Thursday, December 17, 2009

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Don't know why, but I'm a sucker for any sort of Christmas beer: slap a Santa Claus, snowy landscape or a decorated tree on the label and chances are I'll buy it. Damn you, cheap marketing ploys. Of the myriad of Christmas-time offerings from American Craft brewers, there are of course a handful that really stand out as the cream of the crop. One of those is Our Special Ale from Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco. It's been a few years since I've enjoyed this one, but it's a whole new experience regardless. This may be the 35th Anniversary of OSA, but Anchor changes both the recipe and label each year, and each year OSA fans rave about what a great beer that particular year's batch turned out to be. The concoction for 2009 is no exception.

It pours wonderfully, with a murky brown ruby body and a somewhat creamy beige head that leaves thick rings of soapy residue on the glass.

The aroma and flavor are, for lack of a better term, like Christmas in a glass. There's a healthy dose of molasses, brown sugar, cinnamon and spruce, with perhaps a bit of pine as well. Throw in a touch of caramel and even some cocoa in the back for good measure. Everything just noted is balanced impeccably for a unique and impressive aroma. The flavor remains balanced yet allows for some of the characteristics to breathe through a bit more. Molasses leads the way up front and blends with a bit of a fruity flavor, while the finish is dry and a bit earthy even from a bit of roasted malt, but also a bit spicy from a dose of cinnamon and even a pinch of nutmeg. Spruce and pine mix in throughout the entirety of each sip but shine the most in the middle and just before the finish.

What really makes this beer what it is might be the mouth feel. Carbonation is kept at lower levels which leads to a medium bodied, heartier, chewier beer that just feels traditional, like you should be taking your mug of OSA from the bar and pulling up a chair next to Ben Franklin and Paul Revere in a Colonial tavern. A bit nerdy? Perhaps, but it is what it is.

You want to try this beer. Really. It's that good. Spices are not over the top and invasive as they are with, say, Harpoon's Winter Warmer, but they're not subtle either. Everything just blends together and hits the mark across the board, and the end result is a great beer to enjoy either with friends and family during the holidays or all by your lonesome next to the Christmas tree and fireplace.

Hopback, beer, Anchor, San Francisco, California, Christmas, Ale, Our Special Ale