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Classic Beer of the Month December 2017: Anchor Christmas Ale

Anchor Christmas Ale, 6.7%

There are some who like it and others who loathe it, but the addition of aromatic spices to a Christmas beer is now a tradition.

Anchor Christmas AleThis use of spices may have come about because a little spicy warmth helps keep out the winter cold or because spices also feature in traditional Christmas fare – the plum pudding or the Christmas cake, for instance.

One particular brewery that has made an annual feature out of the idea is Anchor in San Francisco. Every year since 1975 the brewery has produced a spiced ale for Christmas, but it is never the same spiced ale.

The label, sometimes carrying the words ‘Our Special Ale’, has a different design every year and carries a picture of a different species of tree each time – a symbol of the winter solstice when the Earth, ‘with its seasons, appears born anew’, according to the brewery.

The tree for 2017 is a Santa Lucia fir, a rare species native to California.

The recipe and strength are always different, too, with the ingredients a closely guarded secret. As well as spices – perhaps cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, juniper or clove – other natural flavourings may be added.

Bit of a Mystery

All this means that providing meaningful tasting notes is a little on the tricky side, but you can expect something rich and malty that leaves a golden glow inside.

Sometimes there’s a spruce note; at other times a touch of perfume. There could be vanilla, or maybe lemon, and perhaps coffee or chocolate.

According to the brewery, the 2017 edition (6.7% ABV) is a deep mahogany colour with ‘flavors of creamy bittersweet chocolate, coffee, roasted malts and toasted nuts’.

So, every year it’s all a bit of a mystery. Like Christmas itself, this is a beer that benefits from anticipation.

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