It's the end of another year and the begining of another beer blog post. I tried to be thematic with this month's selection and go with something...festive. Something...celebratory. Something...special. Ironically (or not) I chose exactly that, both literally and figuratively.
Anchor's Our Special Ale 2011 was my choice for a holiday beer to review for my blog. I traversed the aisles at my local beer distributor (who I am no longer patronizing due to some shoddy customer service) seeking something that was both iconic in it's tradition of producing well-known ales, while at the same time providing an offering that is both sought out and collected. And Anchor's seasonal selection fit that criteria perfectly. This is an ale that they have produced consecutively for 37 years often slightly adjusting the recipe but always remaining true to the intent behind providing a beer to be celebrated at the end of the year. And all that means just about nothing to me if the beer sucks. I mean, who cares about intent and tradition and legacy if you don't like the thing created just to fit those standards. It's kinda like the Charlie Brown holiday specials for me. I get it. They're tradition. They're nostalgic. They're...sweet? But I can't for the life of me stand them. I just don't get the appeal. Ok, the music was always enjoyable in those cartoons. But the whining, the complaining, the utter lack of humor. How the hell do these specials bring in such powerhouse ratings on TV year after year? I'll never understand it.
But back to the beer. As a whole, I was underwhelmed by this beer. But not due to it being bad or lacking anything. It was a perfectly acceptable spiced ale. Notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice were present. The taste was malty and sweet with a little kick of pine. The color was a deep, dark amber and it smelled just like Christmas (if that makes any sense...but it's exactly what I expected). Yet, because this is a beer that I had built up as being more than it was, I ended up let down. You see, year after year (uhhh...for the last 3 years) I had picked up a 6-pack of Our Special Ale with the intent on drinking one and saving one. Yet at the last minute, I'd always be invited to a holiday party without anything to bring. So, upon opening the 'fridge, I'd see it sitting there and take it with me. And every year, I'd drop it off on the counter of said party and before I could have one, they were all gone. So naturally, I believed that this beer was so good that merely upon seeing it, people were rushing to drink it. And although I was disappointed that I'd never get to sample it, I was content at being the party hero for bringing the greatest beer imaginable. After having it this year though, I've come to realize that I was simply going to parties with lots and lots of drunks happy that someone was bringing more alcohol to drink.
There isn't a whole lot to talk about in regards to a buzz for this beer. It doesn't have a high abv, only 5.5%, and yet due to the heavy spicing of this ale, I had little desire to drink much more than the minimum 36oz. The combination of those two factors resulted in a night with little more than a minor tingle in the brain. I appreciated the fact that this beer wasn't an alcoholic bomb since it came in a 6-pack and therefor could allow for maximization consumption for this month's test. Often, with beers that I drink in 12oz intervals, I find myself pining for just a little more once my limit is reached. Yet, this time --- and possibly the first time --- I was happy that the opposite scenario presented itself and I could stop once the minimum was reached. Once again, this experience reminded me of those damn Charlie Brown cartoons. Where I was just happy to get to a commercial break when watching them with others so that I could flip the channel to something...ANYTHING...more entertaining. Seriously, I could never get past the first 15 minutes of listening to the bald bastard bitch about the most insignificant of issues. What a pussy...
I suppose the one thing that I should be thankful for in regards to Our Special Ale is that (unlike other Anchor beers) when you just don't feel the need to drink a lot of it, you aren't punished the following morning.with an unjust hangover. When I awoke the next morning, outside of feeling a little dehydrated, there were no other symptoms pointing towards that of a hangover. I was able to function regularly throughout the day and even operated heavy machinery (that is, if you count a lawn mower as heavy machinery. I do, those fuckers are heavy). So, in continuing with my Charlie Brown analogies, this hangover felt much like the end of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or "Charlie Brown, You're My Hero". When they're over, I'm both parts relieved and frustrated that I wasted my time with them.
And now for a surprising twist...I really liked this beer. I really appreciate it on many many levels. The fact that it is tradition and an annual release in a small window around the holidays adds a certain level of panache to it that can't be quantified or judged. The same way eggnog sells like hotcakes from November to January, I understand the need to brew, buy, and drink a beer made just for this time of year. And even if it isn't perfect or lives up to your expectations, it's the anticipation that matters. The excitement to see a familiar product on the shelves year after year knowing that you can only get it for so long before it won't be around ever again (until the next year of course). The comfort, the reliability, the familiarity with something you have made into a tradition is immeasurable in terms of being good or bad. It just is. It reminds us that no matter how much has changed for better or worse, some things will always be there for you. Kinda like the way those damn Charlie Brown movies seem to do.