Tag Archives: Anchor Brewing Our Special Ale

Aging beer can be a gamble; some are winners, others are losers

By Alan J. Wax

Aging beers. We hear so much about it these days.

Brewers often encourage their customers to age their products and nary a day goes by when you don’t see some query on a beer drinker’s forum about the age worthiness of a just-purchased brew.

I’ve been aging beers for years. On purpose – and accidentally. Unable to keep up with many newly acquired beers, I let some sit away forgotten until rediscovered. Others, I’ve boxed and carried to the cellar intended for aging in the cool temperatures and darkness.

Recently, I came upon a number of brews that I had put aside and largely had forgotten. Wondering how they might taste, I pulled them out for a tasting with several open-minded, beer-loving friends.

The results, needless to say, were interesting. The beers, ranging in age from a half-dozen years to almost 25 years, had aged differently. Some gracefully; others less so.

This motley collection included English and Belgian beers of strength as well as a few American craft brews.

My notes from that tasting:

CourageCourage Russian Imperial Stout (2011) by Charles Wells Brewery, England. 10% abv. Its espresso color was intact, the head mocha and a nose that suggested alcohol. On the palate there were notes of licorice and molasses and an extraordinarily dry finish. 3/5.

Paradox Isle of Aran. Brew Dog, Scotland. Imperial stout. 10% abv. No date, but likely purchased in 2010. Black brown in hue with a roasty nose. Low carbonation. Malty. 2/5.

Paradox Smokehead (2010). Brewdog, Scotland. Smoked imperial stout.10% abv. Deep brown in hue with pronounced, tar, ashtray aroma. Malty sweetness on the palate. Dry finish. 2½/5.

Harny's 1990Thomas Hardy’s Ale (1990). Eldridge Pope, England. Old ale. 11.7% abv. Meant to be aged, but perhaps, too long at almost 25 years. More of a thin malt syrup lacking carbonation. Mild hints of fruit. Big oaky notes. Super dry. 3/5.

Thomas Hardy’s Ale (2008). Hanlon’s Brewing, England. Old ale. 11.9% abv.
Deep copper hue with oak and caramel on the nose. On the palate notes of orange peel, caramel and nuts. 4/5.

Harvest Ale (1991). JW Lees & Co., England. English barleywine. 11.5% abv. Brown hue. The nose suggests a musty, damp basement while on the palate there are hints of bitter chocolate, oak and dried figs. 3/5.

Harvest Ale 2003Harvest Ale (2003). JW Lees & Co., England; English barleywine. 11.5% abv. Murky brown and lacking in carbonation. Sweet sherry notes, caramel and oak. 3/5.

Vintage Ale (2006). Fuller, Smith & Turner, England. Old ale. 8.5% abv. One that did not age well. Copper hue, off white head, Notes of wet cardboard and licorice with an unpleasant bitter finish. 1½/5.

Triple (2001). Browerij St. Bernadus. Belgium. Tripel. 8% abv. Golden with a white head. Disappoints with notes of cardboard and candy sugar. 2/5.

Black Choco StoutBlack Chocolate Stout (2002). Brooklyn Brewery. Russian imperial stout. 10% abv. Opaque espresso hue. Chocolate on the nose and hints of wine on the palate. Oily. 2½/5.

Black Chocolate Stout (2009). Brooklyn Brewery. Russian imperial stout. 10% abv. Opaque espresso hue. Roasted malt on the nose, bit also hints of cardboard. A tad fizzy. Nutty palate. A recent purchase, suggesting poor retail storage. 2/5.

Monster Ale (2000). Brooklyn Brewery, American Barleywine. 10.1% abv. Deep copper hue with the barest signs of carbonation. Sherry and paint thinner notes. Definitely over the hill. ½/5.

CelebrationCelebration Ale (1996). Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. American IPA. 6.8% abv. Deep copper hue. Totally lacking a head. On the nose, notes of soy sauce. Hints of cardboard. Unpleasant, strong bitter finish. 1/5.

Bigfoot (2001). Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. American barleywine. 9.6% abv. Deep copper color. No head. Wet cardboard nose. Hints of sweetness toward the end that suddenly becomes extraordinarily bitter. Definitely past its prime. ½/5.

Carnegie Porter (1997). Carlsberg Sverige. Sweden. Baltic porter. 5.5% abv. Dark brown with a nose that suggests a nutty Oloroso sherry. Thin and lacking in carbonation. 1/5.

Our Special Ale (2000). Anchor Brewing Co. Spiced winter warmer. Unknown abv. No spice flavors, aromas evident. Medicinal and bitter. ½/1.

Choco BockSamuel Adams Chocolate Bock (2008). Boston Beer Co. Bock. 6.8% abv. Deep brown. Soy sauce nose. Low carbonation. Chocolate and caramel notes. Considering the low alcohol, it’s held up well. Stored in original wood box. 2½/5.

If you want to age your beer, remember these few simple things. Experiment by tasting your aging beer after six months—if it’s good, keep going, if not drink it immediately. Age them in a cool (55F) dark place, like a basement. Expect flavors to change; some fade, others become more pronounced. High alcohol beers and those with dark malts age best. Hoppy brews lose their hop character.

How have your aging brews tasted?


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Winter beers and snow arrive early: tasting Celebration and Our Special Ale

It’s totally dark, except for the fluorescent glow of a camping lantern.  The fireplace is ablaze and a heavy snow falls from the night sky as the winds of a nor’easter howl rattle the house my. Power is out in my Long Island neighborhood as I write on a chilly Nov. 7.

This was the perfect setting to sample some of the first of the winter seasonal beers, which arrived this week at the shelves of retailers on Long Island.  But this was early November and both the snow and the beers seemed to have arrived inordinately early for the season.

Just days earlier, I had found Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2012 at Shoreline Beverage, a retailer in Huntington, and Anchor Brewing’s 2012 Our Special Ale at a local Trader Joe’s.

Celebration Ale, the venerable fresh hop IPA that was among the first holiday season craft beers to be produced in the America—the first was produced as a winter seasonal in 1981. It features Chinook, Cascade and Centennial hopes and two-row pale and English caramel malts and weighs in at 6.8 percent ABV and 65 IBUs.

The other, Anchor Brewing Co.’s Our Special Ale, a dark beer that has brewed by the San Francisco craft brewer since 1975 with a secret recipe that has changed annually. Each year, the label also changes, but always featuring a tree.  This year’s label was adorned by a Norfolk Island pine, a scrawny fir tree native to the South Pacific and planted in California since 1850.

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

First up was the Celebration Ale, a fresh hop IPA that when craft brewing burst on the New York scene was impossible to obtain in the East. I’d forgotten what a beautiful beer it is.  It has a brilliant copper color with a dense, long-lasting tan head.   The citrusy nose of Cascade hops teases your tongue of what is to follow: a beautifully balanced, interwoven mélange of tangy citrus, caramel and juicy malt. It finishes bittersweet and dry. It calls out for another sip and then another.

Now, on to the Anchor, which is a deep brown brew with a mocha-colored, rocky head.   The aromas of spices waft up from the glass, even while it sits on the table. Closer to the nasal passages, the aromas announce themselves: ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. There’s an initial sweetness as it touches the palate

The 2012 version of Anchor Our Special Ale

and the spices dance on the tongue along with a Mars Bar-like caramel nougat character. I’ve never been a huge fan of spiced beers, but I was beginning to enjoy the interplay of the juicy malt and spices in this one. Alas, the head faded rather quickly, the body seemed a tad thin and the finish was rather short.  It causes one to wonder if Anchor’s new owners have tamed the brew.

In the days and weeks to come beer retailer shelves and beer bars will be filled with holiday/Christmas/winter beers.  What was once considered an old brewer’s tradition has to some become a brewing industry marketing ploy. One thing is certain, it’s a tell tale sign that it’s time to finish up those pumpkin beers, which have been around since August.



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Filed under Taps - Beer