The Advent calendar is growing up. What was once the domain of kids and third-rate chocolate has become a one-a-day Christmas countdown for all ages, with sought-after items these days ranging from Lego pieces to makeup samples. Several Western Canadian companies have recently got into the spirit, offering Advent calendars for another product whose popularity is fast on the rise: craft beer.
For the past three years, Calgary-based Craft Beer Importers Canada has assembled the BeerAdvent Calendar, a decorative carton with perforated hatches containing 24 top-secret beers built around a geographic theme. After previous offerings from Europe and North America, the 2014 "Intercontinental Edition" features beers imported from 17 countries on six continents.
"This is the most ambitious product so far," says Christian Finz, a purchaser with Craft. "We really pulled out everything we could." Without specifying what, exactly, is included for each day – "Santa would be really mad" – Finz says that none of the beers is currently available in Canadian stores. Some were even produced especially for the calendar.
Beer drinkers have responded in kind, with sales for the BeerAdvent calendars more than tripling year over year. Craft sold 2,100 calendars in 2012 and 8,500 in 2013. Its full run of more than 23,000 copies of the 2014 edition has already been snapped up by retailers. Finz says this is almost entirely due to word of mouth – the company does no paid advertising for the calendars – and the growing popularity of craft beer in Canada. Furthermore, those sales come from just five provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland) and two territories (Yukon and Northwest Territories). Depending on the province, the calendar retails for between $130 and $150.
Business has been similarly brisk for the inaugural Red Racer/Parallel 49 Mystery Gift Holiday Countdown Pack, a beer-based Advent calendar produced by two breweries in the Vancouver area. (The product name is in part a reflection of Craft owning a trademark on the phrase "BeerAdvent.") Countdown packs contain 11 beers from each brewery, as well as two brand-new beers that have been created by the breweries in collaboration. The $74.95 Countdown packs are currently available at select retailers in B.C. and Alberta. A third Advent-style product, the Phillips Snowcase, has returned for its sophomore year with a selection of 24 beers from Victoria's Phillips brewery; it's available in B.C. (where it's priced at $69.99), Alberta and Manitoba.
Tim Barnes, vice-president for marketing and sales at Surrey's Central City Brewers, which produces the Red Racer line, says the fun and experimentation that comes with drinking your way through one of their Countdown calendars allows both breweries to expand their audiences in ways they couldn't on their own. "It's the old adage: One plus one is three."
The real appeal, however, is for consumers. "In a way, a beer Advent calendar is the ultimate mix-pack of beer," says Stephen Beaumont, a beer writer and co-author of The Pocket Beer Guide and The World Atlas of Beer, "with a new experience awaiting the owner every day. I think that aspect really appeals to the sense of exploration and adventure that you find in so many craft-beer aficionados." Beaumont notes that Finz and Craft in particular have "raised the bar on the whole concept" of beer Advent calendars domestically.
For his part, Finz thinks the product has an added appeal as an early Christmas gift – especially for men.
"Guys are sometimes hard to shop for," he says. "Do you need another pair of socks, or another tie? Most likely not. This is something that's really surprising and unique, and it changes every year."