceTimed my parents, and told them about all of the beautiful luminaries I saw. It maybe wasn’t the ideal way to spend a Christmas Eve, but it’s one I’ll always remember.
Christmas Ale’s first thirty years have brought countless memories. We can’t wait to see what the next thirty bring! Help keep making memories with your favorite holiday beer by using our Beer Finder, and share your own Christmas Ale moments with us on social media using #MerryChristmasAle.
Words by Michael Williams and GLBC Employee-Owners
Photos by Adam Ritterspach