It pours up a deep ruby brown, just barely translucent, giving it an appearance similar to many porters. And indeed, it is heavily weighted towards the malty end of the beer spectrum. The head is very thick and creamy and leaves a nice lacing on the glass as you drink. In a word: gorgeous.
As for the flavor, well, anyone interested in learning how to properly spice a beer needs to talk to the brewers at Anchor. Even though they change it up every year, the spices are always perfect. No one could pick out the exact combination just by tasting it. I suspect there's some ginger, cinnamon, clove, and perhaps anise. And quite possibly others I'm missing. All perfectly blended and not over-done.
Is it really cinnamon, or am I being fooled by allspice? Or am I imagining both because of other similar spices at play? That's the mark of a skilled hand on the spice additions. I could easily name some beers that were ruined by a cinnamon stick, but I prefer to focus on good beer in this column.
In addition to the spices (or perhaps because of them) I get a hint of cherry, but I don't think there's actual cherry juice involved. And all this rests on a backbone of malt sweetness, barely touched by any hop bitterness.
With just 5.5% ABV, this could be the most sessionable Christmas beer I've ever had. Of course this was available before the ABV limit was lifted and I've enjoyed easy access to it for years. It simply wouldn't be Christmas without Anchor Our Special Ale.
I find myself wishing I had some snickerdoodles to go with this. Snickerdoodles are one of my favorite cookies -- not only are they are delicious, "snickerdoodle" is a fun word (admit it). I think Anchor OSA would also make an interesting compliment to red meat, providing a holiday twist to a good steak.
I recently received some requests from readers for tips on where to find the beers I review. I haven't been listing specific stores because I don't want to advertise for certain stores over others. But I'll try to at least point you in the right direction. Fortunately, this one's easy as OSA usually has pretty wide distribution. Hopefully most stores that carry Anchor Steam will also get in a few cases of this one. So just about any grocery store that doesn't limit its beer selection to macro lagers should have it. If your local grocer doesn't have it, request it!
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and co-organizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to email@example.com