One of my dearest friends picked up and moved to San Francisco a few years back. I hate that she’s gone, but it does mean I get to visit with her when I’m in the City by the Bay and I even get to cajole her into the occasional guest post. Jen Rizzo is a great freelance graphic artist (she did the logo and such over at the Hoperatives) and is quite the foodie. In this post, she’s filling us in on her recent tour of Anchor Steam Brewery.
I have always been a big believer in drinking locally. It’s just better. You’re supporting local businesses and decreasing your carbon footprint. Even above those two very important things, it connects you to the local flavor and allows you to explore some new options. If I’m in a new city, I always want to know what their local craft beer is like. I’m originally from Kansas City, where we have the lovely Boulevard brewery. It is probably surprising to no one that a brewery out of Kansas City specializes in wheat beer – but you can find it everywhere. The most divey of all dive bars will at least have bottles of Boulevard Wheat. When I lived in Cincinnati, I threw down Bell’s like it was candy. (The Two-Hearted and Oberon were my favorites, but I try to not discriminate.) And, of course, I had the pleasure of living in New York during the winter, so I had my share of Brooklyn Black, which is still among my favorite reasons to travel east during the holiday season.
Here in San Francisco, we are incredibly spoiled with the Anchor Steam Brewery.
The Anchor Brewing Company first opened its doors in 1896, and was purchased by Fritz Maytag in 1965. He learned west coast beer from the ground up, and eventually settled on the brews we have today. Recently, Fritz sold the brewery to a holding company a few miles north of San Francisco (owned by two former Skyy vodka representatives), which sent our beer world into a little bit of a panic. Fritz Maytag is greatly respected for his accomplishments in craft brewing, and a lot of us are on the edge of our seats anticipating what comes next. When a friend told me she had an extra ticket to an Anchor tour, I jumped at the chance. The Bay Area Beer Socials group takes this specially-organized after-hours tour once a year, but the organizer fears that this may be the last year for it due to the brewery changing hands.
Anchor produces both seasonal and year-round beers. Anchor Steam is their flagship beer. It’s rich and a little hoppy – a classic west coast beer. (When I was still living in Cincinnati, Northside Tavern kept it on draft, but I’d have to defer to the Hoperatives as to who has it now.)
“Steam” beer was originally a term used to describe west coast brews, but is now a trademark of the Anchor Brewing Company. There are many stories about where the name “steam beer” came from. My favorite is that around the turn of the century, there was no way to effectively chill the beer after boiling, so San Francisco breweries had large, shallow, open-top tanks on the roof to allow the climate to cool it naturally. When beer was being brewed, clouds of steam rose off the top of the buildings – hence, steam beer!
Today, Anchor replicates the process by using these open-top tanks inside:
The beer sits in these tanks for three days, at which point it’s nearly flat. It’s combined later at about an 85/15 ratio with beer that’s only sat there for one day and isn’t quite done, so it balances out in the end.
Liberty Ale is like Anchor Steam’s big brother. A little hoppier, a little richer, a little higher in alcohol content. (6%, compared to Anchor Steam’s 4.9%.) Its name honors Paul Revere’s bicentennial ride, but the recipe stems from older variations of Our Special Ale, their winter seasonal. Anchor Porter is their darkest offering. Dark, rich and roasty with a hoppy back to it, it’s one of my favorite porters. Not too malty, not too smoky. Old Foghorn is a barleywine-style ale. A little lower in alcohol content than most barleywines, at 8-10% (Anchor claims it varies), it’s still the heftiest of the Anchor brews. A little sweet, incredibly rich, and a little bubbly. On draft, it’s particularly lovely, but it holds up pretty well in its bottled version. If the Liberty Ale is Anchor Steam‘s big brother, Anchor Small Beer is Old Foghorn’s little brother. At a teeny tiny 3.3%, it’s created from a second running of the mash used to make Old Foghorn. Even though they come from the same place, they couldn’t taste more different. Small Beer is light, but rich, and takes on a much more bitter flavor than any of Anchor’s other beers.
Anchor makes four seasonals – Our Special Ale, their winter offering, Anchor Bock, for spring, Anchor Summer, and the newest addition, Anchor Humming. Humming Ale was originally created last year to honor the 30th anniversary of the current location. Bars in San Francisco snatched up what they could, since it was intended to be a limited run. About the time that everyone was running out of it, Anchor announced that they would be bottling it as their new autumn seasonal.
Brewery tours are available by reservation during the week. If you’re in the San Francisco area anytime soon, it’s a wonderful piece of history. Plus, the tour wraps up with a tasting, so you can choose your favorites! (While you’re in the area, do what we did and trek up the hill a couple blocks to Goat Hill Pizza, where you can get a pitcher of Anchor Steam as well as sourdough-crust pizzas. Thank me later.)
– Jen Rizzo
Photos © Jen Rizzo, 2010
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