Our Special Ale 2018 (Anchor Christmas Ale)
Anchor Brewing Company

Our Special Ale 2018 (Anchor Christmas Ale)Our Special Ale 2018 (Anchor Christmas Ale)
Rate It
Beer Geek Stats | Print Shelf Talker
Anchor Brewing Company
California, United States
Winter Warmer
3.89 | pDev: 7.97%
Apr 11, 2021
Oct 08, 2018
Very Good
Our Special Ale 2018 (Anchor Christmas Ale)Our Special Ale 2018 (Anchor Christmas Ale)
Notes: This year’s brew marks the 44th annual release of this Anchor holiday tradition. Every 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.
View: More Beers
Recent ratings and reviews. | Log in to view more ratings + sorting options.
Photo of rorjets
Reviewed by rorjets from Connecticut

3.75/5  rDev -3.6%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75
Poured from the bottle into a snifter glass. Thin, almost non-existent head with little lacing. The body of the beer is a light brown, much lighter than the previous 2 years. Less spice on the nose, a bit more alcohol. The taste comes thru with plums, raisons, a bit of malt. Hoppy finish.
Apr 11, 2021
Photo of Gdabeast
Reviewed by Gdabeast from California

4.34/5  rDev +11.6%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5
A truly delicious beer, working at a boutique liquor store, went through the back of the cooler and sorted through some old products, and found this gem. We also have a few others, as far back as 2015 I believe. I had the 2020 release earlier this year, and in comparison the 2018 was more mature, the hop bitterness was dulled and the malt was more pronounced and more full bodied. A fruity sweetness comes through on the palate with silky smooth mouth feel.
Jan 16, 2021
Photo of Pegasus
Reviewed by Pegasus from Texas

4.02/5  rDev +3.3%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4
Appearance: Massive, somewhat coarse and gloriously persistent tan head crowns a light amber body. A thick, slightly irregular, but unbroken ring adorns the glass wall. Before a light, excellent clarity, and streams of fine beaded, slow-rising bubbles are revealed.

Aroma: Moderate notes of pine are upfront in the aroma, followed by dark bread, bitter cocoa, caramel, brown sugar, dark fruit, and spiced Christmas cookies.

Taste: Opens with spicy notes, molasses and rich dark malt. Later in the taste, there is dark caramel, rustic brown bread, dark fruit, nutmeg and ginger. The alcohol is slightly warming, but seems absent from the taste. Later on, there is a bit of evergreen, which serves to moderate the sweetness a bit. Finishes with lingering toasted malt and slight bitter herbal hops.

Mouth feel: Full and pleasant, very soft to the touch, with only slight carbonation.

Drinkability/notes: Different every year, but as always, excellent.

Presentation: Packaged in the ubiquitous Anchor twelve-ounce brown glass bottle with a pry-off crown, served in an Ommegang chalice.
Jan 10, 2021
Photo of misteil
Reviewed by misteil from Ireland

3.9/5  rDev +0.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75
just bought a bottle of this in a bottle shop i like, thought i was getting this years version, but it’s the 2018 version, let’s see if it holds up.

look: three finger rocky off white head with great retention, loads of lacing, beer is a murky light chestnut brown colour, slow moving carbonation within.

smell: it smells quite nice, really malty, rich dark malt aromas, rye bread, caramel, toasty, dark fruit, plum, fig, christmas cake quailities, dark chocolate, nicely sweet, exciting.

taste: that’s pretty nice alright, loads of malt flavour, smokey tobacco, black bread, brown bread, unami flavour, earthy, caramel, some dark fruits, plum and raisin, fig, dark chocolate, moderate bitterness on the finish, smokey malt flavours linger, pretty nice alright.

feel: light to medium bodied, light carbonation, a bit thin and watery, nice lingering bitterness on the back of the tongue, hint of warming from alcohol.

overall: a nice festive brew, would like to try the 2020 if i could get it, good stuff.
Nov 25, 2020
Rated: 4 by chrishiker1409 from New York

Jun 07, 2020
Rated: 2 by DerwinWentworth from Utah

Apr 13, 2020
Rated: 3.77 by tedho21 from Pennsylvania

Dec 26, 2019
Rated: 3.75 by gefinley from California

Dec 26, 2019
Photo of mschrei
Reviewed by mschrei from Illinois

4.06/5  rDev +4.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4
Part of three year vertical. One year old, middle child of the group. Creamy head and lacing. Slight spice on scent and taste. Light to medium bodied, a bit thin. Not bad, but weakest of the group.
Dec 21, 2019
Rated: 3.5 by zbooks from Texas

Dec 03, 2019
Photo of elNopalero
Reviewed by elNopalero from California

3.72/5  rDev -4.4%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75
This pours an amber color with amazing foam retention. Menthol, eucalyptus, wintergreen bomb. Heavy aroma, a touch medicinal, thinner body than I'd like for the botanical buffet going on here. I wonder how much time will mellow this out into the excellent, always different brew I've come to expect each year.
Nov 28, 2019
Photo of Bluecrow
Reviewed by Bluecrow from New York

4.15/5  rDev +6.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25
—aged a year, this clear deep amber bottle pour hosts a thin cap and a light caramel aroma. The flavor is rich with toasted malt and a bit of burnt candi sugar. There is is ginger-nutmeg note too. The finish is dry. This is great.
Nov 09, 2019
Photo of NeilSilber1
Rated by NeilSilber1 from California

3.84/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 4
Pours dark amber with thick khaki head and warming winter malty notes and nicely balanced hop zip.
Jul 13, 2019
Rated: 3.5 by Hayley_86 from Netherlands

Jun 01, 2019
Rated: 4 by TrojanRB from Texas

May 28, 2019
Photo of smcolw
Reviewed by smcolw from Massachusetts

3.94/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4
Always a favorite, I was able to enjoy this in late April on tap. There were no signs of aging in the tasting.

Near black in color where light passes through the edge. Good, lasting head, slightly beige. Excellent blanket of lace.

The smell is very smooth with definitive darker malts like chocolate. Light cream. No evergreen to the nose like past versions.

Rich body with an equally rich fudge like flavoring. The carbonation is ample but not as dominating as the full mouthfeel. Think chocolate egg cream. Relatively short aftertaste with more of the same.

Overall, this recipe is a nice departure from past entries but it's still a bit one dimensional.
Apr 28, 2019
Photo of ONUMello
Reviewed by ONUMello from Ohio

3.9/5  rDev +0.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 4
12oz bottle poured into a tulip
A: Dark brown, one finger head
S: Dark roasted malts, baking spice, a hit of hops
T: Tons of malts, baking spice, hints of cocoa and caramel
M: Medium-bodied overall, warming (though not boozy) and a bit sweet
O: A good example of the style, I just wish the palate had a bit less malt
Apr 12, 2019
Rated: 3.8 by Houborg1 from Denmark

Apr 11, 2019
Photo of TooManyGlasses
Reviewed by TooManyGlasses from Canada (AB)

3.98/5  rDev +2.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4
Pours a fairly clear deep brown with reddish highlights and 1 and1/2 fingers cream coloured head.
Aroma sweet caramel malt, some peat, clove, brown sugar, plums.
Taste starts with some burnt sugar, dark fruit, but coats with slightly resinous piney hops.
Mouthfeel is medium leaning towards thin - but still creamy and smooth - leaves with bittersweet candy-pine finish.
Mar 12, 2019
Photo of CarolinaCardinals
Reviewed by CarolinaCardinals from North Carolina

3.96/5  rDev +1.8%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4
Picked up a single from TW Arrowhead 11-13-18 for $2.99. Bottled on 10-15-18; consumed on 3-9-19. Cold stored since purchase.

Beer poured brown with a beautiful off white head that has some good hang time.

Nose has hints of dark fruit esters.

Taste is dark fruit forward with some alcohol warming with the first sips. Somewhat bready and nutty, the finish is dry with some hopping to balance the sweetness out.

Mouthfeel is medium bodied and smooth from what i think is some Belgian yeast.

Overall an interesting twist on this year's edition with the Belgian qualities. A nice departure from the heavy roasts and cookie spices.
Mar 09, 2019
Photo of MichaelProcton
Reviewed by MichaelProcton from North Carolina

3.77/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75
This beer pours a very dark caramel brown (think almost to burnt), and the transparency is minimal. There is a small khaki head, and minimal visible carbonation. You definitely get those dominant sugary scents on the nose as they describe: sweet, dark candies, but also caramelized starches. Not so much piney hoppiness to me. Sweetness continues to carry the day in the flavor, particularly on the front end. Still, there is a richness, and a touch of piney hop bitterness on the back end to balance things out and keep it from being cloying. Mouthfeel is average, but not unsubstantial. Overall, a good beer, but a disposable one.
Mar 07, 2019
Rated: 4.08 by InfernoBoss from California

Mar 03, 2019
Photo of chinchill
Reviewed by chinchill from South Carolina

3.78/5  rDev -2.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75
12 oz bottle served in February 2019.
Pours clear dark mahogany with a fine, fluffy tan head that leaves decent lacing.
The 2018 version has, if memory serves me, more spicing than some previous years. It overpower the grain bill and leaves a very spicy aftertaste. The spicing works better in the aroma where roasted grains and hops appear and contribute to an appealing and complex mix.
Feel: Medium+ body and medium carbonation.
Overall: a spicy vintage
Mar 01, 2019
Photo of StJamesGate
Reviewed by StJamesGate from New York

3.82/5  rDev -1.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4
Chestnut with beige lacing; birch beer + pine with a touch of wildflower; toffee, some woodiness, carob, gingerbread cookies, cinnamon oil, and a sweet blackstrap molasses comeback; numbing piney linger, chalky + light.

4 3.75 3.75 3.75 4

This has never been my favorite but I’m always happy to drink it. Nice spice, easy to sip, and not too sweet but also overhopped, a bit astringent, and not really what I want out of a winter warmer. I’ll take a malty English strong ale or I’ll take Sierra Celebration, but still, this is almost a tradition. And you’ve gotta respect Anchor - 44th year of this beer!
Feb 15, 2019
Photo of puck1225
Reviewed by puck1225 from Texas

4.02/5  rDev +3.3%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4
I always look forward to this beer!

Poured from a bottle into a tulip glass. Dark reddish amber color with a nice beige head and great lacing. Pleasant cherry sweet smell and taste. Cinnamon, vanilla, and orange peel. Very festive beer! Will look forward to next year.
Feb 15, 2019
Photo of Ronl12
Reviewed by Ronl12 from Massachusetts

3.77/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75
12 oz bottle into pint glass. Can't find a date.
Look is cloudy dark brown. Smell is winter spices. Taste follows and is very nice. Feel is fairly light. Overall a very nice warmer.
Feb 13, 2019
Photo of Izzo
Reviewed by Izzo from New York

4.25/5  rDev +9.3%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25
love this seasonal treat, put out in limited quantity is ageworthy for a few years, heavy beer with a beautiful creamy head, lots of spices pine and coffee notes
Feb 10, 2019
Photo of steveh
Reviewed by steveh from Illinois

4.03/5  rDev +3.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4
Couple weeks ago I stumbled on a local selling out-of-season six-packs for $9 -- couldn't pass it up. Went back for another six this week -- they raised the price to $12 (was originally priced at $16 or so). Someone must have told them they were undercutting themselves. Oh well, at least I got to try it without cutting into my beer budget.

Poured into my Libbey Imperial Pint.

L -- Clear, dark copper color with a dense, off-white head that holds up well.

S -- Sweet, candied-sugar maltiness with light fruit esters and peppery alcohol.

T -- Sweet malts with candy and molasses notes, toasted bread, mild roastiness, spiciness that almost comes across minty, hottish alcohol and pepperiness in the finish and aftertaste.

F -- Mouthfeel is soft and smooth with a semi-dry finish and a medium-robust body.

O -- A very nice, traditional "warmer" for cold winter evenings. This is a great example of how a beer can be molded to a season -- very nice to warm the bones during a polar vortex -- not something I'd reach for in mid-August at the backyard grill.
Feb 07, 2019
Rated: 4.75 by igl from Russian Federation

Feb 05, 2019
Photo of Beginner2
Reviewed by Beginner2 from Illinois

4.05/5  rDev +4.1%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5
With the change of ownership about three years past and me having reviewed this Holiday ale since 2012 and having rated it for all but the first 4 editions of this century, it is useful to take stock of the numbers and my history with this beer.

While ritual is hardly at the core of my life, I treat Our Special Ale with more ritual than anything I can think of at this moment. I usually buy a sixer and keep three for subsequent years to compare the spices and taste how that ale ages. (Let's suppose my behavior is normal.) But then, the ritual gets unusually disciplined as I have one of that year's brews at Thanksgiving, one at Christmas and one at Spring's Equinox. I will have them side-by-side with a previous vintage, usually three years old on Thanksgiving, two years old at Christmas and one year old at the Equinox. I flatter myself that I sometimes can taste a different in the spices, but my more consistent opinion is the malts of different vintages will not age at the same rate and most three year old Specials are on their way down.

Resisting this obsessive practice for the 2018 vintage, I changed up the timing of the third bottle and had it on Grounds Hog Day. But my reasons for breaking the discipline are sound: Chicago had just had its most wicked visit from an Arctic Vortex and, in a mere 46 hours, a record high temperature had whip-sawed us some 55 degrees. No further proof is now needed for three things: 1) that Climate Change is unmistakably here; 2) that the denial of this change by the most powerful leader in the world is cause for 3) that how we elect Presidents -- and conduct our public debates -- absolutely needs radical reform.

That said as diplomatically as I know how, this is what I think of this wonderful, contemplative, meditative ale.
How our Special Ale in the glass reflects small white holidays lights and turns them into sharp rubies is a marvel. Its modest foam makes it an even more appetizing Looking ale. Smells still remind me of the Holiday past. As do its Tastes. Best yet, it sits in my mouth as a soft reminder that we shall overcome today's foolishness. (Special Ale is that soft.) I paired this bottle with a cheddar so crumbly and dry that only an ale that knew its role so well would let the cheese have its say.

I look forward to tasting 2018 next year and two years hence. I anticipate the world will be a better place.

12/1/20 Just now, I had my last copy. And the world is a changed place ! Cheers !
Feb 03, 2019
Photo of Gavilan
Rated by Gavilan from Virginia

3.98/5  rDev +2.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4
I have been drinking this beer for mover 20 years and it doesn’t disappoint. I like the fact the have increased the ABV. Tastes like XMas!
Feb 01, 2019
Photo of Jugs_McGhee
Reviewed by Jugs_McGhee from Colorado

3.25/5  rDev -16.5%
look: 3.25 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3.25
Classic snub bottle nabbed at a beer store in Austin.

"Ale brewed with natural flavors.' 6.9% ABV.

Sweet and powdery, but not cloying or viscous. Balanced, hitting on scintillae of gingerbread, brown sugar, caramel malts, yeasty spice, and chocolate malts. I don't find much in terms of hop flavour; some piney or evergreen-redolent hop notes would be welcome. It's a nice spicy yet malty beer that would benefit from the added complexity of hop and/or herbal flavours.

Not the strongest vintage of Our Special Ale, but I'm glad I picked up a bottle. I'd blow through a sixer if I had one, but it's not something I'd go out of my way to seek out.

High C+ (3.25) / ABOVE AVERAGE
Feb 01, 2019
Photo of mynie
Reviewed by mynie from Maryland

4.38/5  rDev +12.6%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25
Pours dark brown with a very large and fluffy beige head.

The aroma is fuller and boozier than it's been in years past. Very spicy and mildly fruity, with nodes of candied sugars, pie spice, bananas, and sweet potatoes.

Tastes great. Sweet and fruity up front, spicy in the middle, and pleasantly boozy in the back with a finish that's equal parts hoppy and bready, like a nice dry stout. I'm not picking up the intense banana nodes that other have described: they're present, but I get more plums, bread, and sweet potatoes up front, followed by a more traditionally beery (and boozy) middle and finish.
Jan 28, 2019
Rated: 3.67 by O-Meg from New York

Jan 27, 2019
Rated: 3.5 by Karibourgeois from Texas

Jan 24, 2019
Photo of JerzDevl2000
Reviewed by JerzDevl2000 from New Jersey

4.19/5  rDev +7.7%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25
Picked this up a month or so ago, eagerly anticipating this beer. This is one of the few bottled beers that I still buy every year, as I love the variations in flavor and label just as much as the experience of having something to cap the season off with. Once again, this didn't disappoint as it was a perfect Winter Warmer without being too heavy or spicy, while just having enough nuance to it to draw me in from start to finish!

As usual, this had a lovely pour to it as the hue was a deep mahogany with a bit of light coming in around the edges. A fluffy, raspberry head topped this off as it took quite a while to settle down. Lots of lacing was left behind as I worked my way through this, as each soapy ring slid down to the next. The aroma was interesting - tons of sweet sugar, banana bread, dark fruit, and yams with a hint of booze thrown in for good measure. Dark, rich, and sweet, the taste had hints of a Wassail in it but this almost felt like a Weizenbock, even though this lacked any discernible wheat. A bit of caramel stickiness, molasses, blood orange, and pine resin rounded out the taste that came through beautifully once this fully warmed up.

The amount of alcohol here was spot-on and this was an amazingly smooth sipper in spite of everything that was going on on my taste buds. Every year, this beer remains one of my favorites as it's subtle complexity and warming effect take a hold on me and never let go. Even though the new year has passed, this is the one of the best offerings to celebrate it with and has held up well as the industry, and my tastes, have radically changed. Kudos for Anchor for sticking to their guns and never altering this extensively!
Jan 21, 2019
Photo of LiquidAmber
Reviewed by LiquidAmber from Washington

3.99/5  rDev +2.6%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4
Poured into a Fremont small snifter. Pours a dark reddish brown with a thin khaki head with That dissipates to patches with light lacing. Aroma of light biscuit and bready malt, cocoa, cinnamon, raisins and light nuts. Flavor is biscuit and chocolate malt, graham cracker, mild cocoa, allspice and a hint of pine; finishes mildly bitter and malty. Medium bodied with light creaminess. This has been an annual tradition for decades, and unfortunately it's hard to exactly remember these after a year, but this years seems similar with bready and biscuit malts with mild chocolate and fruit notes and mild pine. The flavor, as always is very seasonal and pleasant.
Jan 20, 2019
Rated: 3.7 by BubbleBobble from New York

Jan 20, 2019
Rated: 4 by Mtn from Texas

Jan 18, 2019
Rated: 3.9 by nodder from New York

Jan 16, 2019
Our Special Ale 2018 (Anchor Christmas Ale) from Anchor Brewing Company
Beer rating: 87 out of 100 with 172 ratings