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Anchor Christmas Triple Feature

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Every year, I buy a six pack of Anchor's Our Special Ale, their Christmas beer, but I never drink all of them. I always reserve 3 or 4 bottles to try in the following years. This year marks the first time I managed to wrangle bottles from three separate vintages in one tasting. And if I keep the tradition going, I might be able to swing four varieties one year. Oh sure, the recipe changes each year (along with the label and the tree depicted on such), so it's not a true "vertical", but it's an interesting and fun experience anyway, amirite? Of course I am. I'm awesome. So let's get this party started:

Anchor Christmas Vertical
(Click for larger version)

Anchor Our Special Ale 2013 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a deep, dark brown color, maybe the faintest of hints of amber when held to the light, and about a finger of off white head. Smells full of those standard mulling spices, cinnamon and clove seem very prominent, but some other usual suspects seem to be hanging around as well. Taste follows the nose, lots of spice up front, with the sweet malt backbone filling in the middle, and the spices return for the finish, which also has a light, almost dry bitterness (nothing like an IPA or anything, but this isn't super sweet either). Mouthfeel is smooth with a spicy snap, well carbonated, and a relatively dry finish. Overall, it's another rock solid entry in the longstanding series... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/7/12.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2012 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a very dark brown color, almost no amber even when held to light, with a finger of dense, creamy looking head. Smells oddly muted, typical spices are there, but not as prominent as it was fresh (or as the other vintages). Taste is similarly faded when it comes to the spices, but the malt picks up a little slack, keeping it interesting enough. As it warms, I'm getting a little more of the uncommon spices (anise?) Mouthfeel is smooth, well carbonated, a little thinner than 2013, but still medium bodied. Overall, it's decent, but not as good as it was fresh last year, nor as good as the other vintages I had tonight... B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/7/12.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2011 (Anchor Christmas) - Moar dark brown beer here, finger of off white head. This nose seems to have held up better than the 2012, lots of spice, and maybe even a nice sugary component. Indeed, I think this nose is just as good if not better than the fresh 2013 juice. Taste also held up well, plenty of spices, and they're more harmonious here than in 2012 or probably even 2013. Mouthfeel is smooth and crisp, medium bodied, highly drinkable. Overall, this has held up remarkably well. It's not a religious experience or anything, but it's still really good, and definitely my favorite of the night. Go figure. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/7/12.

So there you have it. You see? I don't drink barrel aged face melters every day... Though, um, I did have one later this night, which we'll get to next week. See you then.

Decembeer Club II: Electric Boogaloo

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. As usual, a core group of stalwarts showed up, along with some new faces and other return guest stars. All told, a solid turnout, plenty of good beer, and a fun time had by all.

Decembeer Club 2012
(Click for bigger image)

Apologies for the image quality. Brightness kinda got away from me there. Stupid flash. For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we tried are below. Standard disclaimers apply, though I think I've achieved a new level in beer nerdom in that I've already had (and probably reviewed) a lot of the beers presented here. Go figure. Roughly (yeah, yeah, gimme a break, it's a social gathering after all, you're lucky I can do this much) listed in order of drinking, not the order in the picture above:

  • Hitachino Nest White Ale - This has actually been on my radar for a while, but it's not something I've ever tried before. It's a very solid Belgian wit beer, not super strong on the wheat (though it's there), more defined by the Belgian yeast character of fruit and dry spice. Sorta reminded me of St. Bernardus' Tokyo beer, which is not suspicious at all, as Hitachino is Japanese (I swears, I didn't realize it when I was drinking, except perhaps subconsciously because Hitachino does sound pretty Japanese). Really worth checking out, and it won't break the bank like St. Bernardus will. A-
  • Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer - This must be the 4th or 5th time I've had this. I've always enjoyed it too, though I didn't have any sticky toffee dessert dish to pair it with (like I normally do). A solid contribution from a beer club newcomer. B+
  • Ommegang Scythe & Sickle - Malt-focused, Belgian-style harvest ale, recently reviewed! Well chosen and well placed in the tasting. This works well with food (which came out as I was drinking this)... B+
  • Ballast Point Sculpin IPA - Yep, another that I've had several times before, but I do love this beer. It seems that some beer club members have been doing some research on Beer Advocate and this is a pretty good choice. Well played, Paul. A-
  • Magic Hat Hi.P.A. - A decent enough IPA that I think just pales (pun intended!) in comparison with Sculpin. Flavors seemed muted and a little bland, but seemingly well crafted enough. Not something I'd seek out again, but I wouldn't turn it down if you handed me one. B-
  • Kaedrin Abbey Dubbel Xmas - A variant on my homebrewed abbey dubbel beer, when I was bottling and I got to the bottom of the bucket I added a cinnamon stick and some clove to the remaining beer. Alas, I didn't get much additional spice out of this, at least in my small sample. However, I feel like the beer has finally conditioned into something solid. Still not quite what I was going for, I think perhaps too much in the Special B department, yielding a bit too much in the way of toasted malt character, but still, it's coming along well. I will refrain from rating this for now, as I don't think it's peaked yet, but perhaps a full review will be forthcoming.
  • Anchor Our Special Ale 2012 (Christmas Ale) - Just reviewed this one yesterday (along with the 2011 variety). This was one of my contributions, so of course it was good.
  • Evolution Secret Spot Winter Ale - I've enjoyed most of Evolutions offerings that I've tried so far, and this one is no exception. But it's not really exceptional either. Another beer that may have suffered a bit by comparison to the previous beer. Technically an altbier, this drinks kinda like a winter warmer without the spice. I like. Want to try again in better context. B
  • Lagunitas Brown Shugga' - Yep, just reviewed this one too. Big flavors do well in beer club setting.
  • Mikkeller Santa's Little Helper 2011 - One of my contributions... I've had the 2010 vintage, and though Mikkel claims to tweak the recipe every year, this seemed pretty similar to me. It's listed as a Belgian Strong Dark, but it reads more like an Imperial Stout. Lots of chocolate and roasted malts, smooth, well hidden booze. It's said that this is a spiced beer, but it's hard to detect in this. Definitely a complex beer, and I'm guessing the spices contribute to that without being overpowering. Overall, a very good beer, worthy of the holiday. A-
So there you have it. Another successful beer club. Good company, good food, good beer. As always, already looking forward to the next installment.

Anchor Christmas Double Feature

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Every year, I buy a six pack of Anchor Christmas. And every year, I remember why I don't normally buy six packs. On the other hand, this yearly tradition, when combined with my packrat tendencies, yields the possibility of a vertical. Yeah, yeah, Anchor Christmas has a different recipe every year so it's not technically a "vertical", but it's close enough for me. Just to underline the inappropriateness of this non-vertical vertical practice, I sandwiched them around a filmic double feature of Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. So there.

Anchor Christmas 2012

Anchor Our Special Ale 2012 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a dark brown color with a couple fingers of fluffy khaki head and plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells of mulling spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, and the like, maybe even anise, but the malt and hops seem to peek out a bit, even if they're overshadowed by spice. The taste is also pretty well defined by all those spices, but the malt backbone also asserts itself, some caramel and toast going on (maybe even a hint of coffee? As it warms I seem to be picking this up more...), and I'm getting some bitterness in the finish too. It's no pale ale or anything, but well matched with the spice. There might be a faint amount of pine or spruce or something going on here, though I'm not sure if my mind is just playing tricks with me or what. Mouthfeel is a little on the thin side, though there's enough substance there to make this feel right for the style, an Overall, I like this, it's a solid entry in the winter warmer style, if not quite a transcendent experience. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/1/12.

Anchor Christmas 2011

Anchor Our Special Ale 2011 (Anchor Christmas) - Pours a dark brown color with a very slight amber tint to it and a finger or two of tightly bubbled, tan head that leaves just a bit of lacing as I drink. The smell is actually quite similar to this year's entry, lots of mulling spices, some malt character. The taste is again quite similar, though that coffee flavor I was picking up in this year's edition is not here. Still, lots of bright, clear spice, maybe more than this year's... Nice range of malt flavors coming through here too. Mouthfeel is a little more robust than this year's, but comparable, relatively light. Overall, both these beers are pretty much on par with each other. I think I might like this one slightly more, but only by a sliver. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/1/12.

Anchor is apparently considering a bigger change for next year's batch: The 2013 Our Special Ale might no longer be a spiced beer. "I think we've taken this about as far as it can go. I'm leaning toward making a big change for next year." Color me curious. Early editions of the Christmas beer were pale ales, which isn't really very wintery, but why not? Or maybe they'll go more stoutlike. Perhaps even increase (or, heck, reduce) that ABV... Whatever the case, it seems that next year's vertical may display some more dramatic differences than this year's edition. Sounds exciting.

Anchor Christmas Double Feature

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Every year, the craft beer pioneers at Anchor Brewing put out a special Christmas ale as the holiday approaches. It's apparently quite the beer dork tradition, and while I've only started drinking these last year, I was excited for this year's installment. The recipes change with each iteration (as do the labels), so it's only natural that folks save a few from previous years and compare them. Since the recipes are different, it's not technically a "vertical" tasting, but I thought it would be a fun exercise and besides, I had totally forgotten about the 2010 bottle that was sitting in the back of my fridge. So on one cold evening, I threw on a couple of Holiday horror movies (both of which were rather unremarkable) and popped my two Anchor Christmas vintages (both of which were rather good) for a comparative tasting, starting with the 2010.

Anchor Christmas Ale 2010

2010 Anchor Christmas - Pours a very dark brown, just a hint of ruby red when held up to the light. About a finger of tan head. Aroma is quite nice. Very sweet smelling, maybe brown sugar and vanilla in there with a faint hint of dark fruit (raisins?). Taste has some spiciness to it, and that brown sugar character is there too, but there's an overarching flavor I can't quite place and a strange bitterness that settles in the finish. There's an aftertaste that isn't particularly pleasing. Mouthfeel is still quite nice, even after a year, though perhaps a bit on the light side. Here's the strange thing - I like this beer and I think it might even be better than it was last year, but I'm rating it lower than I did last year. I definitely overrated this last year, but I'm really glad I retained this bottle. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/2/11.

Anchor Christmas 2011

2011 Anchor Christmas - Also pours a very dark brown, though not quite as dark as the 2010 variety, and more reddish colors show through when held up to light. Aroma is very spicy - cinnamon is clearly apparent. It smells sweet, but with none of that brown sugar or dark fruitiness from 2010. The taste seems much spicier (again with the Christmas spices of cinnamon and nutmeg, etc...) with a complex arrangement of malts. On the other hand, the bitterness here is much more subdued and better matched to the beer, leading a nicer finish and less of an aftertaste. The mouthfeel is again nice, though again a bit lighter than expected. As the beer warms, it seems to get more complex and ever more drinkable. Overall, I think it's a small improvement over last year, and quite a good beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/2/11.

I actually really like some aspects of the 2010 beer (a fantastic aroma coming off that thing), but I do believe the 2011 to be a more balanced brew. This was fun - I'll probably save a few of the 2011 bottles and do the same thing next year. I've also been cracking a few of my homebrewed winter warmers lately, and I'm happy to report that they compare favorable to the Anchor beers (which were the basic inspiration for my recipe).

Anchor Liberty Ale

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Pale ale! Yeah!* According to Anchor's website, this beer was introduced in 1975 and "Before it became a permanent year-round product, variations of our Liberty Ale formula enjoyed brief tenures as Our Special Ale, available at Christmastime." Huh, I think I'd like to try that. But since that will never happen**, I'll have to settle for the regular Liberty Ale:

Anchor Liberty Ale

Anchor Liberty Ale - Pours a slightly cloudy golden/orange color with tightly beaded head that leaves lots of lacing. Smells hoppy, a little bit of citrus and maybe even some pine. Taste is sweeter than I was expecting, with just a bit of a hoppy bitter bite in the finish and aftertaste. Mouthfeel is surprisingly strong for a simple pale ale, though it's not a particularly full bodied beer or anything. Overall, it's not one of my favorites, but it's a nice enough brew. B

Beer Nerd Details: 5.9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass on 8/26/11.

* Ok, sorry, but sometimes it's hard to make standard styles like pale ales exciting. Nothing against pale ales, of course. Some of my favorite beers are pale ales.

** Not that I'm bitter.

Anchor Steam

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So, what happens when you take a lager yeast and brew it at ale temperatures? In general, lager yeasts like to ferment at relatively low temperatures (somewhere around 50° or so), while ales favor warmer temperatures (let's call it 70°, though there's actually a pretty broad range). 19th century Californians, lacking refrigeration or even natural sources of cool water, didn't really have much choice in the matter. The result is called Steam beer, aka California Common.

There's no clear record on how the style gained the "Steam" moniker, but there's plenty of speculation. The higher temperatures seem to create more carbon dioxide during the fermentation process, leading to high pressures in the various brewing vessels. One school of thought says that this buildup of pressure necessitated a release of steam before the process could complete. Another theory is that brewers, having no easy way to cool the wort after the boil, would pump the hot, steaming liquid into a series of shallow, open top bins outside the brewery, thus cooling the wort and ensconcing the brewery in a cloud of steam. Whatever the case, there is one beer that pretty much exemplifies the style:

Anchor Steam

Anchor Steam - Anchor is one of the founding pillars of the American craft beer movement, and this steam beer has long been their flagship. Pours a nice, clear amber color with tons of head. Smell is sweet and fruity. Taste has a nice earthy malt backbone with a surprisingly dry finish. The body is light, crisp and easy to drink. Overall, an excellent session beer, one I could drink all night... B

Beer Nerd Details: 4.9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a shaker pint glass on 7/8/11.

Anchor will, of course, be making more appearances on the blog in the near future, and as always, I look forward to the next iteration of Anchor's Christmas Ale.

Decembeer Club

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Towards the beginning of every month, a bunch of friends from work and I meet up at a local BYOB and bring some new/interesting beers to try. This month's haul:

Decembeer

It was a mostly holiday ale theme. Conditions aren't exactly ideal for tasting, so take the following with a grain of salt, but here's what I thought of each:

  • Affligem Noël: My contribution and one of my favorites of the night. Much like their dubbel, but a little spicier. Great beer that I plan to revisit in more detail this holiday season (I have another bottle on my shelf).
  • Anchor Special Christmas Ale 2010 - My other contribution, I've already written about this, but it went over well with other folks too...
  • Delirium Noël: Raisiny and sweet, another popular beer and something I want to revisit in detail.
  • Ridgeway Insanely Bad Elf: Super boozy red ale. Not terrible, but the high alcohol overpowers everything. I'm not sure I could drink a 12 oz bottle of this, but it's interesting nonetheless...
  • Ridgeway Reindeer's Revolt - Not as dark as the Delirium, but it shares that certain raisin smell and flavor, a little syrupy sweet too. Not bad.
  • Ridgeway Reindeer Droppings - Doesn't sound appetizing, but a solid light flavored beer (technically an English Pale Ale). Not a favorite, but a decent session beer.
  • Ridgeway Warm Welcome: A reasonable brown ale, I think this one was overshadowed by some of the above beers.
  • Southern Tier Unearthly IPA - Solid DIPA, but not the top of the line (like Dogfish 90 Minute or Stone IPA)
  • Ridgeway Lump of Coal Stout: I suppose this is a reasonable stout, but there's nothing special about it and there's no holiday style to it either. Not offensively bad or anything, but not especially noteworthy either.
  • New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale - Nothing really holiday about this, but a solid session beer (I assume that this is someone's Yuengling Lager style beer).
  • Unibroue La Fin Du Monde - A first time beer club attendee brought this. Hard to fault him for that, as I love this beer.

Well, that about covers it! Again, not an especially rigorous tasting session, with the palate cleansed by a burger and fries, but still, as always, a really good time. After beer club, a few of us hit up the local beer distributer. It being PA, we could only buy a full case of stuff, but someone became enamored with Anchor's Christmas ale and bought a case of that, and four of us went in on a St. Bernardus variety pack (each of us got 6 St Bernardus beers, which is pretty awesome). As usual, I'm already looking forward to next month.

Double Feature: Holiday Ales, Part 1

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No filmic double feature this week, but I started off the seasonal beer tastings for the year on Friday as I watched the Flyers in a disappointing shoot-out-loss, courtesy of a total bullshit penalty call on Chris Pronger, without which we would have won in the initial overtime period (and the article was wrong, it wasn't a split-second before the goal, more like 3-5 seconds... not that I'm bitter). Anywho, the night's beer selections were more enjoyable than the game...

Anchor Christmas Ale

Anchor Special Christmas Ale - Anchor is one of the pioneers of independent brewing in the US, and since 1975, they've put out a special Christmas brew as the holiday approaches. The recipe is different every year, as is the tree on the label (which is quite nicely designed and very classy). It's apparently quite a popular tradition in the beer nerd community, and so I've been looking forward to this. Pours a nice dark brown color (almost black), with a big tan head that leaves lots of lacing as I drink. Smell is spicy (spruce?) with some roasted, earthy character as well. Taste features some of that spice (Spruce? Cinnamon? Nutmeg?), ample sweetness (maybe some raisins in there), and some light roastiness. Maybe a little chocolately bitterness as well, and it lingers a bit (but not in a bad way). Mouthfeel is smooth and crisp, with a medium body. It's not a particularly big beer, but it's quite delicious and I can see why everyone looks forward to this every year. A bit too rich to drink several of these in a row, but that's not a bad thing at all. I normally don't spring for a full six-pack, but in this case, I'm glad I did (not sure if I'll be able to keep one for comparison purposes next year, but maybe I'll try). B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a goblet.

Rogue Santas Private Reserve

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale - Perhaps not as storied as the Anchor, this one seems to be a popular seasonal choice. Pours a deep brown color (lighter than the Anchor ale), with a thin head and a little lacing. Smell has some spiciness in it, maybe clove, but it's mostly a hoppy aroma. Taste has more of a nutty malt flavor, with a little spiciness and a bitter finish. It actually reminds me of Rogue's Dead Guy Ale, but a little darker with some more spiciness. A solid beer, but not as good as the Anchor and not something I see myself visiting very often. B

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank from a goblet.

So there we have it. Still stocking up on winter/holiday brews, so there will most definitely be more of those coming soon...

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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