PINTS & UNION PORTFOLIO: Anchor Christmas Ale is a tradition worth renewing.


My memory is hazy, owing perhaps to periodic episodes of dissipation — maybe it’s just age — but from the time I began programming beer at the Public House in 1992 (back then we called it “buying” beer), Anchor beers were available for purchase in bottles.

At least some of them were. Steam was a constant, and Porter as well. For many of us, Liberty Ale was the hoppiest beer we’d experienced at the time. We’d have loved to put it on draft. Old Foghorn was Anchor’s Barley Wine, and each year right before the holidays the brewery’s Christmas Ale would appear. Eventually it became a staple at Saturnalia.

Even before the internet we knew that the recipe and label drawing for Anchor Christmas changed each year. It was different, but within a range. My Beer Ed class tasted the 2018 version last week, and it’s still within that same general range, at least to my palate; sort of dark and sort of spicy. This year’s Christmas Ale has a noticeable pineyness (if that’s a word).

The brewery takes it from here.


2018 Anchor Christmas Ale. New tree. New recipe. Same traditions.

Our annual Christmas Ale is a subtly spiced and sumptuously smooth winter warmer. This year’s brew marks the 44th annual release of this Anchor holiday tradition.

Back in 1975, Anchor released the first holiday beer in America since Prohibition. Year after year, Anchor creates a new, secret recipe with a unique hand drawn label for their Christmas Ale, but the intent with each brew remains the same: joy for the changing seasons and celebration of the newness of life. With a heavily guarded, confidential recipe, Christmas Ale is sold only from early November to mid-January. This highly anticipated seasonal delight is complex and full in flavor, packed with toasty cocoa notes, roasted malts and strong aromas of resinous pine.

Our 2018 Christmas Ale has varying specialty malts, lending rich flavors of brûléed sugars, holiday spices and freshly baked banana bread with a velvety finish. The aromatics are quintessential for the holiday season: nutty candied yams and resinous pine. It pours a nice mahogany brown color with a fluffy, tan head.

As each Christmas Ale recipe evolves, so does its hand drawn packaging, created by long-time Anchor Illustrator Jim Stitt, who has been creating Anchor’s Christmas Ale labels since 1975. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew.

For the 2018 release, Stitt created a brimming Korean Pine Tree for the label. Native to both North and South Korea, the Korean Pine Tree is a symbol of peace and a reminder of the spirit of the season. It flourishes in the picturesque botanical gardens just north of San Francisco, Anchor’s home base.

I couldn’t get a keg as originally hoped, probably for much the same reason as Anchor Porter availability has been so unpredictable. However, we have a case of 12-ounce bottles (minus one). Enjoy them while they’re here, and maybe next year there’ll be draft.