A Tribute to Anchor Brewing Company

The list of beers in front of me was fantastic. At least 30 beers I would gladly quaff, and many of which I've never quaffed before. It's a great problem to have.

As I casually perused the list, my eye stopped at:

Anchor Steam

This isn't the first time I've been stymied by Anchor's legendary flagship offering, and this wasn't the best draft list I've ever seen. If Anchor is on the menu, it's a good bet that I'll order at least one during the evening. I haven't seen many breweries work there way under my skin the way they have, and I thought I'd give them a little shoutout as a influential pioneer in American brewing, and a personal favorite of yours truly.

For the record, I try not to focus on specific breweries during my editorial musings. I'm as objective as they come in the beer industry. But there's such a great story here. And, in this author's humble opinion, they've never really made a bad beer. For all the fans out there, please forgive the the following story for its brevity. Every great brewery has more anecdotes in their history and growth than I can ever write down here today, so I choose instead to impress upon you the significance of their pedigree and their influence on modern craft brewing.

Anchor brewing company, located in San Francisco, and in one form or another, has been making beer in this country for almost 150 years. The brewery itself has survived multiple ownership changes, fires, relocations, prohibition, and the rampant consumer marketing of America's largest domestic producers. Anchor's brand, a humble ode to its history and evolution, has always cast a positive, reassuring light on what great beer could be. Throughout its history, Anchor never stopped pioneering a quality product, and the good people making Anchor today have held that torch high. Anchor's beer is, in my opinion, the best it's ever been.

The Anchor we know and love today is mostly due to a young man named Fritz Maytag (of washer/dryer legend), who loved Anchor's beer so much that he bought a majority stake in the failing brewery in 1965 for a pittance. This small investment kept Anchor's craft beer flowing along during an era of Budweiser, Shlitz, PBR, and all the other beers of the era brewed for a profit margin, and not for passion of the product. Although Maytag sold Anchor 45 years later, in 2010, its quality and image have not changed in the slightest. I really enjoy the new Anchor IPA, and I think that the California Lager is one of my favorite summer sessions.

But lets not talk about their entire product portfolio. I want to talk about the first, the best, the original, Anchor Steam Beer. This one beer, accounting for a large percentage of their production, has driven the company's growth for over 100 years. Most folks don't know this, but Anchor actually trademarked the name "Steam beer", which means that they're the only brewery who can legally make it. This style of beer, famous for it's eminently approachable, yet deceptively complex palate, has been adopted by the rest of the craft community as an entirely new style of beer called the "california common". 

"Steam beer", as industry folks will call it, is the result of a quirky, and quite unique brewing process (geek-out alert...feel free to skip this part). In traditional brewing, lagers are fermented with yeast that does its magic at the bottom of the fermentation tank. They like cool temperatures, and usually produce a crisp, straight-forward flavor. Steam beer, historically a blue-collar drink in mid 19th century California, was made out of necessity, and a distinct lack of modern refrigeration methods. Brewers discovered that they could make a lager with a strain of yeast that was happy to ferment at unusually warm temperatures (closer to where an ale would ferment), thus attributing an interesting flavor to the finished product. Steam beer came into being. Granted, Anchor's current steam beer is brewed in a modern brewing facility, and doesn't employ the same techniques that were used 150 years ago. But I defy you to drink one and tell me it's not a pleasant experience.

To those of you that haven't discovered an Anchor Steam, I would be happy to buy you a beer. To Anchor Brewing Company...keep up the good work. I'm glad that I still like to drink your beer, and I hope it continues to be a top choice as the our craft choices evolve.

 And send me a case of the new saison...it looks pretty darn tasty.

- Chris