I write to you from a gray, dreary, and unexpectedly relaxing day on a lake in southern Maine. An uncharacteristically quiet loon glides past me as I watch from a chilly, damp porch. Now cold rain is coming down so hard it sends me inside, the sound of it filling the warm room with a buzz like conversation. I nurse a perfectly crafted old fashioned at my favorite, dimly lit bar, and I feel at home.
Amidst the hustle and bustle and the many competing priorities each holiday season, I hope you find moments like this along the way: Moments of calm and peace even in the longest, darkest hours of winter. And I hope you have something good to drink.
May your gloomiest, glummest, most theoretically miserable days be transformed into a cozy oasis by a cold drink and a gracious bartender. Maybe you’ll strike up a conversation with a patron next to you as you rest your elbows on the edge of a well-worn hardwood bar. Or perhaps you’ll silently draft the oeuvre of an ill-advised screenplay in your head, with grand intentions to type it out later on a vintage typewriter. IYKYK.
This kind of atmosphere can’t be fabricated but it can be bought. Kind of. You don’t even need to drive all the way to Maine.
Like a sudsed up version of Tinkerbell, bars and breweries like the ones I describe here only exist if we actively believe in fairies support them. While there will be many demands on your wallet over the holidays, choosing to shop at local businesses invigorates them into the new year. It even sustains them through the tragic weeks of not yet broken resolutions and Dry Januaries.
One of my favorite ways to support a variety of local businesses this time of year is to shop at brewery-hosted winter markets. These can range from traditional farmer’s markets heavy on food and produce, to maker’s markets filled with craft goods from local artisans. I get more of my shopping done at these markets each season than I do online; the hardest part is not buying one of everything for myself. The MA Pink Boots Society (which advocates for women in the fermented beverage industry) has compiled an extensive list of winter markets online, but a few to pop on your calendar include the Holiday Market Sip-n-Shop at Redemption Rock on Sat 12/4, the German Christmas Market at Jack’s Abby through the weekends of 12/10 and 12/17, and the Winter Market at Timberyard, every Saturday and Sunday until Christmas.
My shopping list usually includes: local soaps for stocking stuffers, handmade jewelry and ceramics, locally roasted coffee and maple syrup for host/hostess gifts, and specialty meats or cheeses for a big Christmas Eve bash at home. And I buy it all with a craft beer in one hand (cue: “She is beauty, she is grace…”)
While you’re at it, don’t forget to stock up on brewery gift cards and merch. Super soft, embroidered flannel? Check. Unique, branded glassware? Check. Adult onesie? Triple check. These are just some of the awesome swag options you can find at breweries in central MA. They’re easy to wrap, easy to ship and don’t take up any space in the fridge. As someone decked head to toe in brewery-branded apparel most days, I can assure you (assure myself?) that this is a completely valid way to build a wardrobe.
Last, but certainly never least, where would we be without some specialty winter libations? If you stock up early in the season you’ll always have the perfect bottle or 4-pack to bring to a meal or party, not to mention emergency gifts if you’re the recipient of some unexpected generosity. You can color outside the lines a little and choose an alternative for toasting in the new year, like River Styx Chardonnay Barrel-Aged Adonis fruited sour or Greater Good’s Pulpy Dreams hard seltzer. Bonus points if you put something aside for all the little special occasions along the way, like the first real snow day, or the first five minutes of peace and quiet after hosting a big event. Wachusett’s Bonspiel Imperial Maple Stout won’t make it easier to get off the couch and shovel, but it will make your snow day more delicious.
There you have it – a holiday shopping list where everyone wins except Jeff Bezos. I’m not insisting you have to break up with your Amazon Prime account forever, but maybe you go “on a break” from now until Valentine’s Day. My single friends tell me that’s already kind of a thing. And last I checked, they can’t ship beer anyway. Cheers to 2023!