One of the great joys of being a Beer Journalist is meeting people you never dreamed would cross your path. For much of my lifetime, I could recall the voice of Andy Musser, the consummate professional – sportscaster for the Phillies, the voice of two World Series and two Super Bowls, NCAA Basketball Finals, and two Masters Golf Tournaments. Musser’s career lasted a span of 45 years, begun in 1956 when, at 18-years-old, he won the Atlantic Refinery Junior Sportscaster Contest. At that time, Atlantic Refinery was a major sponsor of the Philadelphia Phillies, both on radio and TV.
In 1965, while living in San Diego, Musser was doing work for the USC Trojans in Los Angeles, traveling the corridor that took him through Newport Beach. The Rusty Pelican, Anchor Brewing Company’s first draft account outside of the San Francisco Bay area, served Musser his first Anchor Steam Beer, one that he felt was a Grand Slam in the American brewing world. Says Musser, “I had never tasted one that good.” He became a big fan of this beer he called “sensational,” and eventually formed a close friendship with another consummate professional, the beer world’s very own Fritz Maytag, owner of Anchor Brewing Company. After retiring from broadcasting on October 3, 2001, Andy Musser took up the baton as Beer Ambassador for Anchor Brewing Company.
On Saturday, December 27, 2008, the Chinese Rotunda at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology in Philadelphia opened like the Gates of Heaven for Philly's First Christmas Beer Fest, featuring the world’s best Christmas Beers and Winter Warmers. Upon arrival, an introduction to Andy Musser prompted my immediate response: “Andy, do you remember our first meeting? Five years ago, when I knew nothing about the beer world, you met me in Conshohocken and brought me beer. I was creating recipes using beer as an ingredient, and you told me to read The Brewmaster’s Table.” As I think of that first encounter, Andy Musser was the one who prompted my initial academic learning about beer, and launched my passion for this living product. As a side note, he would be thrilled to know that my youngest son (a teen, at the time) had secretly taken one bottle, Liberty Ale, from that mixed six-pack, to share with his friends. Although I was angry with my son’s deception, I somehow admired the fact that he had good taste - his actions were about tasting, and not about getting drunk.
During the VIP session of the Christmas Beer Fest, our vintage tasting included a luncheon, hosted by Don Russell, author of Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Beers, who spoke engagingly about our cuisine a la biere, the place of beer in the history of civilization, and our vintage selections that were so grandly served among elegant tableware and cloth napkins. Chief among these vintage beers was an eleven-year-old Anchor Christmas Beer, vintage 1997. Musser’s hand, embellished by a magnificent Phillies World Series ring, seemed the proper setting to raise this silky lady-of-a-beer, as we talked about the origins of Anchor Christmas Beer.
Although Fritz Maytag began brewing Special Christmas Ale in 1975, Anchor’s holiday brews began as an artistic brewing experiment during the slowest period of the year. Each year it was a little different – brewed with various ingredients or processes, and packaged with a plain gold crown in plain cases. Being experimental in nature, Maytag changed the label every time to reinforce the idea that each subsequent year produced a different taste. In 1986, he brewed a special Bride-Ale infused with spices for his wedding. From that point on, Anchor Special Christmas Ale would take on the character of various bouquet garni. The beer, often brewed without the addition of hops, was a bold move to expand the distinctive character of Anchor’s holiday beers.
Our accompanying Anchor Christmas Ale, vintage 1997, was deep walnut in color, with an ecru head and rings of spotty lace. Aromas reminded me of pumpkin bread, spiced with nutmeg, clove, and allspice. Soft aromas of dark fruit and orange peel emerged as secondary notes. In the mouth, a smooth silkiness delivered these soft flavors evenly over my tongue. I was amazed that there was no hint of oxidation – not even a slight nuance. Musser validated my observation and noted that the care taken during bottling emerged in the final product, even years later.
In my research, I discovered that today is Andy Musser’s birthday. Still humble after all these years, he never hinted that he may be deserving of notice.