The 2016 recipe seems more spice forward than the past couple of years. I am catching more rye notes as well as more of the spruce/tree aroma and bite. I’m tasting a bit of clove as well. The malt seems to be more of a burnt roast. Overall, more hearty this year.
Of course part of the allure of the beer is the tree on the label, discussed as much, if not more than the recipe. Here is the 411 on the 2016 label: “Our tree for 2016 is the “1,000 Mile Tree” or the lone pine found during westbound construction of the transcontinental railroad. Discovered in 1869, it was a lone pine amidst a vast and desolate landscape. The tree on this year’s label was hand-drawn by Bay Area artist James Stitt, who has been creating Anchor’s Christmas Ale labels since 1975. His charming illustration of the 1,000 Mile Tree includes a person at the top of the tree with a mug of beer, honoring an old legend that railway passengers sometimes attempted to climb the tree.”
You can see all 42 of the Christmas “trees” in the collection right HERE.
For the past couple of years, I have raided the cellar for Anchor Brewing’s Merry Christmas – Happy New Year to taste test the changes in each year’s beers.
Here is how this year’s vertical stacks up:
2012 – Cider aroma. Cider taste as well. Back end is not good. Some weird flavor notes. It is well past its prime.
2013 – Sawdust hoppy aroma. Prevalent hops here which is surprising. Still good fizz to it. Like an India red ale almost. A little spice as well. Some cola notes as well.
2014 – This year was the outlier with a sweet aroma. Almost milk chocolate. Cinnamon too as it warms up. The most Christmas-y of the bunch.
2015 – Malt and fruity. Closer to the 12 & 13. It is the lightest of the group. Some pine notes.
2013 is the clear winner with 2014 coming in second. 2015 is a distant third and 2012 is a DQ for being too old.
For a refresher, here are my posts from last year covering these same vintages. Check HERE For the older years and HERE for 2014.
Up from the Cellar for December will be focusing on multiple vintages of the Anchor Christmas beer. I will be covering the years 2008-2014.
(You can check out last years review HERE)
2012 pours a dark brown color. There is a caramels sweetness here with an almost cola like sweetness. Getting a toasted bread type of note in the background too. A hint of the cherry note is underneath there lurking. But this year has held up nicely.
2013 The tree, pine, spruce notes are back! Good amount of spice and the cherry notes are gone! The cola note is in the back as well. Still lively as well. Good amount of bubbles which really helps the beer. Nice espresso foam lacing as well. Way in the back are some leafy hop notes too.
OK, I am changing the rules. 2012-13 are the winners. I will compare them to the latest incarnation. Previous to 2012, Our Special ale is just too cherry and slightly tangy to really recommend.
Up from the Cellar for December will be focusing on multiple vintages of the Anchor Christmas beer. I will be covering the years 2008-2014. And choosing a winner like college football does. Via a biased playoff.
(You can check out last years mega-review HERE)
2008 pours a near reddish color this year. The first whiff upon popping the cap is of Oud Bruin and cherry but as the beer warms up that fades off like the head diminishes. There is a decidedly fruit taste to this beer. Fruit punch primarily. Strawberry would be my next guess. It doesn’t taste bad per se but it is certainly more fruitcake and dried fruit than anything else.
2009 has a more pleasing aroma to it. Good start. And it is so different from the ’08. Cinnamon red hot flavor hits me first. Never had that in a beer before. That initial taste fades a skosh and the beer starts to taste better as it warms. There is a nice rich, full taste to this with what seems to be a darker malt bill to it.
It is kinda hard to pick a winner to move on to the next round against the victor of 2010 vs. 2011. The oldest and last bottle of the Our Special Ale had faded too much for me though it was offensive. So I have to pick the 2009, though the spice profile makes it an underdog for the next round.
I have saved up Anchor Christmas beers from 2008 through this year’s version for a special taste test. Notes below are on each year as it tastes when opened in December of this year. Followed by a short video of the major tasting….
The 2008 has a mixture of a brandy or sherry / soy sauce. The head really holds up on this one. Lots of maple syrup and soy sauce in this one. I fear it’s prime is now way long past. And yet I still have 1 bottle for next year.
The 2009 is still woodsy. A touch of spruce is there. Lighter than the 2008 and a little crisp as well. Very much like the Steam beer just with age and spruce.
2010 has a lot of cider notes to it. It reminded me of some English beers that have a touch of that note in the back. It sticks to the tongue as well.
2011 – 2013
The ’11 is the worst smelling of the bunch. I get a little bit of tree note but then more cardboard. It is worse when cold. As it warms it does get better but it is the least of the bunch. Has some sour to it as well. Some light coffee notes in the back.
2012 has more of an espresso head to it. It is a mix of spruce and caramel. It is smooth and a little viscous. A touch of cider to it as well.
And here are my notes from last year when I did the vertical tasting……
Very frothy pour with an espresso head. Aroma hints that this one may have passed prime tasting time. An old ale background with a touch of sour creeping in. Very British ale tasting.
Another frothy beer. Both were stored standing up so I don’t think it was my cellaring technique. But this one had a much lighter head to it. Some minor roast notes and a little whisper of pine. That same sourness and apple cider taste is evident in this one as in 2008.
This one poured better. More Belgian-y. Good sparkle to this one in comparison to the flatter beers form ’08 and ’09. More coffee acidity here. Again the tree and pine notes are only faint and way in the background.
Dark with a brown ale backbone. Not much spice or flavor in the 2011. Even tastes a little thin. If the others did not stand up to aging then I fear for this one.
Food GPS has been running my choices of Top 10 California beer styles. I have covered IPA’s and stouts and now it is time to do a round-up of Holiday beers!
A quick glance at my blog shows my love for the style(s) that encompass the gamut of beer creativity. And one of the best, in my opinion is the Anchor Christmas label and their website has added a cool feature that showcases all the labels in the series…
Check out the range right HERE
35 Years of Our Special Ale. I wonder what the largest vertical tasting of this great winter beer would be like.
If you have a favorite year, comment me with which year and why? I would be interested to hear the reasons.