Anchor Brewing

Beer Review – Anchor Brewing 2011 Christmas Ale

2011 marked the release of the 37th edition of Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale. Although I have only had this beer on one or two occasions, I was well aware that Anchor Brewing modifies the recipe every year. What I didn’t know was that they feature a different tree on the label of every new release. Here is what Anchor Brewing has to say about this year’s tree and the 2011 edition of their Christmas Ale:

Each year since 1975, Anchor Brewing creates a distinctive Christmas Ale, available from early November to mid-January. A rich, dark spiced ale, our secret recipe is different every year—as is the tree on the label—but the intent remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life.

Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew. Our tree for 2011 is the bristlecone pine. Found high atop California’s White Mountains, bristlecones are among the oldest living things on the planet. Some date back nearly 5,000 years, to the dawn of the ancient art of brewing.

Each year our Christmas Ale gets a unique label and a unique recipe. Although our recipes must remain a secret, many save a few bottles from year to year. Properly refrigerated, the beer remains intriguing and drinkable for years. Different nuances emerge as the flavor mellows slightly, much like the memories of great holiday seasons past. Celebrate the holidays with Anchor Christmas Ale, an Anchor tradition since 1975.

I love the bottle. I love the label art. Let’s see if I love what’s inside this über-photogenic packaging…

  • Appearance: Ruby red color with dark brown highlights. Quarter inch, tan head that dissipates slowly.
  • Aroma: Lots of spices. Smells a lot like a mulled wine with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, etc.. Mild, piney hop scent in the background.
  • Taste: Light to medium bodied with a good amount of carbonation. Somewhat watery mouthfeel. Starts off with some mild, sweet maltiness. Mild hop bitterness from middle to end. Mildly sour and bitter finish. Where did all those spices go???
  • ABV: 5.5%

I REALLY wanted to love the Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale, but sadly, I didn’t. It’s a beautiful pour, it smells really interesting, but the flavors just left me kind of cold. To be completely honest, it might be the style that I have a problem with. I’ve tried other Christmas/Holiday beers (i.e. Tröegs Mad Elf, which is very highly regarded), and they’ve all left a similar impression on me. In a word: meh.

13 replies »

  1. There is much in the world of art, food (except for most of the food that you’ll allow to pass the threshold of your lips), cars and craft beer that we, as examples of our respective peoples’ can agree upon. Alas, there are still few that, for time immemorial shall mark clear and unbridgeable distinctions between ourselves and our forebears. It is, as a matter of geopolitical reference, true that you are the spawn of peoples of an oft conquered and weakly understood agrarian Mediterranean island, whereas, I am bred of the peoples of a similarly oft conquered sub Mediterranean desert. Our ancestors and cultures have given much to world by way of criminals possessed of unprecedented capacities for violence and financial acumen and the culinary tastes of our earth’s inhabitants have benefited greatly from the global acceptance of both the stromboli and the gefelte fish.

    It is in that spirit of history and acknowledgment of mutual cultural greatness that I deign to disagree with your evaluation of this year’s Anchor Our Special Ale.

    This is at least the 22nd consecutive year that I’ve had their holiday brew (most of them while of legal drinking age save for the years of my portal transportation) and with only a few exceptions, I’ve enjoyed all of them. Last year was one of the few disappointments – not enough complexity – too thin. I really like this year’s offering. It’s nicely balanced with a hearty “bock-like” malt backbone, enough piney hops and a swirl of spices that compliment the brew. I do agree with you on this year’s Mad Elf – I felt it really missed the mark.

    Perhaps a bag of Khyber Pass Bacon Fat Fried Popcorn can bring us together………

    Happy Boxing Day!



    • Man, that’s a long way of saying “I disagree, I liked it!”

      Remember as the Bard once wrote:

      “Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
      And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
      I will be brief.”
      ~William Shakespeare, Hamlet


  2. I was sadly disappointed with this. I haven’t had a release in years. Back in the 80s you almost HAD to pair this with a food it was so bold. But like you said, this year’s was like so many other Holiday beers out there – just OK.


    • Actually, I thought it was less than ok. Guess I let my expectations get the best of me. I suspect that I would like this better the 2nd time around.


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