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By Philip Runco. Photos by Clarissa Villondo.

Freshly Tapped spotlights one recently released beer, whether it be a flagship, one-off, seasonal, or modified recipe.

Today, we explore the 2017 Anchor Christmas Anchor, a 6.7% winter warmer from San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing.

Previously in the Freshly Tapped seriesStillwater’s Modern Confusion; Denizens and Pizzeria Paradiso’s The Gruit Made Me Do It The Technicolor Life of 3 Stars Brewing; Atlas Brew Works & Meridian Pint’s Double Dance of Days; Hellbender & St. Feuillien’s Days Gone By; DC Brau’s Collaboratron; and Right Proper, Stone, & Pen Druid’s Soused.


As a kid, Scott Ungermann collected his father’s old beer bottles. Not all of them – just ones with neat labels, the oddly shaped ones, the ones that felt intangibly special. His dad was fond of visiting the neighborhood bottle shop, perusing its shelves for something new or interesting, and Ungermann would hoard the relics of particularly successful expeditions. By the time he left for college in 1984, he had amassed a formidable collection of empty vessels and coated paper.

It wasn’t too long after that he received a phone call from his stepmother: They were turning his bedroom into a guest room, as parents are wont to do, and an old beer bottle collection was not part of their interior design vision. So, before they discarded everything, she wanted to know if anything was worth setting aside.

“I said, ‘Yeah, keep the Anchor Christmas Ales and put the rest of them in the recycle bin,’” Ungermann recalls. “Those bottles were so special and unique and different. It was all part of the mystique.”

A product of the Bay Area, Ungermann came of age in the shadow of Anchor Brewing. Every holiday season, his father would come home with the latest rendition of Anchor Christmas Ale, a beer with a new label and a new recipe for each vintage. Meanwhile, during the other ten months of the year, his old man’s “special occasion beer” was Anchor Steam. When Ungermann was old enough to drink the San Francisco brewery’s iconic flagship as a student at nearby Cal Berkeley, it would become his special occasion beer, too. The craft beer landscape looked a lot different back then, of course. Most of the San Francisco’s bars had maybe two or three taps, and they would generally be occupied by some combination of Bud, Miller, and Coors. Still, discerning drinkers knew the spots that carried the homegrown brew.

“Anchor wasn’t ubiquitous, but you could find it in the city, and you could definitely find it in the East Bay, where I was going to school,” he remembers. “For most parties, we’d have kegs of Olympia or Coors or whatever, but if we were doing something special, we’d get a keg of Steam. It was kind of an elevated beer. Locally, it had very much of a cult status.”

When he was a senior, Ungermann and some fraternity brothers made a trip to Anchor’s Potrero Hill production facility, a stunningly art deco building – formerly a coffee roastery – that the brewery has inhabited since the late ‘70s. It would be a fateful afternoon.

“When you walk up the stairs and into the tap room, you have this moment of suddenly seeing this big, open atrium with these huge copper kettles,” Ungermann says. “It looks like the mecca of craft brewing, and it struck me so heavily. It inspired me to want to make beer. The next week, literally, my buddy and I went to a homebrew shop and bought our first kit and started brewing.”

Ungermann would spend most of the next few decades outside of San Francisco – in Southern California, on the East Coast, across the Midwest – but as sentimental as it may sound, Anchor continued to hold a special place in his heart.

“I always felt connected with the brewery,” he says. “I’d order its beer whenever I could, and I bought Christmas Ale every year. That was my main way of staying in touch: I always sought out Christmas Ale.”

Thirty years later, Ungermann still has the bottles he collected as a kid.

He’s also the Brewmaster at Anchor Brewing – a position that puts him in charge of making the velvety, lightly spiced brown ale that fills the bottles of Anchor Christmas Ale on shelves around the country this time of year.

“It’s been really cool for me to be part of this legacy and to get to make these beers,” Ungermann tells me, speaking over the phone from his Anchor office on a humid November afternoon. “There are times when I look at it and I can’t believe it all happened to me this way, but it did.”

How he came to be in the position is a winding story, but it’s nowhere near as complicated as the tale of Anchor Christmas Ale itself.


Anchor Christmas Ale_________

Anchor Brewing first produced and bottled a Christmas ale in the fall of 1975. It’s a relatively late date in the San Francisco brewery’s history – after all, Anchor had been founded some 79 years earlier – but timelines can be deceiving when thinking about Anchor.

The origin of Anchor stretches back to a German brewer named Ernst F. Baruth and his son-in-law, Otto Schinkel, Jr., who started the brewery at its original Pacific Street home in 1896. Ten years later, both co-founders were dead and Anchor had moved. This sets the tone for Anchor’s first 70 years: multiple ownership changes, multiple relocations, and the occasional tragedy, be it fire, death, or Prohibition.

“[Anchor] limped into the 1960s with antiquated equipment and a single employee – probably the smallest working brewery in America and likely the only one making steam beer in large quantities,” Tom Acitelli chronicles in a recent story on Anchor Steam. “In the 1960s, big operations such as Anheuser-Busch and Miller were hoovering up market share with uniformly made pilsner that tasted much blander and sweeter than its Czech original… [Anchor Steam] was available only in kegs because a dearth of retail accounts did not justify the expense of bottling or canning – and the brewery probably couldn’t have done so without releasing case after case of sour or spoiled steam. Anchor Brewing and its signature beer would both surely be gone soon, dying embers in a once-blazing American beer landscape.”

Things began to turn around in 1965 when Fritz Maytag, a 27-year-old heir to his namesake’s washing-machine fortune, bought a controlling stake in the floundering brewery for just $5,000. Thus began, for all intents and purposes, the history of Anchor Brewing as we know it today.

Aside from reviving Anchor in general, Maytag’s most recognized accomplishment was reimagining Anchor Steam. As a style, steam beer is widely considered the first truly American craft beer. It was born in California during the mid-1800s, a time when the state was flooded with European immigrants and their accompanying taste for lager beer. Local brewers were equipped with bottom-fermenting lager yeast, but without a sufficient supply of ice, they were forced to ferment their beer at warmer temperatures like an ale. The resulting beer – part lager, part ale – was dubbed “steam beer,” though the name remains a bit of a mystery.

“Steam beer is so old that we don’t know why it’s called steam beer,” says historian Mike Stein, the President of Lost Lagers.  “Is it because they placed coolships on rooftops and when hot wort went into them, people saw steam coming off the roof? Is it because it was highly carbonated, and when you tapped a keg, it sounded like steam coming out of a kettle? Some people say that because the German word for ‘steam’ is ‘dampfbier,’ German immigrants who came here in the 19th century were trying to make dampfbier, so maybe it’s Bavarian.”

After its post-Gold Rush heyday, the style’s popularity precipitously dwindled on account of three factors: the spread of refrigeration in the 1890s, a series of fires that ravaged San Francisco breweries in 1906, and the smothering consequences of Prohibition. As Acitelli notes, Anchor was likely the only significant brewery producing the style regularly by the 1960s, though the brewery’s version of it – brewed with a variety of grains, sugar, and food coloring – was far different from the Anchor Steam we know today.

In 1969, Maytag overhauled that recipe, moving the grist to all pale and caramel malts, and hopping the beer with a relatively new English varietal called Northern Brewer. He started brewing Anchor Steam on new equipment, too, including open fermenters that encouraged a more expressive yeast character. This was the advent of an American classic. (A dozen years later, Maytag would also somewhat controversially trademark the term “steam beer,” forcing subsequent manufactures of the style to describe their beers as “California commons.”)

Maytag wouldn’t stop there, though. In fact, while the Anchor name will forever be most strongly associated with Anchor Steam, the brewery’s influence on craft beer writ large can be felt most strongly in two other beers: Anchor Porter and Liberty Ale.

“To say that Anchor was a powerhouse of innovation for American craft beer would be a gross understatement,” says Greg Engert, the influential beer director of the DC area’s Neighborhood Restaurant Group. “After stabilizing the production and quality of Anchor Steam, Maytag crafted the first modern porter in Anchor Porter, since that style had actually gone out of production in its own birthplace of England by the early 1970s. Then, in the run up to the bicentennial, Anchor produced Liberty Ale, a hop-forward brew far more bitter than anything available in the US at that time, and inspired by the crisp, balanced bitterness of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, though the Anchor offering showed more robust hop flavor by virtue of using Pacific Northwest-grown Cascade hops.”

Liberty Ale was unlike most anything before it: “possibly pale ale, maybe IPA, but emphatic,” in Engert’s words. The first post-prohibition American dry-hopped ale, it’s considered the progenitor of the modern IPA. The beer is also an integral part of the Anchor Christmas Ale story.

Originally called “Our Special Ale”, the first Anchor Christmas beers didn’t bear any resemblance to the velvety dark beers of today. Rather, the seasonal release carried the torch of Liberty Ale, which had initially been brewed as a celebratory one-off. Thus, from 1975 to 1983, Our Special Ale existed – and flourished – as a hoppy pale ale released annually, not unlike Sierra Nevada’s ensuing Celebration Ale.

“I was aware of the traditions in medieval villages where they would make special beers for various festival days,” Maytag would say of his motivation for brewing the beer. “You’d have beers brewed for weddings, festivals, and other celebrations. And certainly you’d brew them for Christmas.”

Our Special Ale was so popular that by 1983 Anchor began producing the pale ale year round by its original name: Liberty Ale. In turn, Anchor’s Christmas brew was given a makeover.

“Starting in 1984, Our Special Ale was differentiated from Liberty Ale by its color and malt character, becoming a rich brown ale,” Engert shares. “In 1987, spices were introduced, and by the time I started at the Brickskeller in the early 2000s, we had wide array of Our Special Ale vintages stretching back into the ‘90s, including a number of magnums, which were initially released alongside 12 oz. bottles in 1991.”

Vintages, magnum bottles, mysterious spices: These are all part of the ever-evolving mystique of Our Special Ale – or Anchor Christmas Ale, as it’s been known colloquially since the mid-2000s. Since its recipe is a moving target, changing year to year, the beer doesn’t have quite the same legacy as the aforementioned Anchor classics. Nevertheless, in changing the beer to a malty, darker, spiced ale, Maytag is credited with establishing the prototype for future American Christmas ales. From Deschutes’ Jubelale to Great Lakes Christmas Ale to Schlafly Christmas Ale, examples of its influence abound. As Acitelli wrote elsewhere, the beer “marked the advent of the modern Christmas beer in the United States, those thicker, richer, seemingly obligatory concoctions that flood retailer shelves ‘round about the week before Thanksgiving.”

The process of designing an Anchor Christmas Ale, however, begins far before that.


Anchor Christmas Ale_________

Every year, Anchor Christmas Ale sees release on the first of November. This is not a staggered rollout: The beer is supposed to be anywhere and everywhere on that date – even Sweden, the largest consumer of Anchor Christmas Ale outside of North America.

It takes a while to reach Scandinavia, so the first boatloads of beer set sail across the Atlantic in September. That means the first brew days of Anchor Christmas Ale are scheduled for August.

Before then, the beer must get special approval from Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau on account of the spices and occasional fruit rinds in the recipe. Tack on some more time for the slow wheels of bureaucracy to turn.

Allowing for some wiggle room in Anchor’s iterative process of recipe development and pilot brewing, the formulation of its holiday seasonal typically begins all the way back in April. It’s a tad cautious, but 6,000 barrels of beer is on the line.

“You’ve just gotta have your shit together early on Christmas Ale,” Ungermann says.

The brewer joined Anchor in April of 2014, just as the formulation for that year’s Anchor Christmas Ale was revving up. Ungermann had come to the company after spending almost two decades in a variety of roles across Anheuser-Busch’s vast empire. This wasn’t exactly the career trajectory he had envisioned for himself, but then again, he never predicted he’d be a brewer.

After graduating from Berkeley with a degree in English, Ungermann taught at a small, “free-thinking” academy in the hills of Ventura, California. It was while there that his mother planted the idea of professional brewing, sending him an article about UC Davis’s prestigious brewing program with a note that read, “This might be interesting…” He followed that tip, and by the mid-90s had attained a Masters in brewing science from the university. When his wife got a job in New Jersey, he followed her, even if the landscape presented a dearth of beers jobs in comparison to California.

“I took a job with Anheuser-Busch almost out of default,” he recollects. “I figured I’d work there for a little while, learn how to make beer from the big guys, and then go start my own place, but it ended up turning into an 18-year career with AB.”

Those 18 years took him across the country, from New Jersey to Columbus to St. Louis and back to Northern California again. He learned the ins and outs of running a large brewery. He worked in raw material procurement. He gained an understanding of all facets of brewing. By the time he returned to West Coast, he had ascended to brewmaster at Budweiser’s Fairfield facility. That was where he would hear of an opening at Anchor.

“Right when I was ready to start planning the next phase of my career, this job came up,” the 51 year old shares. “I didn’t even have a resume, but I jumped at it. I pulled one together, I got an interview the next week, and a week later I quit AB to come here. It was very quick. But it was returning full circle for me: coming back to the roots of my passion for making beer.”

That Ungermann would arrive right when that year’s Anchor Christmas Ale was being developed was just another happy coincidence.

Each year, Anchor uses the previous recipe as a jumping off point for the next. From there, it’s a a back-and-forth conversation about how the beer should evolve. Rare is the Anchor recipe written by a single employee, and that’s especially true when it comes to an Anchor Christmas Ale, one of the brewery’s highest profile releases. Still, even with the platform to make his opinion heard, Anchor’s new Production Director was content to just observe the process his first time around.

“I really sat on the sidelines and watched, because I was brand new here and I didn’t want to come in heavy handed, trying to make changes before I understood what was going on,” he says. “I took the time to learn from the people who had been here for so many years doing this very successfully. But once I learned all of the things that we put in the 2014 Christmas Ale and then tasted the result, I felt like some things were lost in the there.”

Thing, things, stuff: Ungermann speaks in indefinite objects when discussing Anchor Christmas Ale. That’s because the brewery doesn’t disclose the particulars of any given year’s recipe. According to the Anchor website, the malt, hops, and dry-hops are all the same for the 2017 vintage: “TOP SECRET.” It’s a tradition that was established by Maytag, and it’s been carried on since he sold the brewery in 2010. (A 2011 promotional video for Anchor Christmas Ale hams up that secrecy for almost a quarter of its runtime.)

“Having not been in the inner circle back in the Fritz days, I don’t know exactly why he wanted this to be a secret,” Ungermann admits, “but I respect the legacy enough to keep it a secret and make sure that everybody else does, too.”

There are some things that Ungermann – who became Anchor’s brewmaster at the start of 2016 – is willing to share about the Christmas ale. On the whole, he says Anchor doesn’t treat the beer much differently from any other ale. It starts with all-malt mash, is hopped during the boil, and gets fermented in the brewery’s ale tanks.

Anchor Christmas Ale isn’t “hoppy,” but it’s balanced with an assertive bitterness. The brewery’s blend of hops lend an herbal, spicy character. Despite the various trees on the beer’s labels, Anchor doesn’t use any classically piney hops, largely because its brewers think they can conjure that flavor elsewhere in the process. As for the grist, it’s a blend of specialty malts, caramel malts, and some undisclosed combination of a protein-rich grain, like torrified wheat, which contributes to the creamy texture of the beer. (Ungermann also attributes its memorable mouthfeel to the Anchor’s methods of fermentation and carbonation but declines to elaborate.)

“The main difference between this beer and another ale is the malt bill and the spices, but other than that, we’ve created a normal beer through our process,” he shares.

Anchor Christmas Ale’s “wintry” spices are added in the brew kettle, though there have been cellar additions in the past. The particular spices used are the main point of secrecy. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cocoa are recurring guesses. Ungermann says that over the last three vintages the number of spices has ranged anywhere from three to ten. Talking to the brewmaster, it’s not hard to figure out which side of the spectrum the 2017 vintage likely falls: After keeping mum during his first recipe formulation of Anchor Christmas Ale, Ungermann has been vocal about “peeling back” some of its spices. He likens the approach to cooking.

“If you make a soup or a stew and you throw in dozen of ingredients, there are certain ones that don’t make an impact because they’re lost amongst others,” Ungermann explains. “In 2015, I made the suggestion that we begin to peel back the layers of spice and make it a more pointed beer. So, we did, and we felt good about the direction. But once we peeled those spices back, there were a couple of remaining spices that definitely didn’t play well with the others, and I threw those out all together in 2016.”

2016 was also the year that Ungermann insisted on two other things: adding more specialty malts to the grist – in part, to “increase its malty, chocolate note” – and increasing the alcohol content from 5.5% to 6.5%.

“That was the biggest decision,” he says of the latter. “The main reason I did that is because I know how many people age these beers. They really like to have them in verticals year after year, and I feel like a little higher alcohol helps a beer age a little better.”

Beers don’t age gracefully by accident. They have to be engineered to do so. In addition to a higher alcohol content, increased specialty malts – and, therefore, decreased cheaper caramel malts – help the steer the ship towards longevity.

Ungermann continued all three trends in 2017: less spice, more specialty malts, and a smidge more booze. (The ABV climbed from 6.5% to 6.7%, which has emboldened Anchor to start referring to the beer as a “winter warmer” for the first time.)

“We really believe that we have a beautiful beer this year, which isn’t to say that any of the other ones weren’t beautiful – you just always try to make everything a little better,” the brewmaster says. “ We’re making it better with a purpose: We want this beer to taste great now, we want it to pair great with food, and we want it to taste great a year or two from now, because that’s what people want.”


Anchor Christmas Ale 2017_________

Forty-three years down the line, why has Anchor Christmas Ale remained such a beloved beer? Ungermann has a theory.

“The thing that makes Christmas Ale so special is that it resonates with the idea of sharing beer with family and friends,” the brewmaster opines. “The beer, the package, the warmth that it brings, the fact that you can get it in magnums and bring it to a party, share, or meal:  It all plays into that sensory memory. It’s like the smell of grandma’s house that immediately makes you feel at home.”

Since 1977, every vintage of Anchor Christmas Ale has been graced with original artwork from James Stitt, the man responsible for most of the brewery’s iconic labels. Each year’s Christmas ale label showcases a different type of tree, but all are hand drawn in forest green across an off-white backdrop by Stitt, who lives on a houseboat across the bay in Sausalito.

“Each [tree] has its own unique story, look, and personality, just like our beers,” Anchor historian Dave Burkhart wrote in 2013. “Whether real or fanciful, the trees were originally chosen only by Fritz himself. Often they were trees that grew on his vineyard near St. Helena.”

On the heels of the 1,000 Mile Tree, California Christmas Tree, and Giant Sequoia, this year’s label features the Santa Lucia fir, an extremely rare tree limited to California’s Santa Lucia Range along the state’s central coast. Anchor takes the selection of these trees very seriously, which is part of the reason that its followers do too. There’s also something to be said for the simple joy of new packaging.

“The only thing better than new beer is new beer with new art,” observes Stein. “If you look at someone like Mike Van Hall and his Aslin and Stillwater designs, those labels make good beer taste great because the art is great. Of course, they don’t enhance the flavor, but there’s some cerebral connection between eye and palate. We drink with our eyes, not just our mouths.”

The allure of Anchor Christmas Ale’s presentation extends beyond the label on the bottle to the bottle itself. In addition to traditional 12 oz. bottles, the beer is packaged in 1.5 liter magnum bottles, the tops of which come wrapped in gold foil for added pomp.

“Besides being a great gift, a magnum bottle is symbolic of an ancient ritual, that of sharing beer with fellow brewers (or vintners – it takes a lot of beer to make wine!), friends, and family,”  Burkhart wrote three years ago. “Long before the Wassail bowls of medieval England, there were the beer jugs and straws of ancient Sumeria, from which early brewers could share the fruits of their labor.”

According to Burkhart, magnum bottles of Anchor Christmas Ale were first produced in 1991 because Maytag wanted to give one to a vintner who had gifted the Anchor owner a similarly sized bottle of sparkling wine. This first run produced 103 bottles, all of which were packaged by hand. (The brewery didn’t acquire a bottling line that could handle the heavy, oversized vessels until 1994.)  Now, they’re a familiar sight at shops across the country – although, as Stein notes, your first encounter with a magnum of Anchor Christmas Ale tends to be a memorable one.

“As far as the packaging goes, it’s like, ‘Oh that’s a champagne bottle, and I know that because it has foil on it,’” the historian observes. “Then you get closer, and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s a tree. That’s a champagne label I’ve never seen before. Wait, that’s a wreath, so it must be a Christmas Ale. It must be Belgian. Oh, no, it’s Anchor.’ For somebody who’s uninitiated, the pure presentation is impressive. And the rigidness of our American minds – the idea that beer is beer, and wine is wine – starts to devolve.”

Such presentation is part of the reason why consumers are so fond of cellaring away vintages of the beer. They look like collector’s items. It also doesn’t hurt that the beers age in interesting ways, as Engert explains.

“Comparing and contrasting vintages via vertical tastings was one of many pleasures of working at the Brickskeller, and while the spicing would fade, the beer – particularly those tasted from 1.5 liter bottles – would evolve wonderfully,” the ChurchKey mastermind recalls. “The roasty notes and backbone of hop bitterness would become more gentle. The spices would meld into the malt and become far less conspicuous. The mild, influx of oxidation would yield layers of not just port wine and sherry, but also of raisinettes, fig newtons and tootsie rolls. Busting out some large format Anchor Christmas Ale bottles remains a great pleasure of the holiday season, whether fresh of cellared.”

As the 2017 Anchor Christmas Ale ages gracefully, the brewery itself is trying to figure out how to do the same.


Anchor Christmas Ale_________

When Ungermann was still working for Anheuser-Busch, his boss asked him to give a visiting brewmaster from Augustiner-Bräu – practically a foreign dignitary – the grand tour of California breweries. Naturally, Ungermann’s itinerary included a stop at Anchor Brewing.

“That was my first time coming here in a very long time,” he recalls. “What I didn’t realize at the time was that Fritz Maytag was about to sell the brewery.”

In April of 2010, it was announced that Maytag would be selling Anchor to a boutique investment company run by two veterans of Skyy Vodka.  As with a lot of fans of the company, Ungermann was blindsided by the move.

“I had this little trepidation that I didn’t know anything about the new owners and what their intentions were,” he recalls, “but I knew they planned to keep Anchor in San Francisco, and that felt good to me.”

Seven years later, Anchor would again be sold, but this time Ungermann would be in the loop. In fact, he was responsible for showing potential buyers the facility.

“I wasn’t able to talk about it – sworn to secrecy and all – but it was one of the worst-kept secrets locally,” the brewmaster shares. “When you’re constantly touring around people in suits, it becomes obvious.”

In the end, Anchor would be acquired by Japanese giant Sapporo Brewing for $85 million. It’s a huge price tag, and it further comes with the cost that Anchor no longer meets the Brewers Association’s definition of “craft beer.” Understandably, reaction to the deal was mixed outside the brewery, but within it, Ungermann says he felt relief.

“When you’re up for sale, there are a lot of possibilities of who could buy you, whether it’s a big American multinational brewery or a private equity firm, and some of those would have been really scary, especially a private equity firm that just wants to flip you,” he explains. “One thing we know about Sapporo is that they’re beer people. They’ve been in the brewing business longer than we have – 140 years. They have a long-term vision., and knowing that much is comforting. We feel like we’ve been bought forever.”

To underscore its commitment, the head of Sapporo North America quickly relocated his office to within the Anchor building. Still, there have been challenges since the late summer acquisition.

“The language and the business-cultural barriers are definitely there, and I know we’ll work through that,” Ungermann continues. “We’ll get to know them better. They’ll get to speak better English; maybe we’ll even learn a little Japanese. It just takes more time to explain things. And they’re very involved; they ask a lot of questions – all good things.”

As Anchor’s brewmaster, Ungermann doesn’t have much time for idle handwringing. Unlike when he was at Anheuser-Busch, Ungermann is involved in every stage of a beer’s creation: recipe development, brewing, packaging, marketing plans.  He also oversaw the recent conversion of warehouse space across the street into Anchor’s first proper tasting room, Public Taps. The facility includes a seven-barrel “pilot brewery” for taproom-only releases. (By comparison, its regular brewhouse is 100 barrels.)

“It’s been a hell of a lot of work to get everything up and running, but it’s a great new step for us,” says Ungermann, a week after brewing his first beer on the system. “It gives us the chance to work on the cool, new things that certainly everyone wants.”

The brewmaster finds himself in an interesting position: He’s charged with executing Anchor’s iconic recipes and staying true to a time-tested brand while also honoring a legacy of innovation.

“You know, at times, it feels like there’s a lot of pressure,” Ungermann says with a laugh. “The things that happened here are true American brewing history. I respect the tradition, and carrying on the legacy is a really important part of what I’m here to do. I’ve always held in very high regard the process for making Steam. We haven’t changed a thing about it, and we don’t want to. I want to make the brewery more efficient and more cost effective, but there are the sacred cows that are truly sacred cows, and one of them is making Steam exactly the way we do. Christmas Ale is the same thing: You get to change it every year, but it’s still Christmas Ale, and you need to respect it as such. We’re not going to change it in a way that we feel would alienate any of the true fans of the beer. But every year, we’re going to come out with new beers that are true to our identity, too.”

To wit, Ungermann has been at the helm for the production of four fruited beers since joining Anchor – the first fruited beers in the history of the brewery: a lemon lager, a mango wheat ale, a blonde orange blonde ale, and a blackberry IPA. Separately, a new “aggressively hopped” pale ale is slated to be unveiled next year, and its relatively young barrel program has been yielding results.

Even if these are ideas that Maytag may not have personally glommed onto, the former boss offered Ungermann some encouragement at a veteran employee’s going-away party earlier this year.

“I gave him some beers, and he tasted Blackberry Daze, and he was very, ‘I rather like that blackberry beer,’” the brewmaster recalls, slipping into his best Maytag impression. “You know, it was really cool to hear that for him.”

As with the evolving Christmas Ale, perhaps the story of Anchor Brewing is first and foremost one of change.

“The brewery existed before Maytag, and now it’s existing now after him,” says Stein. “They’ve laid out a good blueprint for a lot of American breweries who are wondering about their next twenty or thirty years.”