It’s the time of year when we’re all looking forward to something a little special, to spreading good cheer, and enjoying some of the treats that appear only around the holidays. For beer lovers around the country, this means a chance to get a bottle or a pour of seasonal releases that capture the spirit of the season in a sip.
Almost as elusive as catching sight of Santa on a rooftop is a chance to have a bottle of Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale all to yourself. The spiced brown ale, first released in 2004, is available only in the brewery’s Winter Classics Variety Pack, which this year includes Sam Adams Winter Lager, Boston Lager, Sam ’76, Old Fezziwig, Holiday Porter, and Chocolate Bock. There are only two bottles of Old Fezziwig in each 12-pack. (Although, there are apparantly some kegs that made it into the wild.)
This means that if you arrive fashionably late for that holiday party, there’s a pretty good chance that both bottles will be gone before you arrive. Or if you’re the host and don’t hide at least one in advance (or drink them during setup), chances are you’ll miss out as well.
That’s also one of the attractions of the beer. Because it’s so coveted by so many, there’s a stronger emotional connection to each bottle. Other beers in the pack, such as Winter Lager, show up in packages and on draft, making them seasonally appropriate but less desireable in the minds of drinkers.
It goes deeper than just the scarcity.
Earlier versions of the label were visually enticing, with the name of the beer bold as a Christmas star wrapped in a red and gold lined ribbon. A picture of a character resembling Scrooge’s old boss, tipping his top hat to a young woman, had a Dickens-esque charm that immediately stirred warm feelings in the heart. A recent streamlined label design has kept the top hat, now adorned with a sprig of holly, but lacks that Currier and Ives feeling.
Still, the liquid remains familiar: a 5.9 percent ABV brown ale, bursting with warming aromas of cinnamon, ginger, and orange peel. Like a hot mulled beverage or spiced cake, it evokes the flavors of the holidays, often bringing back memories of childhood and special gatherings.
It would be easy to start an online petition to get the brewery to release Old Fezziwig on its own in 6- or 12-packs, or to send it out to bars across the country on draft, but that would take some of the specialness out of the beer. If it just became another beer that we could rely on this time of year, we might long for those olden days of yore when enjoying a bottle had a little sport behind it.
So, be like the beer’s namesake and think generously this holiday season. If you’ve already had a chance to enjoy the beer and come across one in the communal cooler, leave it for someone in need. Because ’tis better to give than receive.