I was hoping to save this beer for the end of our 12 Beers of Christmas... but when opportunity starts knocking... you answer the door.
This past weekend, I spent a few days with my Brooklyn based sister, Beth. As a good sister should, she has been quite supportive of my craft beer obsession. We went around all wkd long and tried all sorts of different offerings... mainly ones that I cannot get in CT! Avery Old Jubilation (Thanks KayTee!), JW Lees Harvest Ale, Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet... not to mention the highlight of our trip, a visit to the Brooklyn Brewery where we had their BLAST! (Double IPA), Collaboration (Wheat Wine), Brown Ale and Winter Ale... and met some real cool people in the process.
At the end of our trip, we went to the Atlantic Chip Shop for a little Fish n' Chips before I hit the road. Almost "BEERED OUT" from Friday and Saturday, we were not on a mission to find what we found. As we sat down to our table, I noticed that the drink menu was about 4-5 pages. The food menu, was a double sided one pager.
"I like these odds." - Billy the Kid, Young Guns
And would you look at that... they have one of my FAVORITE holiday beers, the Anchor Merry Christmas Ale.
#1 Rare to find this time of year...
#2 Rarer to find on DRAFT!
So I ordered a pint..."Do you want the 2011 or the 2010...? We have them BOTH on draft..."
It's one thing to simply FIND this beer... its a WHOLE new deal to find TWO YEARS ON DRAFT!! So... how could I say no? The ONLY other time I've ever done something like this was with my good friend, Ian. Last year he successfully stowed away the Christmas Ale from 2009 & 2008!! So we tasted '08, '09 and '10... amazing how the flavor differs from year to year. As you will see below...
Ok... Saddle up readers, its time for another Vertical Tasting.
A little history first... this beer has been coming out since 1975. And every year, they tweak the recipe JUST a bit. Given the legacy that is this Special Beer... information isn't EXACTLY at a premium. The most I can get out of these guys is that the beer from year to year, clocks in at around 5.5% ABV. But again, that changes slightly year to year... as does their label.
Both beers pour like a very dark molasses... When held up to the light, the 2010 had a much darker tone to it, while the 2011 had a lighter, almost red hue to it. They had similar characteristics with the head retention as both years quickly dissipated only after a few minutes. The 2010 had a slightly darker tan to it on the head. Lacing is also similar with both years... a few swirls around the glass and the lacing just falls. (Sorry, no snow falling on the glass descriptions here.)
From looks alone - its very hard to tell the difference between the years... but here's where things start to split up. The 2010 has a sweet smell to it... Chocolate, Cinnamon, Sugar... Beth described it like a "Tootsie Roll"... and gosh darn it, she was RIGHT! There's a slight piney note in there too... malt... black licorice... Now, the 2011, was much more piney on the nose. There was much less sweetness too. I have to say that you really gotta get your nose into this beer to get ANY real smell out of it, regardless of the year.
The taste is the big divider from year to year. 2010... There's a bitterness up front, but slowly goes away and mellows out to reveal some cloves, malt, and piney notes. After a few sips, the flavors begin to linger a little more, almost filmy. I feel that because of this, your palette almost disregards the initial bitter bop off the top, and allows you to truly enjoy this beer for what it is. Smooth, creamy and delicious. (Cue: Roaring fire, comfy clothes, slippers, etc.). The finish is pretty dry too... Makes you just wanna go back in and keep sipping.
Now, with the 2011, it's good. BUT... You definitely don't get the smoothness that you get with the previous year. Dare I say... it has a medicinal taste to it. And the filminess that lingers over a few sips... keeps that bitterness going in your mouth which I can see a few people, NOT being a fan of. Since I've become more and more into beers that can be very bitter, I almost don't mind it. But if I have the option to pick the current Christmas Ale year to any previous year... you can bet your partridge in a pear tree I'm going for the previous year.
I have to say too, I really ONLY get this comparison when I have both beers in front of me. When Ian and I did our vertical tasting last year... we hardly touched the 2010 because we got a similar medicinal taste to it. But '08 and '09... that was something to write home about. But here we are, one year later, and now the 2010 is the smooth one and the 2011 has that young, bitter taste to it.
My advice for anyone looking to try this beer... it's a very good choice. It only comes out once a year so definitely take advantage of it. On its own - the 2011 can definitely hang. It's different, spicy, Christmasy... BUT, taste it from year to year... and you'll notice that this beer ages very nicely. If you can, I would buy (2) 6 pks... enjoy one this year... and hide one for next year. Then you can compare it to the 2012 and have your OWN vertical tasting! Again, it really is amazing how you can taste the difference!
There's a good amount of spice happening with these guys... Beth suggested a beef stew, which I could totally see. We both agreed that it would go well with something that you'd normally want to eat that would warm you up from the city streets. The chicken curry that Beth ordered (see below) went REALLY well.
Special thanks to of course my sister for taking me ALL around this wkd and our awesome waitress at the Atlantic Chip Shop... if you are in the Brooklyn Area, definitely check it out. Just make sure there isn't a "football" game going on. You don't want to upset the locals.
Anchor Brewing: WEBSITE