If you, like me, are sane, reasonable and a little cheap, you’ll see the Advent calendars produced by Phillips Brewing and by Parallel 49 / Central City this year at the liquor store and balk at the $60-plus price tag.
“$60 for a 24-case?” you’ll scoff. “Fetch me that Kokanee case!”
But then you’ll reconsider as you walk toward the register, because you – like me – have warm and fuzzy memories of Advent calendars from your youth. Sure, those calendars cost $2.99 at the IGA and featured the same wax-flavoured chocolate square for 24 days straight, but there’s something thrilling about peeling back some perforated cardboard to score an unhealthy treat.
(If you’re unfamiliar with Advent calendars, Wikipedia has you covered.)
Which means you’re intrigued by beer Advent calendar, but demand to know why they cost so much. This case of Kokanee you’re carrying costs half as much. Also, your infant daughter needs new socks this winter.
As exciting as Advent calendars can be, is the $60-plus price tag really worth it?
I’m telling you the answer is yes. Here’s why: A) Both the Phillips Snowcase and the P49-Central City Craft Crossing Calendar include 24 different beers to be drunk over 24 days B) many of these beers are brand new recipes (half, in the case of the Craft Crossing calendar); C) many of these beers are big and boozy; and D) producing these Advent calendars is a Herculean effort for each of the breweries concerned.
For Central City and P49, planning the second annual Craft Crossing Calendar began at the beginning of the year. It’s a collaboration right down the line – from the beer, to the marketing, to the creative, to the packaging.
“Logistically, these are really tough,” says Gary Lohin, head brewer at Central City.
“You’re making your big beers three or four months ahead of time. We just leave them in a tank and let them mature, then wait until the last moment to package them, because of the implications of the packing. It’s fresher if it’s left right until the last moment.”
This means that they need to allocate tank space throughout the year. Once the beer’s made, the two breweries need to coordinate sending palates upon palates of beer to a packaging facility in Chilliwack, where every single beer is packed by hand to fill each one of the 13,000 Craft Crossing cases on order. Automating the process is far too difficult and expensive, so it has to be done by hand to ensure every beer is placed in the correct spot.
But at least P49 and Central City have the luxury of a third-party packaging facility. The Phillips team packages everything one of their Snowcases in house. For the past three years, all Phillips staff members devote one full week to packing the Snowcase.
“It’s a labour of love,” says Matt Lockhart, Phillips’ marketing manager. “Everybody in the company is involved in putting this thing together. We’re really proud of it at the end of the day because we all do actually touch it.”
He says they start planning the Snowcase in February, with new recipe development happening earlier in the year so they can schedule and allocate tank space.
“There’s a lot of strategy that goes in to when we’re brewing, and also where it’s placed in the Snowcase itself,” he says. “I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a little bit of a method in terms of where things are stacked, and what tastes better fresh.”
He wasn’t sure how many new beers are in this year’s Snowcase, but he said there’s a good mix of new and old, including some eight-year old recipes that have been revived specifically for the Snowcase.
The complicated planning process seems worth it at the end of the year. Both the Phillips and the P49/CC Advent calendar sold out last year, and they’ll likely sell out this year. The Snowcase is so popular, Phillips has created an online tasting party where people can comment on the beer of the day. The urge to relieve childhood warm-and-fuzzies is strong in the craft beer community.
So put down the Kokanee, friend, and knit your infant some socks this year. Do it while sipping whatever’s coming out of that Advent calendar. You have 24 days to learn, after all.