It was only late September, but it was already beginning to look a lot like Christmas at a Costco in suburban New Jersey. Amid twinkling artificial trees and prewrapped gifts was Costco’s 2020 beer Advent calendar. The $60 kit included two dozen 16.9-ounce cans of German beer, one for each day of December up to Christmas Eve. A display of extra-large Advil was stacked appropriately nearby.
Themed Advent calendars have become big business, particularly for drinks companies. Supermarkets, big box stores, local liquor shops and others release versions filled with wine, beer, gin and even hard seltzer. Establishments that stock these calendars see pre-orders come in early and inventory disappear quickly.
“We’ve sold Advent calendars for many years, but the popularity of our collection skyrocketed when we launched our first wine Advent calendar in 2018,” says Joan Kavanaugh, Aldi’s vice president for national buying in the United States. The calendars sold out within hours of going on sale.
This year, the grocery chain plans to release 20 different Advent calendars stocked with books, candles, cheese and pet treats. Aldi’s 2020 beer Advent calendar contains 24 11.2-ounce bottles from around the globe. There’s also a 12-day box with Irish cream liquor. The wine box retails for $70 and contains 24 187-ml bottles.
“For the first time, all 24 bottles represent Aldi wine brands that are available year-round, so if you find one you love, you can stock up any time of the year,” says Kavanaugh. “Plus, we selected 13 varieties you can only find in the calendar, so shoppers have the opportunity to try new wines too.”
Aldi’s wine Advent calendar isn’t the only one with a cult following. Costco has two separate 2020 wine Advent calendars. Each retail for around $100 and feature 24 375-ml bottles from domestic and international producers.
There are online forums, websites and Facebook groups dedicated to themed Advent calendars from Aldi and others. Some offer insights on inventory at certain store locations. Others go in-depth on tasting notes for the bottles within. The Costco beer box points to an app where people can talk about the beers with other calendar holders. And this year, many Zoom happy hours will be set up among friends and strangers alike for groups to taste together.
“All wines or beers that are included in the packs are tasted by our regional buyers before deciding what to include in the Advent calendars and can change slightly each year,” says Chad Sokol, assistant vice president for liquor, Costco Wholesale. “Due to the success of the item, we are already discussing plans for next year and reaching out for samples.”
In Christianity, Advent is a liturgical season that leads up to Christmas. A somber time of reflection, the days of Advent were historically observed by marking a wall or lighting candles. Printed Advent calendars launched in the early 1900s. Some included a Biblical verse behind each date’s panel and others had goodies like chocolate.
Contemporary Advent calendars containing alcohol are usually made of sturdy cardboard with perforated daily panels that can be punched out to reveal the bottle inside. There are online tutorials for those who want to make their own iterations.
Jeff’s Spirits on Main, a small shop in West Bend, Wisconsin, makes its own Advent boxes. A hard seltzer box has an array of White Claw, Truly and Bud Light Hard Seltzer tucked inside. Similarly, Craft Beer Cellar, a shop in Belmont, Massachusetts, offered beer and cider-filled Advent calendars. Both sold out quickly.
Breweries are also making Advent-inspired packages. California’s Almanac Beer has two different holiday boxes: one for the 12 days of Christmas and another for the eight nights of Hanukkah. Customers can choose based on their taste preferences, including sour ales or hoppy IPAs.
The Illinois Craft Brewers Guild collaborated with 24 different state breweries to create one box tied to the season.
“What’s more fun and ‘advent-urous’ each day than surprise cheese, wines and beers during a busy time of year,” says Brandon Jones, brewmaster at Tennessee-based Yazoo Brewing Company. He spent several weeks this fall scouring stores, including Aldi and Kroger, stocking up on calendars of all kinds, something he’s done for several years.
Advent ends on December 24, but themed calendars have a more secular approach to the season. Aldi also offers a kit for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It includes seven 187-ml bottles of sparkling wine, including Moscato, Cava and sparkling rosé.
Retailers warn that these are not items to wait on.
“We were a little nervous when we booked [Advent calendars] for this season that we over committed, but then Covid came, bars & restaurants shut down or cut back service, and Costco’s alcohol sales spiked,” says Sokol. “We are unfortunately selling through much sooner than we anticipated this year.”