Anchor Christmas Ale Review

I know, I know, I missed a week. And then some. My good friends tryptophan and chocolate stout (Rogue’s Double Chocolate Stout, to be precise) convinced me that Thanksgiving week is for resting, not writing. But now, to kick off the winter season (I live in southern Arizona; it just started getting cold), I’ll review Anchor’s fantastic winter seasonal.

Anchor Brewing Company helped transform the American beer industry. That’s after Fritz Maytag bought it in 1965, anyway — before ‘65 it had a rather substandard reputation, which led to it nearly going out of business. When Maytag bought it, learned to brew, and began producing Anchor Steam in the early ‘70s, however, he triggered the eventual resurgence of craft beer in America.

Then, in 1975, he decided Christmas deserved its own beer, one dedicated to “joy and celebration of the newness of life.” For each of the ensuing 35 years, he’s made 35 unique beers. And 2010’s effort brings me near to tears — damn it, I’m rhyming again. Drinking this beer simply fills me with that much Christmas spirit. Also, alcohol.

Brewery: Anchor Brewing Company
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 5.5%
IBU: I’m thinkin’ 40 or so, but Anchor is quite secretive about this recipe.
Glassware: Pint glass
Serving Temp: 50 degrees
Price Range: $7-9 per six-pack
Food Pairing: Gingerbread might be nice.


This ale pours like liquid tree bark. A beige head froths up and then recedes reluctantly, leaving behind thick rings. The foam smells of gingerbread, peppermint, pine needles, and spices, such as nutmeg and cinnamon. Underneath those aromas, floral hops mesh perfectly with malty dark fruit. This beer was crafted by careful hands, hands that would’ve lent themselves to, say, clock-making, had their masters not fallen hostage to such inebriating hobbies.

My thirst pulls on the rim of the glass. Everything in the first sip matches that balanced, complex nose precisely — the only difference is subtle, smoky chocolate that emerges as you drink. I can also taste something spicy and familiar that reminds me of Belgian yeast and counterweights the piny, herbal flavors. After a bit, the beer settles into a creamy, medium-carb smoothness. Drinkable yet satisfying. A delicious fireside sippin’ beer.

For me, Anchor’s Christmas Ale appearing on store shelves heralds the holiday season. And this year’s offering might be their best yet (out of the handful of iterations I’ve tried, anyway — this beer is sorta older than I am, after all). It’s at least better than 2009’s, which was good but not outstanding. The flavors of pine and gingerbread are perfectly balanced between spicy, herbal hops and bitter, roasted malt — and as it warms, dark fruit creeps to the forefront, pushing the chocolate into the aftertaste and lending a syrupy smoothness to the mouthfeel. I suggest you follow my example and buy as much of 2010’s batch as possible before it disappears forever.

And now, my new scoring system. After listening to reader feedback, I decided to break down my scores into different categories and then let Beerzilla deliver a final recommendation. I welcome feedback. Next week, I’ll probably review the beer event I’m going to this weekend.

14 Responses to “Anchor Christmas Ale Review”
  1. Ben says:

    i plan to, godzilla!

  2. Jeremy Deal says:

    now I want some!!! Def like gettin godzilla in on the act… ever since the slanty’s laid him off, he’s been needin’ a good job.

  3. Deb says:

    Who knew Godzilla had such good taste. He is a little bossy though! I’ll definitely buy this beer for Christmas dinner!

  4. Fil says:

    I’ll second the review — I’ve only had one bottle, but it was a Mannheim Steamroller “Traditions” Christmas party in a bottle! I’ll be picking up another sixer before they’re gone. Listen to Beer-zilla!

  5. Shawn says:

    last years anchor xmas was outstanding. im in for 6 -or 16.

    • Scott says:

      Yeah, it was pretty great compared to most other seasonals … but, in my opinion, this beats it easily. Lots of similarities, but this one just seems better balanced.

  6. Ben says:

    just bought a six tonight. the first one didn’t really do much for me. the pine was a bit much. but as i drank more (hell, it was already in the glass), it got better. the second one went down wonderfully. i plan to enjoy the remaining four over the next several days.

    after that, it’s on to lost coast’s winter braun. since their downtown brown (previously reviewed here) is delicious, i can only assume that one will be as well.

  7. Ben says:

    winterbraun is not growing on me, alas. stick to downtown brown.

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