Anchor Brewery winter brews bring holiday ‘cheers’

Anchor Brewing’s newest winter suds are a gift for your holiday taste buds.

In keeping with the yuletide spirit, the San Francisco-based microbrewery is releasing two new beers, one of which harkens to a tradition of its revolutionary owner Fritz Maytag, and another pushing the boundaries of wheat fusion.

The 2015 edition of the annual Christmas Ale, and this year’s seasonal beer, Winter Wheat, hit stores and taps in November, just before the holiday festivities.

The 2015 edition of the Christmas Ale is a spiced ale, which wasn’t what it was originally when it was conceived 41 years ago in 1975 by then-brewery owner, Fritz Maytag. According to brewmaster Mark Carpenter, Maytag started making a Christmas ale to experiment with different flavors:

“It started being a spiced ale in beginning in 1987 but before that it wasn’t always a spiced ale. From 1975 to 1984, it was more like a pale ale. From ’84 to ’87, it was just a brown ale. When we first did a spiced ale, I thought it would only last for a couple of years and we’d move on to something else, but public reaction has been favorable and we’ve stuck with it since.”

Carpenter also told SFBay that, aside from creative reasons, the holiday brew was made for practical and business purposes, with the once-a-year beer taking up sales slack during the winter months.

The Christmas beer also draws a buzz for its label design, which changes every year to depict a different type of tree. This year’s label depicts a cedar; last year’s arbor artwork was a sequoia.

The recipe of the Christmas ale is a tightly guarded secret, and Carpenter said the spice ingredients are never revealed:

“We change the spices every year. Some years there are great changes and in others it is just small tweaks.”

Teagan Thompson, assistant marketing manager for Anchor Brewing, said this year’s ale is less spice-heavy on the palette and represents a tribute to vintages of years past:

“I would say there is less focus on the spices, with the removal of some to let others shine through and a higher focus on the roasted malt. So you get this kind of bread-like, pastry, nutty flavor versus that strong piney spice, which you get more prominently in ales past. You still get a hint of piney, but only to a degree.”

Although not as steeped in tradition and secrecy as its holiday counterpart, the Winter Wheat is in its second year of production after being released on a trial run last year.

Five different types of wheat are used: a Belgian wheat, a German wheat, two from the Midwest, and then a soft wheat (which means it’s not malted) from a local family farm. The last wheat is usually used in baking items such as flat breads.

Carpenter told SFBay he chose to do a dark beer to suit the mood of the colder months, yet he wanted to create a juxtaposition with its taste:

“It just seems to me that a light wheat beer in the winter wasn’t appropriate, but I didn’t want it to taste like a traditional light beer, like a stout or a porter. I honestly believe that if you were given this blindfolded , your first reaction would tell you it isn’t a dark beer, despite the heavy color. I think it just has a wonderful flavor, it’s a wonderful mix of wheat. A little bit of bitterness but not so much so.”

Julia Martin, a San Francisco resident, was recently at a tasting and took a liking to both beverages despite initial hesitation:

“I’m not much of a beer drinker, especially with thick heavy beers, but I was really surprised once I tried them. I can honestly see myself drinking this at the dinner table during Thanksgiving or Christmas or even in front of a burning fireplace.”

Christmas Ale is available in six-packs, on draft and in special, limited edition gold-foiled magnum bottles. Winter Wheat comes in six-packs as well as, 22-oz bombers and draft.