My ladyfriend had been jonesing for the 2010 version of Great Lakes Brewing's Christmas Ale, and as any good man should, I scoured the city in search of this 4-time gold medal winner. I had heard that it was in high demand and short supply this year, but I didn't believe it until I struck out a handful of times trying to find it. I finally descended upon one of my favorite Columbus specialty booze retailers, Pace-High Carryout, where the victorious glow of Great Lakes Christmas Ale was eclipsed by a hand-scrawled note on the cooler door: "One 6-pack per customer." Since I couldn't stock up, I took advantage of Pace-High's charming "build-your-own-six-pack" cooler and cobbled together a variety of Christmas beers, winter warmers, and other year-end brews.
BEHOLD! THE TWELVE BEERS OF CHRISTMAS!!!
I will review one holiday beer every day through Christmas Day, starting with this venerable tradition from the Anchor Brewing Company.
Anchor's Christmas Ale (formerly known as "Our Special Ale") is a standard-bearer of the Christmas beer variety. 2010 marks the 36th brewing of Christmas Ale, with the recipe changing annually. Anchor changes the tree that adorns the label every year as well; according to this brew's marketing materials "Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew." This year's tree is the ginkgo biloba, which may be fitting: this beer comes highly touted, but its merits are questionable when compared to the hype.
As you can see from the photo above, this beer is dark, something similar to an American brown ale as far as color, body and malt complexities go. Held to light, it doesn't appear very cloudy, but it's so damn dark that it's hard to tell. The head is a light tan and relatively thin: it dissipated while I was grabbing my notebook to jot down my observations.
This beer emits a strong aroma of dark fruits - especially cranberries and tart cherries - that dance within roasted malts and nutmeg. This just smells like a Christmas beer should, and it seems like it would be a perfect compliment to a well-brined roasted turkey or goose.
I take my first sip and it hits me like a tannin-rich red wine: sweet and bold, but with a sharp nuttiness. The fruit flavors take the lead, complemented by roasted malt undertones.
Seeing a beer this dark, I expected it to have a porter-like texture, but it's thinner and more delicate. Still, very smooth with little carbonation, almost velvety if it weren't so thin.
Unfortunately, after the bold, fruity body, you're left with a dry, bitter, almost medicinal aftertaste of roasted malt and citrus peel. A real disappointment since I was so impressed with this beer until the very end.
Beer Advocate readers give this an "A-" based on 163 reviews.
Justin gives Anchor Christmas Ale a solid "B."