Craft Cans

Classic Beer of the Month January 2017: Anchor Steam Beer

Print
Anchor Steam Beer, 4.8%

The revival of craft brewing in the US is often credited to the action of one man who saved a struggling brewery.

Anchor Steam BeerAlthough later events such as the legalisation of home-brewing by President Jimmy Carter, the publication of Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer and the opening of the New Albion brewery in northern California have all been feted as key drivers in changing the face of brewing in America, it is the day when Fritz Maytag decided to buy the Anchor brewery in San Francisco that is often seen as the moment when America’s brewing fortunes began to turn.

It was in 1965 that Maytag – heir to a white-goods fortune – popped into a restaurant for a meal and a drink only to be told that the local brewery was on the point of closure. Anchor had been brewing – off and on – since 1896 and Maytag was convinced it could still have a future as well as a past.

He invested in the business, bringing both the equipment and the beers up to speed and, by the early 1970s, Anchor was in a position to launch new beers such as Liberty Ale – laced with fruity US hops – that pointed the way forward for smaller producers in a big-business industry.

Anchor’s success has continued, even though Maytag sold the business in 2010, its followers now appreciating a wide range of products as well as that first beer that convinced Maytag that this was a business worth saving.

Gold Rush

Anchor Steam Beer is a relic of the gold rush age. During the mid-19th century, thousands of travellers, hoping to get rich quick through the newly-discovered gold reserves of California, descended on San Francisco and its environs.

Many were of European stock, used at home to drinking crisp, light lagers that would have been just the ticket on the West Coast after a dusty, sweaty day’s prospecting.

Unfortunately, with no refrigeration available, any attempts at brewing a bottom-fermented, cold-conditioned beer were prone to failure, the lager yeast struggling to do what it did best in inclement temperatures.

The result was a beer that was a kind of ale-lager hybrid – light of body but clearly fruity, with apparently a generous amount of carbonation that, according to some accounts, gave off an audible hiss of steam when tapped.

In other accounts, the beer was at one time fermented on brewery rooftops, where the vapour rising from the beer created swirls of steam. Either way, steam beer was born.

Anchor Steam Beer was the last example of the style still knocking around when Maytag bought the brewery. He smartened it up and made it the brewery’s calling card, even trade-marking the use of the name ‘steam beer’. Other breweries now replicating the style tend to use the term ‘California common’ instead.

Delicate Style

Anyone sampling Anchor Steam for the first time, perhaps on the back of a chunky US IPA, will be seriously disappointed as they hunt for the hops. This is a far more delicate style of beer, akin in some respects to a British ale.

It pours a clear amber colour and offers a lush aroma that is slightly toasted, featuring caramel-like malt notes and a gentle whiff of orange cream.

That caramel note – developed from a combination of pale and caramel malts – is obvious in the taste, sitting smoothly on the tongue where it is countered by a prickly carbonation.

The taste is bittersweet but with a firm Northern Brewer hop edge that is lightly floral and has just a suggestion of liquorice and more notes of orange. Despite the richness of the malt, this is not a flabby beer but – the original lager influences still having a bearing – rather slender and crisp.

Caramel and firmly bitter, herbal hops slowly build in the dry finish, with that caramel note calling you back for more.

If the beer was half as enjoyable when Fritz Maytag sampled it that fateful day, it’s hardly surprising he decided it was just too good to lose.



Bookmark and Share