Category Archives: Anchor Brewing

The 36th Edition

This is a review of Anchor’s “Our Special Ale”, the 36th edition of their Christmas ale.

The famous aromatic spruce essence is right up front on the nose of this 36th version. This is the first edition produced after Fritz Maytag’s retirement, and perhaps the brewery being owned by a whiskey distiller, explains why I think for the first time (I maybe wrong), a 5.5% abv designation is found on the Merry Christmas & Happy New Year label.

The beer itself is quite smooth, although nowhere near the flavor complexity achieved in some earlier versions. The famous spruce signature acts as an anchor (no pun intended, or perhaps maybe not!) keeping this wassail in focus, all the way to the semi-dry finish.
Easy to drink, the aftertaste is slightly chalky, but not unpleasant.

Released on November 1, this is the freshest example I have ever sampled. I’ve been trying the special ales since the 17th edition. I still recall reading James Robertson’s review of the 16th version, where he stated that he remembered the very early editions that were non-wassail, and he said that he missed them. After 20 years of sampling these magnificent spiced ales, I would not begrudge Anchor if they decided for the 37th to start in a new direction. In other words, maybe it is time to cut the spruce loose, although its legendary popularity may make that seem improbable. Wassail was an exciting and novel holiday treat back in the early 1990’s. Its popularity amongst beer seekers created such classics as Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig and Great Lakes Christmas Ale. Eventually this lead to such high powered offerings as Lakefront Holiday Lager.

Much of the mystique and aura associated with these annual offerings has become almost expected. Those who are new to Anchor’s Christmas will experience an exciting new universe that I first discovered two decades ago.



The stage was set to try the Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary ale. A collaboration between SN and Anchor, known as Ken and Fritz Ale. A stout. No denying it.
The 25 ounce bottle complete with with caged cork is a beauty to behold. The black label seemed and was perfect.
What kind of glass to pour this into? With all the wine-like presentation, a snifter might seem in order. But I chose less pretension: a straight up American ale glass.
Pouring this beer produced a cascade of brown foam that took awhile to settle down, where it appeared like chocolate meringue, substantially thick, but surprisingly, little aroma.

Although I do not listen to western classical music much, I put on a CD of the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Szell, of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. This provided musical background.

What was truly remarkable about Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary was the fact that no one flavor dominated in the malts presentation. Only the hops in the finish reminded me that this was a product from Chico, California. But what a loving tribute to Stout as recipe style. I was reminded while tasting this of all kinds of stout. From Irish dry to Imperial to Foreign and everything in between. A magnificent reminder of how great this recipe style truly is.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention the strength of this ale. A 9.5% alcohol by volume number, which I could not detect at all in the beer, just all malt goodness. I was happy I was not splitting this fifth. Besides hiding its strength, 30th Anniversary is incredibly drinkable.

The Beethoven was 34 minutes long, and I must have sat there another 15 minutes trying to fathom the quality I was tasting. “Finishing it off” as it were, I then proceed to bed, where I slept a full seven hours of dreamless sleep. I awoke refreshed with no hangover and totally convinced of the restorative power of malt. Cheers!