December 29, 2014 – Thirty-nine years ago a very clever idea set the wheels of change in motion in the craft brewing industry. Fritz Maytag, who owned San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing, decided to create a special brew for Christmas called Our Special Ale. It’s said he wanted to send friends a special bottle instead of a Christmas card and since they had no printed neck labels, he did indeed write a greeting on blank neck labels.
Each year, the recipe for Our Special Ale changes and it is always a secret. Brew Master Mark Carpenter says that this year’s release, the 40th, is quite a bit different as they have dropped many of the spices used in previous releases and added new ones.
When it was launched it was the first and possibly the longest-running seasonal beer in America. It is always called Christmas Ale while competitors tend to use “holiday” and “winter” in order to prolong the selling season. Our Special Ale goes on sale in early November and is available for about two months until early in the New Year. The first batch Fritz Maytag signed was about 400 cases. This year Anchor released 98,000 cases. And if it doesn’t sell through? Then it is distilled into 90 proof beer schnapps called Christmas Spirit available only in California.