Take it from the tap: Tom Arthur of Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey


For craft beer fans, few traditions are more cherished than the annual appearance of Christmas beers.

Tomme Arthur, part-owner/brewer at Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey in San Marcos, has been turning out these seasonal brews for 20 years. PACIFIC asked him how he puts a little ho-ho-ho in every bottle.

PACIFIC: What’s the first Christmas beer you tasted? What was your reaction?

Tomme Arthur: Going way back in time, I would think that Anchor Christmas, Sierra Nevada Celebration and Samuel Smith’s Winter Warmer were probably my first experiences with Christmas beers. The Anchor beer I remember being very spicy, the Celebration joyfully hoppy and the Samuel Smith’s being malty and brown. All of them were deliciously unique.

Can you define “Christmas beer”? Do all the beers in this category share certain characteristics?

My idea of a great Christmas beer is one that puts you in the spirit of Christmas. There are so many ways to do this.

Historically, many Christmas beers have been stronger in ABV (alcohol by volume) and something you might want to sip in front of a fire while it’s snowing outside. As that rarely happens here in San Diego, we have a slightly different perspective on how our Christmas beers should taste.

What was the first Christmas beer you brewed? Did drinkers greet it as a holiday present, or as a liquid lump of coal?

In 1997, I brewed the very first batch of Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout. It was dark as night, smoother than a lump of coal and was incredibly well received.

Can you describe the Christmas beers you brew now for Port Brewing?

Since opening our doors in 2006, here in San Marcos, we have produced two Christmas beers each year. Port Brewing has released Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout. This recipe hasn’t changed since it was first introduced.

We also are producing Santa’s Little Helper in four-packs for the first time, so look for those out in the world.

That’s one. The other Christmas beer you make in San Marcos?

In years past, The Lost Abbey seasonal was Gift of the Magi (an ale in the biere de garde style). New this year to The Lost Abbey is Gnoel de Abbey, which is replacing Gift of the Magi. This is a blended beer featuring a freshly brewed base beer, which we married to some barrel-aged goodness.

The resulting beer is deep garnet in color with some incredible hazelnut qualities. At 8.5% ABV, we think it’s shockingly light and refreshing.

Other than your own, which Christmas beers do you always turn to at this time of year?

My dad makes a mean Egg Nog with Wild Turkey 101. Does that count? If not, I still crush as many Sierra Nevada Celebrations as humanly possible.

Let’s go to the hops

December beer events in San Diego

Dec. 10

The jolly old elf will hitch up his reindeer and fly to Benchmark Brewing to meet young fans. From noon to 2 p.m., kids can pose for photos with Santa Claus for a $5 fee. Parents are welcome to order a pint, while Nana’s Heavenly Hot Dogs will attend to hungry visitors of all ages.

Benchmark Brewing, 6190 Fairmount Ave., Grantville, 619.795.2911,

Dec. 17

Ballast Point is hosting a day-long party in honor of its imperial porter, Victory at Sea. At each of the brewery’s seven locations — Miramar, Scripps Ranch, Little Italy, Linda Vista, Temecula, Long Beach and Daleville, Va. — at least 15 varieties of Victory will be tapped. For $30, guests can quaff their choice of five 4-ounce tasters, plus snaffle a goblet, sticker and eye patch.