Posted by: Michael | 24 December 2012

Brew Review #13: Anchor Christmas Ale 2012

Beer: Christmas Ale 2012

Brewer: Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, CA

Style: Winter Warmer / Winter Ale*

ABV: 5.5%

St. Nick left me a bottle of Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale 2012. I thought it only made sense to offer a review of this particular beer today as everyone gears up for holiday celebrations. I’m sure this is available in most high-quality places; hopefully, this review will give you some food for thought as you make your Christmas beer selections.

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As Anchor will tell you, the recipe for their Christmas Ale differs from year to to year and remains a brewery secret – good luck figuring out what’s going on in the nuts and bolts of the beer (which could be fun on its own). Let’s start with how this beer looks in the glass. I’ve chosen a version of what Wikipedia calls a “Guinness glass.”

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It’s difficult to tell from this image but the beer is a deep, deep red color – so deep that you can really only tell at the bottom of the glass where a tiny bit of light gets through. The rest appears dark brown. As you can see it built up a fairly nice head. The aroma was oddly (and not necessarily unpleasantly) fresh. I expected more of a deep roasted or nutty nose, which was there but not necessarily dominating. I’d say the most remarkable characteristic was actually some sort of red fruit going on in there. There’s also some gentle spice in the background.

When I took my first sip, the question I had in mind was “Will this taste like Christmas?” I’d have to say the answer is actually no. I don’t know what I expected, but I’m not exactly sure my first association with this beer is fir trees, mistletoe, and the like. What would have made it so? Maybe some smokiness, some juniper-y flavors, or even a woodsy note or two. It isn’t necessarily bad that those flavors aren’t here, though. I was stunned at how little roastedness comes out here. There’s certainly a nuttiness on the aftertaste, which lingers pleasantly but not for too long. Those spices I mentioned on the nose also come through just a bit here, with cinnamon, or nutmeg, or clove peeking out from behind everything else.

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After a few minutes. Some lacing, but nothing extreme.

The combination of mouthfeel and flavor led me to a quick conclusion: this beer drinks like a cola. If you stuck it in a two-liter bottle and stuck a 21-and-over-only label on it, it would work just as well as it does in Anchor’s excellent bottle. It’s a little thin, and I think that’s my biggest complaint here. I also think that’s probably due more to a disconnect between my own expectations and what Anchor intended for this beer. I expected something creamy, heavy, spice-forward and roasted to the max. This beer isn’t those things.

I should say that I started drinking this beer at a far lower temperature than I would normally prefer. It somehow ended up in our kitchen refrigerator rather than the small one in the palatial Brew Review laboratory. As it warmed up, it became much, much sweeter. I also noted a slight honey scent begin to appear as the beer got warmer, which is extremely pleasant. I suspect that I’d be much happier with this beer if I drank it at a higher temperature (which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it).

Overall impressions? Not bad, and I only hold back on a more positive review due to my own proclivities. I wanted something hearty – something that I knew would warm me up after dragging a tree into the house after trudging through three feet of snow for a few hours. Anchor’s Christmas Ale 2012 isn’t that beer, but it’s quite good for what it wants to do. I would certainly recommend it for someone looking to get into darker ales; it would be an especially good introduction for the beer drinker who wants to move beyond mass-produced yeast water but doesn’t like hop-heavy brews. Plus, the fact that it’s a seasonally unique beer means you’ll have something to look forward to at the end of each year, different every time, which makes for a fun tradition around the holidays. I’ll certainly be asking St. Nick for it again (and perhaps modify my expectations for next year).

I’d include the standard reference to my Pintley account for a more detailed breakdown across presentation categories, but they don’t have this beer listed. I’ve requested it but have yet to hear whether or not it’s gotten its own entry there.

Don’t forget – alcohol is meant to be enjoyed, but it can hurt you and those around you. Drink responsibly – buzzed driving is drunk driving, too. Enjoy your fine brews in moderation, and don’t be afraid to know when it’s time to stop or call for a driver. There’s no shame in handing your keys to someone else. As they say over at Beer Advocate – Respect Beer!

*Links to BJCP Category19A, “Old Ale.”

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