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

Our Special Ale 2018 (Anchor Christmas Ale)Our Special Ale 2018 (Anchor Christmas Ale)
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Style:
Winter Warmer
ABV:
6.9%
Score:
86
Avg:
3.88 | pDev: 8.25%
Reviews:
72
Ratings:
167
From:
Anchor Brewing Company
 
California, United States
Avail:
Retired (no longer brewed)
Wants
  3
Gots
  34
SCORE
86
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.
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Reviews: 72 | Ratings: 167 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
Photo of mschrei
mschrei from Illinois

4.06/5  rDev +4.6%
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
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elNopalero from Texas

3.72/5  rDev -4.1%
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
Bluecrow from New York

4.15/5  rDev +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 smcolw
smcolw from Massachusetts

3.94/5  rDev +1.5%
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
ONUMello from Ohio

3.9/5  rDev +0.5%
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
Photo of TooManyGlasses
TooManyGlasses from Canada

3.98/5  rDev +2.6%
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 arizcards
arizcards from Arizona

3.96/5  rDev +2.1%
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
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MichaelProcton from North Carolina

3.77/5  rDev -2.8%
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
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chinchill from South Carolina

3.78/5  rDev -2.6%
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
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StJamesGate from New York

3.82/5  rDev -1.5%
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
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puck1225 from Texas

4.02/5  rDev +3.6%
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
Ronl12 from Massachusetts

3.77/5  rDev -2.8%
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
Izzo from New York

4.25/5  rDev +9.5%
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
steveh from Illinois

4.03/5  rDev +3.9%
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
Photo of Beginner2
Beginner2 from Illinois

4/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

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.

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 the high temperature had swung in a mere 46 hours 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 takes 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. (It was 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.

Feb 03, 2019
Photo of kojevergas
kojevergas from Colorado

3.25/5  rDev -16.2%
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
mynie from Maryland

4.38/5  rDev +12.9%
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
Photo of JerzDevl2000
JerzDevl2000 from New Jersey

4.19/5  rDev +8%
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
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LiquidAmber from Washington

3.99/5  rDev +2.8%
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
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HattedClassic from Virginia

4/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

The beer pours a nice light brown head that dissipates quickly but leaves a nice light film over the surface of the beer. The color of the beer itself is a nice dark brown/light black color with a nice, slightly creamy texture. It's a good look and this year seems to have slightly more heft to it.

The smell is good. It has some pretty nice spice notes such as cinnamon with bits of ginger and sugar. The spice notes are accented with a light molasses note but seem to be subordinate to a good banana bread note with slight hints of yam.

The taste is a bit better than the smell. The taste definitely has a moderate banana note to it alongside a bittersweet molasses note to it.

The feel is good. It's a medium bodied beer with a pretty good creamy and hefty feel to it. It's certainly a winter warmer with a nice feel to it.

Overall, I think this is another very good Our Special Ale, It's definitely better than last years and has a nice strong and interesting dessert flavor that definitely speaks to the holidays and the weather.

Jan 08, 2019
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JimboBrews54 from Michigan

4.5/5  rDev +16%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

For 2018 we have a very dark amber, light brown brew with a decent head that hangs on. The aroma is spice with some burgundy wine but the flavor is all over that map with some fruit, spice, pine, and more. Very interesting brew this year and hope they keep this up for years to come.

Jan 02, 2019
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Georgiabeer from Georgia

3.98/5  rDev +2.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Gone are the days of spruce and Christmas spice- the anchor Our Special Ale has moved on to brown bread and baking spices- nutmeg, ginger, and a bit of cinnamon. I used to love the spruce notes, but the last few years have revealed nary a hint of them. This is pleasant, maybe a touch more pronounced and balanced than last year, but I no longer make it a point to seek this out every Holiday season- If I find it, I find it.

Jan 01, 2019
Photo of Myros
Myros from Washington

3.92/5  rDev +1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

From bottle to tulip, pours a reddish brown with a plentiful thick tan head that has some nice hang time.

Aroma is of fresh pine and spruce, sweet malt, and mild alcohol.

Taste is like drinking an evergreen with a sweet malt background. Caramel candy, a hint of sulfur, clove, bread, and cranberry. No alcohol.

Medium full, mouth coating body.

Overall, sweeter than I want it to be but then I remember it’s a Christmas ale and should be sweet and all is well. I do really like this beer and love looking forward to it every year. Thanks to Anchor for keeping traditions alive.

Jan 01, 2019
Photo of hman43
hman43 from North Carolina

4/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Look: It pours light brown with deep reddish hues. The head is tan with excellent head retention.

Smell: The aroma starts off with a bit of spiciness and toffee. As it warms there are some dark cherry notes. There are also additional pine notes in the background with bread crusts.

Taste: The flavor is highlighted by the spices and the malts. The malts resemble toffee and bread. There are some piney notes in support with dried cherry.

Feel: It has a moderately full body with a somewhat dry finish.

Overall, it is a malty and spicy beer just perfect for the New Year.

Jan 01, 2019
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kemoarps from Washington

3.86/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a ruddy dark copper. With a nice sticky manilla head. Recedes, but leaves a sticky ring and good soapy bubble island in the center.

Nose is primarily caramel malts some spicy bready notes (like rye bread). As it warms it remains very malt forward, but it gets a little sweeter, leaning more into the caramel notes and fruit notes (banana esters for sure as well as some fruitcake sweet... actually the more I'm digging into it I'm getting more banana bread connotations and I actually find myself digging it more than I'd expect as those are not the notes I like as much in a beer).

While the nose came forward as sweet and braedy, the flavour is immediately piney bitter and dull (not dull like boring, just dull like blunt like not sharp). Big dry bitter pine dominates and sits over an almost ashy body that is less robust and bready than expected. Almost none of the fruits found on the nose, and that banana bread impression is long gone.

Long bitter finish. Dry and medium bodied. Bright carbonation. I always love trying these each year, and then revisiting them years later. It's also kind of a breath of fresh air in light of all the trends that have emerged lately, as this is assertively and decidedly old school in its approach.

Dec 26, 2018
Our Special Ale 2018 (Anchor Christmas Ale) from Anchor Brewing Company
Beer rating: 86 out of 100 with 167 ratings