The last beer of the calendar last year was Anchor Brewing's Our Special Ale, which most of us know as Anchor Christmas, and I see no reason for not making it this year's finale too. I think we might be witnessing the start of a new tradition.
As you probably know already, Anchor features a different tree on the label each year and this season's arboreal treat is an exceptional one - the bristlecone pine, and in particular the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva. Bristlecone pines are in the record books as the oldest known single living organisms on the planet - almost 5,000 years in some verified instances (there's a rumour there might be one even older). You might say they're as old as Methuselah, which is the name that's been given to the tree that's currently believed hold the record. Don't go looking for it though because its location is a closely guarded secret. If people knew where Methuselah grows there'd be little bits of Methuselah on mantelpieces all over the country and none where Methuselah ought to be.
Let's just think about this incredible longevity for a moment. When the tree was still a sapling the builders of Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids were excitedly taking everything out of the flatpack, looking at the assembly instructions and getting on the phone to IKEA because there was a nut and bolt missing. It was around before the major world religions, it's seen the rise and fall of all the well known empires, it's witnessed wars, famine and pestilence raging around it. It boggles the mind that any living thing can have seen that much history, and throughout everything it's just sat there serenely minding its own business.
Another kind of tree, and one more closely associated with Christmas, is currently in the news. Certain species of the Boswellia genus are the source of frankincense. Frankincense begins life as an aromatic resin that oozes from the tree when lines are scored in its bark, in the same way we get syrup from the maple tree. The resin hardens and can be burnt, releasing its fragrance, or processed for inclusion in perfumes and scents. Frankincense is an important part of many religious rituals, it's been linked to a handful of medicinal properties, and some people believe it wards off snakes.
The major frankincense-producing area is mostly around the Horn of Africa and southeast Asia (countries such as Yemen, Oman and Ethiopia), but Boswellia forests in the region are in decline and some ecologists are saying that the amount of frankincense produced could decline by 50% over the next 15 years. There are several factors at work here. Trees are being cut down to make way for agricultural land, too much resin is being tapped (which shortens the life of the tree and does bad things to its reproductive properties), and invasive species, such as acacia, are moving in. By the way, a Boswellia forest isn't exactly what you might think. We're not talking about something like Fangorn, it's much more sparse than that. It just means that Boswellia is the dominant species. After all, this is a very arid part of the planet.
While researching these Digest entries, I discover many things I had no knowledge of before. Did you know, for instance, there's a Frankincense Trail? True story.
And with that nugget of information, I reckon proceedings here are concluded for another year. By the time you read this we will almost certainly have our three-year Anchor Christmas vertical on tap at Lamar (kegs are already in the walk-in and straining at the leash). I hope that you've been inspired to try a few of this year's beers, leastways the beers you can get wherever you are. Texas beer drinkers have just been handed a very nice Christmas present by His Honour Judge Sam Sparks of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, who has delivered his verdict in the case brought against the TABC by Jester King, Authentic Beverages and Zax's Restaurant. Beer labels on lagers over 5% will no longer have to say 'Ale in Texas' and breweries will be able to let us know where their beers are on sale. It's one small step for Texas beer, a giant leap for common sense.
May you all have a prosperous and happy 2012, and please make the most of it before the world comes to an end on December 21st.
You can read the rest of the Badass Beer Advent Calendar entries here.