Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Story of Christmas Ale

Once upon a time, on a unshoveled stretch of dirty snow called W. 54th, between the Animal Feed Store and the bodega, there lived a very little girl and her smaller less articulate sister. They lived with their mom and dad, who were both very sincere young people in their 30s with hipster glasses and nonprofit aspirations. But underneath her J.Crew sweaters, the mom was very much a third generation polish girl, and so Christmas was a big deal to her. There were traditions, and pierogis, and making cranberry chains to put on the tree. There were huge boxes of Christmas ornaments, new ones that the little girl and her sister had made in school, old ones from grandmother’s house with pretty painted angels and white bearded men.

The little girl and her sister got up very early on December 25th 1991, and ran downstairs. The only lights on were the ones on the tree, and the little girl deliberately took off her glasses, so she could look at the colors blended together in blurry stained glass window spots. But what was this crap! There were no presents under the tree! They searched high and low around the living room, but nothing! No boxes, no wrapping, no weird awkward shaped forms to rattle and bounce. They ran crying to their mom and dad, standing in the dark doorway of their bedroom sobbing. Mom and Dad got up, looked all around, called the police even. But the presents were gone. Zipped Zoomed Znatched.

All across Cleveland that morning, it was the same tragic mystery. All the presents were gone, stolen! evaporated! and no one knew how. Little Jimmy Casterelli in Cleveland Heights didn’t get his Legos sets, and therefore never became an engineer. Patricia Kowalski from Fairview Park never found out that in that very large box her boyfriend had put under the tree was a very small ring, and she ended up dumping him after New Years for not being serious enough. In the snowbound suburb of Berea, the Christmas lights sparkled on the ranch houses, but inside it was nothing but tears, disappointment, and fathers escaping to the garage to drink. The news stations deployed their sparkling vans and sculpey faced reporters to the farthest ends of Cuyahoga County, and the police sent all their available men around to interview “Witnesses”, but other than drunks and schizophrenics, no one had seen anything.

It was the saddest day in Cleveland history.

So the next week, when a local brewery announced they would be a releasing a new craft beer, a holiday seasoned ale, something with a little punch, it was barely noticed. Soon though, the little brewery was regularly packed, with people humming about this strange new beer. They sat at the long wooden counter, enrapt in their work thoughts and unhappiness. But after taking a sip, a change would start to steal over their faces, brows magically unfurrowed, mouths relaxed, shoulders sagged down. The bar was surprisingly quiet the first hour, as everyone focused on the gold brown liquid, and you could almost hear the contemplation, it was thick in the air. But after 1 or 2, the drinker started to become louder just a little, more excited. And by the end of the night, even the most sober faced of adults would be laughing with glee. It was instantly addicting, exactly what anyone could want in a beer, not taste or smell, but effectiveness. It made you feel full of holiday cheer, even though your kids were crying and your wife spent all her time thinking about the credit card debt. They called it Christmas Ale.

The little girl’s parents went there too, having heard about it from friends. They sat in a booth, tired and worried about money and work tomorrow and the babysitter who was a slovenly fat teenage blonde from down the street. The Dad ordered a burger, and the Mom ordered a wrap, they both ordered two Christmas Ales. When they came to the table, the Mom took a drink first. “It tastes like legos. I think. New legos.”
Dad took a drink. “No honey, you’re wrong, it tastes like that time Little Girl put watercolors in my coffee to make it pretty. And it smells like that set of coloring pencils we got her for….”
“It tastes like happiness, is what it is.” Mom said dreamily, drinking and thinking of that set of plastic horses she had got when when she was 11, how shiny and new the painted colors were.

Of course, you can’t steal a city’s Christmas presents every year, and though they had stolen enough joy to last a few batches if they were careful, it soon ran out. Which is why they have a warehouse now, underneath St. Ignatius, where forgotten and stolen children toil year around making shining amazing presents to give each other, each little worker getting excited just thinking of how much work he’s put into the gifts, which are then gathered up and taken away as they sleep. No child there ever gets a present. After all, Christmas Ale is very popular.

For more of my latent Christmas Cheer, go to...
Ohio Authority where Sarah and I talk eggnog
Turning River, for some good old Christmas melancholy.


  1. You've provoked me into a tizzy of Cristmas Ale-craving and guilt over drinking orphans' presents. Clearly the cold hasn't quite reached my soul yet this year.

  2. What we really need is like a chipotle porter that comes out in January, and is flavored with the frustration of every car owner in Ohio.

  3. Coincidentally, I have a six of Christmas Ale on my desk right now, going home with me as you read this. Happy Christmas.

    And yes, I'd drink a chipotle porter.

  4. So that's how they do it. I do love the Christmas ale they serve here - wish they would serve it all winter! But not at the cost of presents. Ordinary ale + presents is better than any drink without.
    Happy Holidays to you!

  5. I mean, it's good you have your priorities straight :)

  6. Will the story of the ale be on the bottle next year ? ;)

    Chipotle Porter ? Sounds good .

    Maybe on Sunday .

    Happy Christmas :)

  7. It should be. It's important we know our history.

    Merry Christmas Mike.

  8. It's called alcohol. And in small, splendidly crafted batches, a small part of heaven. Beautiful piece of writing, sweet one. May you ever do so, and in splendidly crafted batches, too!


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