Nick Carr on January 5, 2015 0 Comments Quick Characteristics Brewery: Anchor Brewing Location: San Francisco, CA Style: Winter Warmer ABV: 5.5% IBU: ? Appearance: Dark, Opaque with Splashes of Amber & Mahogany; Dense Frothy Head Aroma: Pleasant Mix of Prunes, Hops, Raisins, Pine, Spice & Licorice Flavor: Mélange of Spices Against a Small Wall of Malt Availability: Winter Seasonal Pairs With: Roasted Turkey, Pumpkin Pie, Nutty Cheeses I hope the holiday season is treating all out there well. I hope you were able to spend good time among family and friends; that Santa came down the chimney, checked his list and found you and yours in the nice column; and that you got to try a few good Christmas ales. I have a few more of my own to try before making it through the stash of winter offerings I’ve built up. Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale is one of these and, being this beer’s 40th anniversary, I thought it an even more appropriate addition in this parade of holiday libations. This is a paradoxically sad, but exciting inclusion. Sad because this will be the first time I will be trying this historical beer. Around here we usually only get Anchor Steam and Anchor Porter, and it’s only been in the last year that I’ve started to seek out other Anchor brews when I get up where distribution is a little better. So, I can’t help but consider how many fine holiday recipes I may have missed. But it’s also obviously, an exciting time; a new beer, never tried, and I’m getting in on their 40th rendition. Just in case you know nothing about this holiday ale here’s its story. This was the first Christmas beer released by a US brewing company after prohibition and can possibly claim the prize for the longest continually released American-made seasonal beer. The first rendition of this special holiday brew was rolled-out in 1975 and was a hoppy pale ale that would later become a staple of the regular lineup as Liberty Ale. Since 1987 the vintages have all been a spiced, usually darker ale, brewed only once before the recipe is retired forever. The malts, hops, and spices used in each recipe are all kept top secret, which in a way lends to the mystery and wonder of the season. Another big part of this beer’s tradition has been the label design. Just like the recipe the label gets changed every single year. A tree is used as the label’s centerpiece, but the species of tree is new each year. James Stitt has been the one behind this great label art (and all of Anchor Brewing’s label art) from the very beginning; and if interested, you can take a look at all the labels on the Anchor website. This year’s is what a Giant Sequoia might look like if it had been planted in 1975- a “big tree” with only 40 years of growth on it. It celebrates the beer’s 40 year history, while hinting at a long and growing future. These trees don’t reach their full size and majesty until somewhere around their fifteen hundredth year! This particular tree was also chosen to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Yosemite Act. Pour and Aroma Anchor’s Christmas Ale is dark, almost opaque, with only a few amber and mahogany splashes appearing in direct line with a strong light source. This one’s dense. Nice frothy head, about two fingers, with a color reminiscent of Santa’s beard after negotiating a couple chimneys. Pleasant aromas greet my curious nose; raisins, prunes, and a little licorice. Also has a strong mix of pine, spice, and hops creating a pleasing muddle of Christmas and earth. Mouthfeel and Taste Body is nicely full, but a little less than I expected, taking into account the rich aroma and dark color. It is happily round in the mouth, creamy, with slight astringency and no real warming; though at 5.5% you wouldn’t expect much. The taste is a mélange of spices against a small wall of malt. Malt shows upfront with slight tellings of fig, prune, and raisin mixing into licorice and molasses. A combination of hops and spice build across mid-palate with hints of clove, ginger, earth, and piney astringency. The pine and some bitterness really show on the swallow leading into an aftertaste that’s somewhat drying, which lingers. Finishing the Impression This may be a start of a new holiday tradition for me. Next year, I’ll be buying this one again. It’s that good. But curiosity too, will play its part- what’s different? Is it better? Worse? Can I identify more of the spices used? You have a few more weeks to find this one and give it a go. It’s nicely round without being too heavy and strikes a nice balance between the malt and spices. Buy it, if for no other reason than to say you took part in celebrating the long legacy of a single beer. Waes hael!