The holiday season is upon us and to add to the seasonal cheer, we have the arrival of Winter seasonal beers. For forty-six years Anchor has upheld that tradition with its Our Special Ale.

Their 2020 edition of Our Special Ale (sample bottles provided by Anchor Brewing) is a very dark, almost black, ale with a ruby translucence when held up to the light. It presents a moderate head, that subsides quickly to a ring around the edges of the glass. When swirled in the glass there is ample but short-lived lacing. I didn’t notice any “legs” or “tears”- the clear streams that alcoholic beverages sometimes leave on the sides of the glass.

It presents sweet notes in the nose: molasses, caramel, cloves, light cinnamon.  Overall, the aroma reminds me of gingerbread or spice cake.  I didn’t notice any hop aroma.

Sweetness is the most immediately noticeable flavor component.  It is not a particularly hoppy beer, but there is definitely a bitter backbone to support all that malty sweetness.   Some dark chocolate and coffee character, and graham cracker, too.  A few spice notes in there as well: cinnamon, black pepper, orange peel.  A little vanilla.

It has 7% alcohol by volume, but doesn’t come off as strong or alcoholey. And, despite the notable malt sweetness, it is a medium-bodied drink, with a dry finish, and a slightly bitter aftertaste, ending with a lingering dark roast coffee note.

It is smooth and easy to drink, and I think it would prove approachable even to those who say that they don’t usually like dark beers.

An aside on the packaging: You may have observed that rather than the usual single tree, this year’s label features three trees. According to the brewery’s literature, this is only the second time that multiple trees are shown on the label. In this case, the image represents The Three Graces, an iconic trio in Yosemite National Park’s Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. They are meant to evoke “togetherness and hope in a year when so much time has been spent apart”.