I believe I had this beer last year on tap, but this was my first time ever drinking Anchor Christmas Ale from the bottle. And what exactly IS the name of this beer, anyway? The bottle says "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year", the website says "Christmas Ale" and Rate Beer Advocate calls is "Our Special Ale" - so which is it!?!?!
3.4AROMA 6/10 APPEARANCE 4/5 TASTE 6/10 PALATE 4/5 OVERALL 14/20
A lot of breweries around the world release a beer just for the Christmas season and deliberately change the recipe from year to year so that it’s something of a new present each year. Anchor Brewing out of San Francisco was one of the first American breweries to not only experiment with this idea - but make it work very well. I just wish they would make it clear what exactly the name of the beer is! The front label of the bottle states "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year", but Anchor’s website refers to it as "Anchor Christmas Ale", meanwhile both ratebeer.com and beeradvocate.com call the beer "Our Special Ale". Whatever its name may be, the only way to appreciate a review of this beer is on a year-by-year basis since the recipe is changed (I wish this website would have a separate entry for each year’s edition).
The 2010 edition was not my first taste of Anchor’s Christmas-themed ale, as I clearly remember enjoying it on tap in 2009. But for Christmas of 2010 I decided to pick up a bottle for serious analysis and critique at home. I was quite disappointed with what I found.
I poured a 12oz bottle into an oversize wine glass.
APPEARANCE: Gorgeous maroon/purple/black color with three-finger, dark tan, frothy head. Good retention and lacing.
AROMA: Not much to speak of. Some spice or potpourri but nothing I can put my finger on. Also a distinct green NyQuil kind of scent. WTF?
TASTE: Up front and through the middle there isn’t much to speak of. Reminds me of a generic dark ale or a strong brown ale with some caramel sweetness. However, in the finish and aftertaste is a strange combination of peppermint, ginger, cinnamon, and dark chocolate. I actually like the chocolate sweetness, but the ginger/peppermint flavor combination ruins it. It seems to grow stronger on each swig. This is not a particularly bitter beer, but I could use some hops to rescue me from this overly-spiced palate. It gets more astringent and tannic as it warms and becomes a struggle to finish.
MOUTHFEEL: medium body, with soft, creamy texture and low carbonation.
DRINKABILITY: The first few sips are easy, but the sour palate puts me off and turns it into a sipper. Seems much stronger than its alleged 5.5% ABV would indicate.
OVERALL: One of the weirdest beers I’ve ever drank. Especially considering its superficial elements really make sound great (great head, creamy texture, complex palate). But it’s just not what I prefer or expect in a winter warmer. Hopefully next year’s will be better.