The Monday before Thanksgiving is the traditional date that Anchor Brewery used to release their Christmas Ale (a.k.a. Our Special Ale), undoubtedly the first annual holiday beer in the silver age of brewing. For the last few years, it’s been released earlier, usually the first week of November. Last year I lamented that loss of seasonality and I continue to celebrate what I call Anchor Christmas Ale Day on that Monday before Thanksgiving. This year is the 35th annual release of the beer, which except for the first few years has been a different recipe every year.
For the past few years, Anchor’s Christmas Ale has been fairly similar each year, unlike the roller coast years of the mid-1990s, which, I confess, I remember with a special fondness. (Plus I also have several magnums of each year stretching back a decade and 12 oz. bottles a little farther.) I had an opportunity to try some last weekend and it’s about how I remember it last year, still tasting quite good and will undoubtedly be the beer I enjoy with my Thanksgiving dinner.
The reason I bring this up today, instead of on Monday, is that the San Francisco Chronicle profiled the 82-year old Jim Stitt, the artist who’s drawn virtually all of Anchor’s beer labels, including 35 different Christmas Ale labels, beginning with Anchor Porter in 1974. (There’s also a photo gallery with more of Stitt’s labels.)
This year’s label features the “iconic Monterey cypress near Stanyan and Fell Streets, where the Panhandle meets Golden Gate Park. Lit up from head to toe shortly after Thanksgiving every year, it’s San Francisco’s unofficial Christmas tree. And this year, it becomes the very first San Francisco native to have its portrait on Anchor Brewing Co.’s Christmas Ale.”
My favorite quote from Stitt is this. “It’s a handmade beer, so the label should be hand-drawn.” Below are all 35 of Stitt’s hand-drawn labels for Anchor Christmas Ale.