Remember when the most exciting thing behind the doors of an advent calendar was an illustration of the three wise men, or perhaps a tiny square of cheap chocolate? Things have come a long way since then, and now you can find advent calendars to suit pretty much every taste and obsession.
Beer advent calendars have become especially popular, with offerings from major supermarkets and big breweries joined by selections from microbreweries and specialist beer websites.
As well as delivering a daily treat of a different favourite, seasonal or one-off brew, these calendars often represent fantastic value for money compared to purchasing individual cans or bottles.
How we tested
There’s obviously a lot of beer in these calendars and customers will want to keep some element of surprise, so we tried a cross-section of beers from each one and looked at the overall quality, diversity of offering and value for money. The number of exclusive, seasonal or limited-edition beers was another factor. We also took into account the presentation, because of course, that’s all part of the fun when it comes to advent calendars.
The best beer advent calendars for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Beer Hawk’s beery Christmas advent calendar: £85, Beerhawk.co.uk
- Best bonus gifts – Bier Company ultimate craft beer advent calendar: £99.95, Biercompany.co.uk
- Best alcohol-free selection – Dry Drinker alcohol free beer advent calendar: £64.99, Drydrinker.com
- Best for unusual flavours – BrewDog advent calendar: £49.95, Brewdog.com
- Best craft beer selection – HonestBrew craft beer advent calendar: £64.90, Honestbrew.co.uk
- Best exclusive creations – Virgin Wines beer advent calendar: £79.99, Virginwines.co.uk
- Best from a single brewery – West Berkshire Brewery advent calendar: £80, Wbbrew.com
- Best value for money – Aldi 24 beers of Christmas advent calendar: £44.99, Aldi.co.uk
Beer Hawk’s beery Christmas advent calendar
There are many things to love about Beer Hawk’s advent calendar. Beers that you simply can’t find anywhere else, because they’ve been brewed especially to be revealed behind each window. A bold, busy design with colourful, cartoon portraits of the brewers, and 25 (yes, 25) truly individual beers to try day-by-day.
No wonder it tends to sell out quickly every year. New for 2021, Beer Hawk has added an interactive element: beer lovers can scan a QR code on the calendar to access a website with virtual brewery tours and tasting notes for each beer. Fans of interesting label designs will be happy, too, as there isn’t a boring bottle or can in the box.
We also loved the mix of brews from smaller, less-known microbreweries with bigger names like Thornbridge and Mikkeller, which has collaborated on Between the Lines, a tastebud-awakening pale ale with notes of peach, grapefruit and bubblegum. A delightful journey and the perfect nudge to try some new and surprising brews from the UK and 13 other countries around the world.
Bier Company ultimate craft beer advent calendar
Best: Bonus gifts
The Bier Company’s bumper advent calendar comes in a tall blue box emblazoned with cartoon beer nuts dressed as Santa, reindeer and a tree-topping fairy. The fun, slightly trippy design continues inside, with each numbered window marked with a colourful animation.
It’s one of the most fun beer advent calendars around, not least because it contains bonus treats like three lots of beer snacks (crisps and nuts), beer mats, a stemmed, branded glass and even a suitably Christmassy pair of socks.
Thankfully the beer doesn’t play second fiddle. There are 24 of them, so no repeats, including beers made exclusively for the calendar by award-winning craft breweries in the UK and Europe. The range of collaborations is impressive, with brilliantly sippable and often surprising ales from Manchester Marble, Camden Town, Mad Squirrel and Wild Card.
Dry Drinker alcohol free beer advent calendar
Best: Alcohol-free selection
Proving just how far the non-alcoholic beer market has come, this impressive collection from Dry Drinker means that swearing the ABV doesn’t mean missing out. Each window has a bottle or can with a different alcohol-free brew. Each one we tried was delicious and we also liked the fact there’s a good range, from full-bodied craft ales and IPAs to cockle-warming stouts and porters.
No beers are repeated, so expect to see a mix of established favourites from non-alcoholic specialist breweries like Big Drop, Athletic Brewing and Drop Bear, alongside ABV-free offerings from mainstream companies like BrewDog. There’s a special, super-seasonal brew behind the final door, too.
We liked the tall, brown box, which has a certain old-fashioned charm with red and white baubles, snowflakes and cute little details like a stamp proclaiming it’s come from the North Pole. Bonus points for the free Dry Drinker logo glass, too.
BrewDog advent calendar
Best: For unusual flavours
Regular drinkers of BrewDog’s beers will recognise a few of the offerings in this calendar from the Aberdeenshire-based brewery. Familiar favourites include clockwork tangerine – a refreshing yet satisfyingly hefty citrus ale – and classics like the Punk IPA and lost lager. More than half of the cans behind the calendar’s doors are a little different, though, with special collaborations, Christmas one-offs and unusual flavours like guava, parma violets, peach and – in the case of layer cake – a blend of marshmallow, chocolate and vanilla.
Some might not be to everyone’s taste, though the diversity brings a nice element of surprise and encourages you to try something a little different, which is perhaps what this new breed of advent calendar is all about. It’s like opening up a boozy stocking every day of the month. The design itself is simple and attractive, with a white box emblazoned with the BrewDog logo and stencil-style graphics.
HonestBrew craft beer advent calendar
Best: Craft beer selection
Each of the craft beers in HonestBrew’s calendar has been sourced from an independent brewery in the UK or Europe, so this is one of the best for sampling a broad range and tasting some beers you might never otherwise come across. Around half of the 24 cans and bottles are the result of new collaborations, and you really can’t buy these beers anywhere else.
There’s pretty much every style you can think of: velvety porters and stouts, hop-forward IPAs (including double IPAs), and super-fresh seasonal beers designed to be drunk as soon as possible. (That shouldn’t be too tricky.)
As with Beer Hawk, HonestBrew has upgraded the calendar’s design to be interactive, with a QR code to scan for extra information and for the chance to win prizes. The blue box, with Christmassy decorations and a red ribbon design, is suitably tempting, too.
Virgin Wines beer advent calendar
Best: Exclusive creations
Just as it can be disappointing to order wine in a restaurant and recognise the bottle from a supermarket shelf, it’s a bit of a letdown to open an advent calendar and find only mainstream beers. This is definitely not the case with Virgin Wines’ calendar. In fact, every single one of the 24 cans packed into the jolly green box contains a beer you can’t find anywhere else, ever.
Each has been brewed exclusively for the calendar by a UK brewery, from established players like London’s Gipsy Hill to those newer on the scene like Full Circle Brew Co, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Working through the calendar is like taking a beery tour of the UK. There are hearty, traditional-style ales from London’s Utopian, a velvety, voluptuous stout from Shrewsbury’s Salopian, and a black IPA and pale ale from Malt Coast in Wells-next-the-Sea, north Norfolk.
West Berkshire Brewery advent calendar
Best: From a single brewery
This is West Berkshire Brewery’s first advent calendar, and it’s perfect for anyone looking to discover a range of styles from a single brewer – with the bonus of supporting a microbrewery. And what variety. There’s everything from golden ales to double IPAs. The brewery started in 1995 and has grown from a shed in the village of Yattendon, Berkshire to a state of the art facility (still in the same village) capable of producing up to 60 hectolitres (or 6,000l). The brewing style remains experimental and small-batch, though, as the contents of this calendar demonstrates.
We loved all the beers we tried, including good old boy – an award-winning English bitter with a beautiful balance of comforting malt and refreshing fruitiness – and amber ale Dr Hexter’s healer, which has delicious notes of toffee and orange peel. There’s also the newly launched yule fuel, a wonderfully rich winter warmer.
This calendar obviously doesn’t offer the chance to try beers from different producers, though it’s a great introduction to this highly-rated brewery, especially as many of the beers are usually only available by the dozen.
Aldi 24 beers of Christmas advent calendar
Best: Value for money
The cheapest calendar in our round-up comes, of course, from Aldi. This isn’t a selection of bargain-basement brews, though. The jolly red, white and blue box, with each number in a bauble shape, contains 24 cans of Aldi favourites, each 440ml. There’s a decent New England IPA, a double IPA from the Hop Foundry, and some seasonally appropriate specials like a chocolate orange stout.
With two of each beer (Aldi also has a 12 Beers of Christmas calendar, with one of each), it lacks the variety and endless surprises of others. It is fantastic value for money, though, and is packed with suitably festive flavours to bring some extra cheer to the Christmas countdown. In stores from 1 November.
The verdict: Beer advent calendars
This has become a competitive market lately, and it shows: producers have really upped their game with exclusive brews and fun extras. Any of these would be a joy to open each day through December but Beer Hawk’s beery Christmas advent calendar stands out on every level from design to the quality of the beers.
We loved the packaging, with portraits of the brewers, and the fact that each of the bottles and cans is an exclusive you won’t find anywhere else. Oh, and the extra beer for Christmas Day doesn’t hurt, either. It feels special, fun and like a discovery each day, and these are all qualities an advent calendar should have.
For those looking for something similar but without the alcohol, Dry Drinker alcohol free beer advent calendar is so packed with quality brews that it doesn’t feel like missing out.
For the latest discounts on wine and other alcohol offers, try the links below:
After more festive indulgence? Read our review of the The White Company’s advent calendar for 2021
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