Source of photo: https://www.kalea.at/en/beer-advent-calendars/beer-calendar-usa/
What is an Advent Calendar?
Traditionally, Advent calendars are used throughout the Christian season of Advent to countdown to, and to build anticipation of Christmas. Predominantly a European tradition, along with Christmas Markets, Advent calendars are becoming an increasing part of the more secular Christmas season in the United States. For each day, usually beginning on December 1, numbered doors are opened and a surprise, depending on the nature of the Advent calendar, is revealed. Advent calendars can contain candy, toys, coffee, tea, cheeses, pet treats and, of course, wine and beer!
Several years ago, I became aware of the Beer Advent Calendar produced by Original Kalea located in Salzburg, Austria. Since 2014, these boxes of 24 beers, primarily from smaller local breweries in Germany, have been sold by Costco Wholesale Club. Though I found out about them too late to pick up the 2020 calendar, I picked up last year’s calendar the first weekend it went on sale at my local Costco. My wife thought it was the most excited she has ever seen me when it came to picking up something for the holidays. And I was excited! Between me, my friends, my brothers and nephews, we accounted for the purchase of at least eight 2021 Beer Advent calendars.
I was very patient, waiting with great anticipation for eleven weeks until December 1 came and I was able to start my Beer Advent calendar. I was so excited that I wrote daily posts on my small blog, where I usually post occasionally about batches of my homebrew beer. In December 2021 and January 2022, my blog had the most views and visitors ever. While the numbers were still miniscule by most standards, blogging each day about the Beer Advent calendar drew a lot of hits from search engines. Each day, I would write about the beer, who produced it and where it was made, where the smaller towns were located with respect to larger nearby cities, and information about the beers and breweries from the brewery websites as well as beer oriented websites like Untappd, Beer Advocate, and a site I had not seen before named Beer Tasting. In addition to the information I would find on the Beer Tasting site, I quickly realized that the daily Advent Calendar live-streams on YouTube were all done by the producers of the Beer Advent calendar, who also produce a Beer Tasting app that can be used to check into and rate the beers, including those in the Advent Calendar.
What I Like About the Beer Advent Calendar!
As a long time beer lover and home brewer, I enjoy trying new beers. Unlike many of my friends and family, I prefer traditional European style beers over the trendy (I prefer ‘faddish’) hazy, juicy IPAs, pastry stouts, sours, and milkshake IPAs. I especially prefer central European and British beers that require quality ingredients and attention to the brewing process. For example, the flaws in a delicate Pilsner or Helles cannot be easily hidden under heavy hopping to achieve overwhelming tropical fruit notes that bury the basic marriage of malts and traditional hops that shine through in European lagers and ales. Other traditional styles, such as Kolsch, Altbier, Vienna Lagers, are not well represented in most beer store’s import selections or are rarely attempted by the explosion of domestic US craft brewers. When such styles are attempted, it seems like most craft brewers can’t resist the temptation to add fruit flavors, or hops one would normally find in a New England IPA. So I was very excited about the styles of beer in the Advent calendar, all coming from smaller local breweries that generally are not available here in the United States.
As Advent progressed, some of the regular attendees of the live-stream tastings were becoming more familiar and I found the Facebook group called 2021 Brewers Advent Calendar and became a member. And my attendance nearly every day of Advent at the noon US Advent Calendar beer tasting paid off when I won six of the Beer Tasting beer glasses!
I was so excited about the 2021 Beer Advent Calendar that I ended up doing more research to try to track down the various beers that had been included in the calendars over the years. There were several sites with helpful information, but the most extensive information I found was at the Guru of Brew blog section on the Advent Calendars going back to 2015.
Learning More About the Beer Advent Calendar
I then decided I would reach out to the people that had emailed me about the shipping details to send me the beer glasses. Maximilian Frank at the Beer Tasting Club Office in Salzburg was kind enough to respond to my questions via email concerning the production of the Original Kalea Beer Advent Calendar. I have incorporated his responses into the following paragraphs.
How are the Beers Selected for the Calendar?
The first question that came to me about the Advent Beer Calendar was how the beers are selected each year – especially since the beers and breweries included are from smaller regional breweries instead of the very large mega-brewers in Germany. According to Maximilian (Max), they try to provide the widest selection possible and use customer surveys from the prior year to help in deciding which beers to keep for another year. They also try to include new and innovative beers where possible.
From what I could find in my internet research, about 65 different beers have been included in the Beer Advent Calendar since 2015. While no beer has been included in every calendar, a few beers have been included each year except for one or two years.
Each year, around eight beers make their debut in the calendar, though this varies from year to year. In the 2021 calendar, there were 10 beers that appeared for the first time, while in 2020 eight beers debuted and six beers appeared for the first time in 2019. As for the beer included in the newer calendar from the previous year’s calendar, Max says they keep about eight of the best rated beers on the Beer Tasting app for the next calendar as well. The remainder of the Advent Calendar is rounded out by previously appearing beers that have not appeared in the calendar for at least one year.
I think that replacing about one-third of the Advent Calendar offerings with new beers each year keeps it interesting for repeat customers. There is enough variety where the selection doesn’t seem repetitious.
When I asked Max how many new beers would be in the 2022 calendar, he wrote that he didn’t want to spoil the surprise, but did say that there will be a few new beers “…that are completely new to the market and initially available exclusively in our calendar, even for Germans and Austrians!”
Based on the information I recently have found online, it appears there will be seven beers included in the calendar for the first time this year, while six of the beers that debuted last year will be making a return appearance. Of the remaining eleven beers, four have appeared in several recent years, and seven will be returning after being left out of the calendar for at least one year.
One beer that has been appearing in the calendar each year since 2017 is Perlenzauber (Pearl Magic). This is classified as a German Pale Ale and is euphemistically known as a ‘Gypsy Beer’. What makes the beer under the Perlenzauber name a ‘Gypsy beer’ is that it ‘travels’ from brewery to brewery and is made by a different brewery/brew master each year. The result is a different beer from one year to the next, which means you never quite know what you will get!
How Long Does it Take to Make the Advent Calendar?
The second question I had concerned the lead-time necessary to produce the calendar from brewing to when it goes on sale. I know from home brewing and my knowledge of brewing in general is that ales (like Hefeweizens) usually take less time to produce than lager beers which, depending on the brewing process, can be cold-aged from two to eight or more weeks before it is ready for packaging. Maxx’s response was that it is impossible to predict how long it would take because, as I noted, it depends on the style of beer and the brewer’s process. But he did estimate that it takes approximately six months from when the beer is first brewed. When the brewer is ready to package the beer, it is canned and the canned beer is shipped to their warehouse where the Advent Calendar boxes are hand-packed – sometimes with more than 100 people hand-packing the cans into the boxes! Once they have all the beers that go into the packages, they can usually produce 500 calendars each day. The filled boxes are then put on to pallets, and the pallets loaded into shipping containers which are then transported by ship to the United States. Ocean transport can take three to six weeks to reach the United States depending on whether their destination is on the east or west coast. All of this is done so that the Advent Calendars can be placed out for retail sale by the end of September.
Something that a customer may notice when they remove certain beers from the Advent Calendar box is that several of the beers contain information on the label saying that they are produced by Egerer. This came up in the Alms Hell video tasting last year, where the brewer insisted that Egerer did not produce the beer, despite what was printed on the can. Egerer, which used to brew its own line of beers prior to their recent purchase by the Memminger brewery, is now primarily a beverage packaging operation. They do not, as I once thought, provide contract brewing services in the production of the beers contained in the Advent Calendar.
Contract brewing services are often used by smaller breweries when their production needs exceed their physical plant capacity and to meet their packaging and distribution needs. It can be more cost effective for smaller breweries to use contract brewers to increase their brewing output and revenue without having to risk making expensive capital purchases of new equipment. In addition to brew kettles and fermentation and aging tanks, bottling and canning lines are also part of a brewery’s capital expenditures to support expansion. And while packaging beer into cans may have advantages over bottles, such as lower weight per unit, less breakage, and no light penetration, many people may prefer drinking beer from bottles over cans.
Max noted that many German and Austrian breweries traditionally package their beer in returnable bottles. While his company prefers packaging beer in cans, few breweries – especially the smaller regional or craft brewers whose beers are carried in the US Advent Calendars – have the can-filling equipment. This is where Egerer comes in.
When the breweries produce their beer, they transport the beer to the Egerer facility in Großköllnbach, Germany. Großköllnbach is located about 115 km (a little more than one hour’s drive) northeast of Munich, with the Egerer facility located about 3 kilometers (about 2 miles) off the A92 highway. With many of the breweries located in smaller towns and cities well outside of Munich, the Egerer facility appears to be well-located to meet their needs. Each beer canned at Egerer is transported by two-trucks, each carrying about 275 hectoliters. This is equivalent to 55,000 liters (about 14,500 gallons or about 461 barrels).
What Kinds of Beer are in the Calendar?
While there is some variety of beer styles within the Advent Calendar, it should not be surprising that a large percentage of the beers are the more traditional golden colored lagers, which are still the most popular style in Germany and Austria. Half of the 2021 Advent Calendar were pale lagers, primarily either Helles or Pilsners with a few Dortmunders and light Vienna Lagers added. Four more beers were either Kellerbiers, which are basically a young, unfiltered Helles or Pilsner, Festbiers or Märzens. However, other styles were represented with Weizens (light and dark wheat beers), Bock beers (single, double or weizenbocks), with single examples of a Pale Ale and a Rauchbier (a lager made with smoked malt). Previous years have included one or two beers of other styles, including a Steinbier (made by using heated rocks to brew the beer), Winter beer, IPA, and Stouts.
When asked if the production schedule, from brewing to shipping the completed calendars, precluded any beer styles, including seasonal beers like German Weihnachtsbiers (Christmas beers); Max replied that no style is excluded because they order enough beer for the breweries to make the styles for them year round.
Some US customers may view the pale lagers in the Advent Calendar as too similar or bland to be interesting. However, the pale lagers in the Advent Calendar are generally fine examples of beers that require command of the art and science of brewing. Perhaps the differences are too subtle for mainstream drinkers of thin, watery low calorie beers or for craft beer drinkers who are more interested in the explosion of overly juicy flavors, or the taste of the wine or liquor from the barrels in which the beers are aged than the delicate balance between the clean flavors of malts and traditional European hops.
Are All Original Kalea Advent Calendars the Same?
One thing that I learned with the selection in last year’s Advent Calendar was there was some variation between the contents that sometimes differed from what was shown on the box. For example, instead of the Steamworks Vienna Lager on Day 8, my calendar had the Loncium Vienna Style Lager. Another example was some people having the Meine Große Liebe Helles on Day 19 instead of the having the Zwönitzer Rauchbier that I had. Max informed me that sometimes a beer is in short supply, so they will substitute the best available beer of a similar style if possible. This was also stated in the Day 8 Beer Tasting live stream where a representative replied that there are several reasons that a different beer may be in some calendars. Since the calendars are packaged by hand, sometimes a beer can be placed in the wrong spot. But what more likely happened in this case that they ran out of the beer and replaced it with another beer.
In other cases, the beer laws in some states may require a substitution be made. The differences in the beer laws among the 50 states introduce some complexities in producing the Beer Advent Calendar that most consumers could not envision. For example, the 2021 Day 1 ‘Grantler Hell’ was packaged in some states as ‘Grumpy Hell’! So if you are wondering why the beer you get doesn’t match the beers shown on the box, these are the most likely reasons!
Where Else are Advent Calendars Available?
In addition to the US market, Beer Advent calendars are produced and shipped to various parts of the world. While Max said the calendars shipped to Australia, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea are similar to the US calendars, the German and Austrian Advent calendars are different. Since the European calendars use 330ml bottles instead of 500ml cans, and since the smaller traditional breweries and newer craft breweries bottle their beer, Max said they have many more options to include a wider variety of beers from more breweries. This provides opportunities to include beers that are new, unusual, and innovative. Some examples of these beers that have found their way into the US Beer Advent Calendar are the previously mentioned Perlenzauber Pale Ale and the TurboProp Imperial Pilsner, which has appeared in the calendar in 2019, 2020, and 2021.
What Else Can I Learn About the Beer Advent Calendar?
I mentioned the earlier live-streaming of each beer on the Beer Tasting Club YouTube channel. In 2021, separate tasting sessions were scheduled and broadcast for the US, German, and Austrian calendars. Each day featured guests who were usually associated with the brewery who made the beer featured that day. The live-stream sessions were also somewhat interactive, with the viewers posting questions in the Live Chat that were selected and answered by the attendees. As a home brewer, I was always interested in finding out more about the brewing process – what kinds of malts and hops were used, if infusion or decoction mashing is used, and other technical issues.
One of the other regular attendees to the live stream regularly asked what I thought were great questions about the towns and regions surrounding the breweries and about any festivals that he could visit. For example, Herrnbräu’s Jubiläums-Sud, which last appeared in the 2020 Advent Calendar, is served at Ingolstadt’s festival which takes place every year on April 23 and celebrates the starting of the Rheinheitsgebot (beer purity law). Other examples include Erl Brau (whose Erl Hell was most recently featured on 2021 Day 18) who is one of the local breweries that provide beer at the Gäubodenvolksfest in Straubing, Germany. There was a lot of discussion about this festival, which usually begins in mid-August. Also, as was revealed in the 2021 Day 14 live stream, the town of Rosenheim, which is about 40 miles southeast of Munich and is the home of the brewery that made the Flötzinger Hell, has a 16-day Fall Festival (Herbstfest) and includes the largest stand-alone beer tent in the world! That Fall Festival begins at the end of August and ends around when Oktoberfest in Munich begins. Knowing such information could inspire beer-loving tourists to plan their visits in order to attend these smaller festivals to support these smaller breweries – or to attend the Landshuter Hochzeit, which normally takes place every four years and will resume in May 2023 for the first time since 2017 after being postponed due to Covid restrictions. Connecting the beers and breweries in the Advent Calendar with festivals and tourism may pique the interest of Beer Advent Calendar customers.
The awarding of the Beer Tasting glasses during the live streams definitely increased interest in the presentations and among the posters on the non-affiliated Advent Calendar Facebook page. During the live stream of the 2021 Day 10 beer, Käuzle German Pilsner by Kauzen-Bräu, the brewery representatives were drinking the beer out of ceramic owl shaped mugs which I’m sure caught people’s interest as well. And most beer fans also collect brewery memorabilia, like beer glasses, coasters, and signs. Perhaps making more of these types of items available to purchase, either as add-ons to the Advent Calendar or online through the Beer Tasting website or App, might keep returning customers interested in future Advent Calendars and help attract new customers who will fall in love with the Advent Calendar like I did!
Whether you are a returning customer enjoying the spirit of the season with hard to find European beers or a new customer experiencing the joy of discovery of your first Beer Advent Calendar, hopefully this answers some questions you may have but didn’t know who to ask!
Be on the lookout for the 2022 Advent Calendar – on sale in a couple months!
(Go here if you want an advance look at the contents of the 2022 calendar).