My family is woefully short on Christmas traditions. This is largely due to our being a small unit consisting of zero children or Christians, the two things that seem to make this particular holiday go 'round. But we like kids and Christs just fine, and everybody likes days off in the middle of the week, so we're trying to be as festive as possible. So I paid $25 for 18 inches' worth of tree-shaped pine bough at Whole Foods last week, my wife ordered a DVD of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, and we've been hitting the yule-log channel pretty hard. The lights that hang on our bar all year have been rebranded "Christmas lights" for the month of December. We're getting there.
One thing we're still missing, though, is a family-tradition holiday beer. For the past few years, we've made it a point to split a bottle or two of Delirium Nöel between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but at 10-percent alcohol by volume and $14 a bottle, that stuff's too potent and expensive to sustain us throughout the entire season. And our official family-celebration beer (I'll spring that on you soon, with a suitably bombastic headline) is even stronger and pricier, so that's strictly a day-of indulgence.
And just as I've been searching for an everyday holiday beer, I keep trying to find an Anchor beer to love. The California Lager is very good, but I rarely drink it, because I'm lucky enough to live near a couple of excellent lager brewers who make better versions of the same style—or at least comparable versions that don't need 3,000 miles of trucking to reach my fridge. And I just plain don't like Anchor Steam.
But Anchor is of almost unparalleled importance in American craft-beer history, and their annual Christmas Ale release is one of our most venerable beer traditions. This year marks the 40tgh edition. The label changes every year—though it's always a drawing of a tree—and so does the recipe. This year we've got a giant sequoia and a mediocre winter warmer.
Anchor Christmas 2014 pours nearly black, with ruby highlights and a thick tan head. It's very highly carbonated, jumping around in the glass like soda pop. The overcrowded aroma shows nutmeg, ginger, spruce, and light citrus. The flavor features all that plus a light bready malt with a bit of toffee. The short, dry finish is fairly bitter for the style, which helps clean things up.
If Anchor Christmas Ale is part of your annual holiday celebration, then you should definitely buy a six-pack of this (as you surely already have). But if you, like me, have only dabbled in Anchor Christmases past, this isn't going to be the year that turns you into a diehard.
This is Drunkspin Daily, the Concourse's adequate source for booze news, reviews, and bullshit. We'll be highlighting a beer a day in this space; please leave suggestions below.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
The Concourse is Deadspin's home for culture/food/whatever coverage. Follow us on Twitter.