The Our Special Ale (Anchor Christmas Ale) is an American Winter Warmer brewed by Anchor Brewing, and for the purposes of this craft beer review, the ale was served in a shaker pint glass from a bottle.
What You Need to Know
Since 1975, Anchor has been brewing this winter seasonal. Every year features a new label design with art by James Stitt (more on that below). While the recipe is kept secret, just know that you’re getting a malty brew featuring toasty cocoa, roast, seasonal spices, and pine resin.
This Winter Warmer pours a clear mahogany hue that shines with a ruby red glow when held to the light. The ale is topped by an inch-thick cap of dense, tan-colored foam that shows fair retention. The head’s retention doesn’t seem quite as long-lasting as in the past.
This year’s Christmas Ale is bright with a scent of fresh pine needles. In the past, it’s been somewhat sweet and spicy with a scent of dark fruits and nutmeg.
The palate is led with toasted bread with an earthiness of wood. Floral begins with a mild bite of floral hops followed by an earthiness of wood, piney hops, roast malt, and lemon tea. The finish is warm with spices of nutmeg and cinnamon; subtly sweet with a taste of dark chocolate and a hint of dark fruit.
The feel is smooth with a body that’s a shade over medium with moderate carbonation. Its maltiness makes it seem fuller than in reality. Finishes with a pleasing warmth from the spices and alcohol.
Presents well, its aroma is inviting, and its feel is just right. And most importantly, its palate is a delicious blend of hops, malts, and spices. If anything, its warmth might be a bit too modest, but otherwise, the Anchor Christmas Ale wonderfully represents the style and season.
A Holiday Tradition
Anchor has been brewing their “Our Special Ale” every holiday season since 1975. Each year Anchor offers a new take on its recipe making it a holiday surprise. And the label art always features a new illustration of a tree by Bay Area artist James Stitt. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew.
For example, in 2017, the label art featured a Santa Lucia fir, a rare tree limited to California’s central coast. For 2019, the ale’s 45th anniversary, Stitt illustrated the Western Arborvitae – the “tree of life” – across the label. It is an evergreen conifer native to Northern California, the same region that Anchor has called home for over 123 years.