Category Archives: Anchor “Our Special Ale”

Homeless For The Holidays

There was a time when people held on to the quaint notion that the marketing of the holidays was performed within a limited window of opportunity. Thus, you had complaints about Christmas decorations being put on display before Halloween was concluded. But in this neoliberal age of on-line smart phone shopping, that is so 20th century.
The same principle applies to the release of winter/holiday beers. It used to be the short window approach, but now, it is best to sample these beers as soon as you obtain them. In other words: the fresher the better.
This certainly applies to Great Lakes Christmas AleglcThe state of Ohio’s favorite wassail, the Christmas Ale recipe speaks for itself. Certainly the beer fans of Ohio have spoken. That is why you find stacks of this ale, often in convenience stores. The unbeatable combination of spices and honey make this a much anticipated annual treat. The fresher the better.

When it comes to American wassail, the grandfather of the style is of course, Anchor’s “Our Special Ale” 43rd edition43edThis the first Anchor Christmas Ale since the brewery was acquired by Sapporo Holdings. This is my 27th sampling of this legendary ale, where the recipe changes from year to year. Often in the last twenty years there was a touch of what has been described as a spruce essence. But this year that signature has all but disappeared, along with the associated aromatics. Instead is a deep malty presentation accentuated with unnamed spices. This produces a semi-dry dark chocolate palate that is the strongest edition to date at 6.7%. Malty from start to finish, with subtle complexity , and despite all legacy implications (or the lack thereof) this is a very enjoyable Holiday ale.

bellxmas There is that old overused saying that if it’s not broke don’t fix it! This certainly applies to Bell’s Brewery Christmas Ale. A Scotch ale, this is a classic wee heavy take on holiday festivities. To be clear, this is a beer I love to drink.

Then there is from Marshall, Michigandarkhorsexmas Dark Horse Brewing’s 4ELF ale, a winter warmer spiced ale, where cinnamon and cloves are combined with malts to create a palate that produces an impression of vanilla, swimming in a sea of dark chocolate. Despite the enthusiastic complexity, this is a surprisingly drinkable ale.

Christmas Ale party 2017 square It has been 2 years since Anheuser-Busch InBev bought the Breckenridge Brewery. Besides being banished to the Craft Brewers Association of outer darkness, the real question is: has the recipe of their Christmas Ale changed? A famous Scotch ale take for the holiday, the recipe seems unchanged and delicious. The only difference is the corporate streamlined label and packaging, which is graphically colder than their original presentation.

jubelaleThe 30th Anniversary of Deschutes Brewery Jubelale reveals that this recipe has stood the test of time. A five malt, five hop, creation that is spicy without the use of spices. Even the IBU rating of 65 is somewhat misleading. This is not some over hopped bitter bomb IPA, rather, it is a masterful example of American winter ale.

index A spiced dunkelweizen bock or as it is said on the carton: wheat bock with spices. I would not be surprised that many people in the beer world have forgotten that Samuel Adams Winter Lager has been made annually for 28 years. Not that there haven’t been a few tweaks over the years ( I still recall the first time they employed Saigon cinnamon) but this tried and true recipe I have always loved. I wish the Christmas Bock tradition would return because bock is my very favorite style of beer.
Love and peace, and that’s not so funny in these tumultuous times.
The Beer Doctor

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That Time Of Year Again

Where to begin? In 2016, what can accurately be described as the year of the improbable the festive celebration of Holiday beer continues unabated. The tried and true, along with the new, provides a tasting experience of unprecedented variety. As my beloved late father might say: there was never a better time.
For the new, I would first like to thank the excellent beer writer Peter Rowe of The San Diego Union Tribune, who sent me his impressions of a beer I have been seeking for the last two years, and that is Xocoveza from Stone Brewing stone-2016-xocoveza-12-ounce-bottleAn incredible leap of faith take on a Mexican inspired, winter spiced mocha stout. It is a One-of-a-kind recipe, with its own very special idea of what a smooth finish should be to a chile infused ale. With an enormous body, this stout’s complexity somehow manages  to be very soothing at the same time. Delicious all the way through to a malty rich, dark dry finish.

This year, Anchor’s “Our Special Ale” is the 42 edition, which is my 25th year of sampling this Granddad of American Holiday wassail merry-xmas tradition. This year’s version is also the strongest at 6.5% abv. The spruce-like elements long associated with this malt forward recipe give the palate an orange dark chocolate note. An outstanding un-compromised recipe where the word craft actually has meaning, reminding me why I started exploring the world of beer in the first place.

Something I have grown to love is the annual return of Shiner Holiday Cheercheer_6pk_background__largeSpoetzl Brewery’s unique take on a dunkleweizen that employs peaches and pecans. A lovely off center take on holiday festivities. I was somewhat shocked the first time I tasted this, but in subsequent years, it has become an unmistakable, tried and true friend.

Dogfish Head’s Pennsylvania Tuxedodogfish-head-pennsylvania-tuxedo-bottleDemonstrates that experimentation with spruce tips can produce a pale ale that hides its 8.5% strength with a tangy, citrus like palate that finishes wonderfully dry. Outstanding.

New graphics adorn the venerable Samuel Adams Winter Lagersam-adams-winter-lager

Alway delicious here in a city where it is brewed. The hipper-than-thou crowd might disparage this brew, but do not believe it. This has been a quality beer for a very long time. As TV’s Maury would say: “Unitl next time America!”
With best holiday regards,
The Beer Doctor

Back To The Good Stuff

Please pardon me for saying this, but the recent post about the M&A of A-B InBev and SABMiller was for the beer doctor downright depressing. Why? Because all it means for beer lovers like myself is that we will see yet another increase in the price of beer, for no other reason than to make these avaricious business types take even more of our god damn money, while simultaneously, forcing many good folks to lose their jobs, in the holy name of streamline efficiency. It may be an early Christmas for the shareholders, but for everybody else, it is just more difficulties.

I take solace in the fact that the creation of beer is far greater than these counting-house concerns.

A prime example of this, is the re-appearance of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2015cele-bottle-pint Now brewed in California and North Carolina, this new world holiday classic remains one of the very best. Its hop signature is Sierra Nevada’s IPA contribution to the holiday/winter portfolio. Their hop-centric concerns are now manifest in all kinds of artisan brewing creations.
Which I should not be surprised that America’s oldest brewery now makes a seasonal version of this approach, in Yuengling IPLYuengling-IPL-B_496625fc7e08e1a56d30726c29f10023 Which is a very hop-forward lager. What I enjoy about this one is the raw (some would say harsh) profile of the hops. A showcase for Cascade, Citra, Belma and Bravo hops, combined with Pale and Munich malts, and given a lively twist through the use of Yuengling’s house lager yeast. This is a powerfully flavoured 5% beer.

As November is halfway to December, I have come to realize after many years of sampling, that the best way to enjoy Great Lakes Christmas Alechristmas-fixed_1is to drink this as fresh as possible. This legendary Midwestern wassail is truly a fantastic recipe. It is no wonder that people in Cleveland line up to experience the first tasting.

When it comes to the granddaddy of American wassail,ageing is not important. The 41st. edition of Anchor’s Our Special Ale is a kind of return to those earlier versions of their Christmas ale where the emphasis was on the malts, dialling back a bit on the spicy complexity, this dark brown (nearly black) pour has a subtle nose, and an almost stout like body. Beautifully balanced, this signature beer could have only come from the Anchor Brewery in San Francisco. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year indeed.