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Anchor Christmas Ale

This tasty tradition honors the past in exciting new ways, year after year.

’Twas the fortnight before Christmas in Fritz Maytag’s house…

Just like the renowned poem, there are things we look forward to each year as the holidays roll around. For beer aficionados, it’s the annual release of a new Anchor Christmas Ale with its ever-changing label. Since 1975, Anchor Brewing has created a new brew (the recipe is always a guarded secret) with a unique hand-drawn label. Only available from early November to mid-January, the first Anchor Christmas Ale marked the revived tradition that had fallen by the wayside.

“As far as I could discover, it was the only real Christmas brew in the world at that time,” recalls Fritz Maytag, Owner and President of Anchor Brewing from 1965 to 2010. “The tradition had disappeared, I think, even in Scandinavia, where it had lingered. We bottled it just nine days before Christmas in 1975. It was like a holiday surprise for beer lovers.”

Because this new beer was so well received, Maytag decided he would brew a new recipe and debut a new tree on the label each year. “The intent with which we offer it,” as it states on the label, “remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice, when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew.”

The man behind the artwork is James Stitt, the illustrator who has crafted Anchor’s unique labels for over 40 years. Maytag originally planned to commission a new artist every year, but he was so impressed with Stitt’s work that the two men have designed every Christmas Ale label (except one) since 1975. Each year, Maytag selected a different tree with a California connection – varieties found everywhere from his ranch in Napa Valley to Golden Gate Park. Although Maytag sold the brewery in 2010, Stitt continues to work with a team from Anchor to design a new Christmas Ale label every year.

The tree selected for this year’s label is the Blue Gum, formally known as Eucalyptus Globulus. Mary Ellen Pleasant, the mother of Civil Rights in California, planted Blue Gum trees in front of her San Francisco home in the 1800s. Though the home is long gone, these towering landmark trees remain a living tribute. This year, Anchor Christmas Ale is a 7.2% ABV spiced red rye ale described as elegant, with notes of orange, honeysuckle, toasted malts, fine rye bread and botanicals, so the stately Blue Gum Tree, as drawn by Stitt, is a fitting choice.

Since 1975, every label that’s graced Anchor Christmas Ale was created by illustrator James Stitt. This 94-year-old artist still collaborates with Anchor Brewmasters to design a label with an appropriate tree.

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