Carolina Beer Guy: The evolution of Christmas Jam Ale

JAM MASTER: Doug Riley, founding brewer at Asheville Brewing Co., pours a pint of Christmas Jam Ale. Riley first created the beer in 2009 to benefit the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam and now brews it in collaboration with Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Photo courtesy Asheville Brewing Co.

When Warren Haynes‘ 30th annual Christmas Jam convenes Friday, Dec. 7, and Saturday, Dec. 8, at the U.S. Cellular Center, many at the arena will be enjoying a cup or two of a special beer made for the benefit concerts.

Asheville brewing legend Doug Riley will be among them, and he’s also the one responsible for creating the Christmas Jam Ale at Asheville Brewing Co. The beverage has since become a collaboration with Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., which produces the beer at its Mills River operation.

Riley, senior head brewer at Asheville Brewing, first launched the beer in 2009. The recipe and style have changed over the years, but it’s always supported the jam’s mission of building affordable housing.

“We wanted to help the community and Habitat for Humanity,” Riley says. “I thought, ‘Let’s make beer for the Christmas Jam.’ We approached Warren’s management, and they were receptive to the idea, and it was born from that.”

The jam beer was originally a Belgian-style wit — a type Riley says is a favorite of Haynes’ wife, SiriusXM radio personality Stefani Scamardo. Riley adds that the white color was also appropriate for the holiday season.

The beer was popular from the start and consistently sold out — a sign of the limitations regarding brewing capacity for the special-occasion product at Asheville Brewing. Enter Sierra Nevada, which agreed to take over production in 2013, increasing the number of barrels from 90 to 200. The partnership in place, the beer style changed to a session pale ale.

“As the years have gone on, we’ve done either session pale or session IPA. This year is a big, fruity IPA,” says Riley, who collaborates on each year’s release with Sierra Nevada brewer Scott Jennings.

The beer is sold in bottles and on draft around the Southeast, and Riley says it usually lasts in stores and taprooms until just after Christmas. It’s currently available on tap at Asheville Brewing’s Merrimon Avenue and Coxe Avenue locations, and will also be sold at the jam itself.

“It’s a great beer, and it helps a great charity,” Riley says.

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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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