As we saw the other day, in 1857-1860 Hallett & Abbey advertised in Brighton, England their Christmas Ale.
Just a few years later, an American saloon did the same, the Hole-in-the-Wall (HITW) in Sprague’s Alley near Fulton Street in Brooklyn, New York. Ads in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle between 1865 and 1867 trumpeted that “Thomas” would “broach” his Christmas Ale.
A string of ads may be seen here, of which this example was typical (via the Daily Eagle archive linked):
A park, Cadman Plaza, now covers the street where saloon-keeper Thomas ministered to his faithful. See the Forgotten New York site for useful background.
The photo below (via Wikipedia) recorded the land assembly for the park in 1936. It seems likely one of the crosswise roads or paths traced the old alley where HITW had been.
The earthy name was almost certainly inspired by English example, perhaps the one under a railway arch next to Waterloo Station, London.
The ads state that HITW offered patrons “the London papers”, a further clue to its character.
As in Britain, it wasn’t common in the U.S., then or later, to brand a beer Christmas Ale. The occasional example made express the old connection between ale and the Yule period, however.
Before 1980, a few American breweries did advertise a Christmas Beer here and there. In 2016 Judy Steffes of the Washington County Insider recalled the mid-century Lithia Christmas Beer, from Wisconsin.
But paging through James Robertson’s (1978) The Connoisseur’s Guide to Beer I could not find a single example of a Christmas ale or beer, American or other.
He did include a Holiday Beer from Potosi, WI, but the brewery name was Holiday Brewing.
The few Christmas beers of that era were probably a standard item in inventory, maybe made a little stronger or darker. Lithia in fact came in a special dark version, as Steffes recorded.
Of course breweries might advertise their regular line at Christmas, linking them to festivity, just as ale in Britain was always linked to Yuletime, in a general way.
Our Thomas of 1860s Brooklyn seemed quite the man, judging by the monikers “Immortal Thomas” and “presiding genius”.
As ancestrally for the bar trade, his no doubt ebullient character defined the house atmosphere, drew the crowds. He may well have been of British origin as many 1800s American barkeeps were, or Irish.
The Jones Brewery in New York advertised its English-style beers just below some of the HITW ads. The brewery was located on Sixth Street in Manhattan. I think probably it supplied Thomas’ Christmas Ale.
Indeed Jones probably paid for both ads to appear. A hand-in-glove arrangement, of course.
The Christmas Ale was advertised in December and January mainly, occasionally in February and sometimes (skipping March) in April. Why April is hard to say, maybe Thomas held back a keg to be opened later for an unexpected treat.
It is within the realm of possibility that he did this to parry the growing appeal of springtime German bock beer.
Christmas Ale was brewed traditionally in England on December 21 and typically consumed in December and January, as we saw earlier. As the bulk of Thomas’ ads appeared in December and January, that part ties in, too.
I discussed earlier that December 21 was St. Thomas Day in the old Catholic calendar.
How strange that a namesake over the sea, in Walt Whitman’s America, served a specialty of Christmas Ale.
Was it an in-joke, possibly? “Dang it Johnnie, why did the Eagle call ya Thomas, got a silent partner by that name, mebbe?”.
Mebbe, mebbe not.
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