The original American Christmas beer, at least in modern times, is undoubtedly Anchor Christmas Ale, whose official name is really “Our Special Ale.” But even they refer to it interchangeably as Christmas Ale. It debuted in 1975 and for the first few years was the same beer, a brown ale. The only constant over the last 35 years has been that it’s always a dark beer, ranging from deep mahogany to midnight black. But beginning a few years later, they began creating a new recipe every year, often with spices — though the brewery steadfastly refuses to say which ones — and over the years some have been very spicy while others more modest. The peak spice years were the mid-to-late 1990s, and in recent years it’s been more restrained. This year’s offering is similar to the last few, with a nice spicy character that’s very well-balanced and mixes nicely with most holiday dishes, especially turkey. The spices in the beer tease out the flavors in the meal quite deliciously, and I find this works especially well if your turkey is dry (the way I like it, personally) and with the requisite cranberries, too. It’s a complex beer, and changes as it warms.
Anchor changes the label each year, too, though it’s always a hand drawn tree, created by local artist Jim Stitt. This year’s tree is based on Monterey cypress tree famous as San Francisco’s unofficial Christmas tree.
Anchor’s Christmas Ale can also be aged. From the Anchor website:
Although our recipes must remain a secret, many enthusiasts save a few bottles from year to year—stored in a cool dark place—to taste later and compare with other vintages. Properly refrigerated, the beer remains intriguing and drinkable for years, with different nuances slowly emerging as the flavor mellows slightly.
I’ve done a few vertical tastings stretching back 10 or more years. It’s a lot of fun. I still have a few from the 1980s and 90s in my beer cellar, and I’d encourage everyone to squirrel away a couple of bottles each year. In 10 years, you’ll thank me for the fun time you had with the tasting. Anchor’s holiday beer is also available in Magnum bottles, and I often save a couple and open one a few years old for my family on Thanksgiving. It’s a grand tradition, and quite tasty, too. Although it’s the oldest holiday beer still made in the U.S., it remains one of the best and if you can buy only one this, or any year, you could do no better than Anchor. As the names says, it really is a “Special Ale.”