I am late to the Anchor Brewing party. Very late. Truth be told, I was too busy being distracted. Distracted trying other beers that seemed more…trendy and way cool. Beers with wacky, edgy names like Arrogant Bastard Ale or Dead Guy Ale or even Moose Drool Brown Ale. Anchor’s Steam beer seemed kind of dull by comparison. After all, what does steam have to do with beer? “Steam is hot. I want my beer to be cold. And what kind of a logo is an old boat anchor anyway?”
I have nothing at all against Arrogant Bastard, Dead Guy, or Moose Drool. Those are fine craft beers brewed by breweries that are dedicated to swimming against the tide of lousy, watered-down swill. Three cheers for that. But here is the thing–without the modern incarnation of the Anchor Brewing Company there most likely is no Arrogant Bastard, Dead Guy, or Moose Drool. In fact, without Anchor Brewing and the efforts of its former owner Fritz Maytag there is a good chance the craft beer reformation and revival doesn’t happen at all. Anchor and Maytag are that important to the movement.
There are a variety of reasons for making such a statement, many of which author Tom Acitelli has outlined in his outstanding book The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution. Maytag purchased the floundering Anchor Brewing Company in 1965 for a song. At the time the brewery was producing an awful product that no one really wanted. Maytag changed the recipe and people began to take notice. In 1975 Anchor used an American strain of hops and brewed their Liberty Ale, a beer that Acitelli has called “quite possibly the most important beer of the late twentieth century.” Anchor Liberty Ale is considered the prototype upon which American-style pale ales and India pale ales are based. Following the lead of Anchor and their maverick owner, the craft beer renaissance was on.
But enough history. What is my take on Anchor Steam?
My take is that it is amazing. Flat out amazing. I’m no fan of overly hopped beers. India Pale Ales are most certainly not my thing. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Anchor’s Liberty Ale is about as hoppy as I want to get. Those beers are quite mild compared to the hopsplosions create by the double and triple IPAs of some breweries. Anchor Steam has some hop bite to it, but keeps things in check by mixing in a carmel-tasting malt that smooths out the flavor. The head is really delicious on this beer and the color is quite pleasing to the eye. Anchor Steam is an historic beer that is great to look at, to smell, and certainly to taste.
So what is with the term “steam?”: According to the company’s web site, steam beer “…was a nickname for beer brewed on the West Coast of America under primitive conditions and without ice. While the origin of the name remains shrouded in mystery, it likely relates to the original practice of fermenting the beer on San Francisco’s rooftops in a cool climate. In lieu of ice, the foggy night air naturally cooled the fermenting beer, creating steam off the warm open pans.” So now you know.
Samuel Adams Boston Lager gets a lot of press for being the “gateway beer” that leads people away from Bud and Miller toward craft beer. I’m a fan of Boston Lager and don’t necessarily disagree, but I believe that Anchor Steam also belongs in that “gateway beer” discussion (as does New Belgium’s Fat Tire). Anchor Steam would be perfect at the ballpark, after mowing the lawn, with Thanksgiving dinner, or following a session shoveling snow. I cannot imagine why anyone would settle for Bud or Miller when a beer like this is so readily available and completely affordable.
Beer prayer: Gracious God, we give thanks for hoppy, carmeled goodness of Anchor Steam beer. We are equally grateful for the steam process of fermentation and how glorious it is that you give men and women the ingenuity to try such things with such delightful results. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!
My Untappd rating for Anchor Steam: 5/5