San Francisco Stars #12 Anchor Steam Beer, San Francisco, California
Date: July 10, 2019 —
The Story—We were surprised to find beer-bar goers, and even some geeks, who didn’t know the story behind Anchor Brewing’s iconic “steam” beer. We won’t go back over the basics in this post, but you can read more in an earlier post here.
It’s hard to say how closely the current Anchor Steam resembles the steam beers of the past. Anchor still ferments its steam beer in shallow open fermentors and uses an lager yeast at near ale temperatures. The open fermentors now, however, are in sealed, carefully controlled, and cooled rooms unlike the big open roof top cool ships used not only by German brewers, but Belgians who were making lambics.
Anchor was on the brink of bankruptcy when Fritz Maytag bought and revived it. The beers from Anchor were wonderful at their best but often not nearly at their best. We’re guessing that those pre-Maytag beers were pretty close to what you might have found a few decades earlier in breweries in California and Nevada.
Plenty of people say this beer has changed in the last 30 years. We think we –and the context in which we are drinking–are what has changed. Decades ago it stood out in a very small group of beers with full flavor. Today, it’s pretty subdued in today’s market. We still think it has its own place not only in history but as a fine alternative to super hoppy IPAs and sadly silly fruit beers.
The Beer– Still yummy after all these years. Lots of caramel, but some toasty malt as well before ending with a nice tangy balance. A marvelously moreish darkish ale that can appeal to a hop head in much the same way as the very malty helles of Munich do — it’s just plain good beer.
Value — Excellent. In San Francisco a decent price for a pint of beer is eight or nine bucks. Anchor can be had–wonderfully fresh– for five bucks at the Anchor Taps across the street from the brewery.
Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.
We just got back from a week in San Francisco. We hadn’t been there in eleven years and the remarkably vibrant beer scene we experienced then has become, well, even vibranter. Ellie, poor girl, had to work long hours during the day while I got to roam the streets checking out the best places to find great beers. At least when Ellie got off work I had places to take her before she crashed for the night. We’ll post a week or two of Beers of the Day by the Bay before returning to research for our book on Inns and Breweries of the Mid-Atlantic.
Interestingly, the downtown area of San Francisco, while awash with beers from the surrounding areas, has few brewing spots of its own. In that regard it reminds us of New York, where you have to leave Manhattan and go to Brooklyn to really find a nest of breweries. Away from downtown, several brewery taps thrive and public transportation gets you almost anywhere. Beyond the city limits, of breweries ring the city, and many of them produce exceptionally good beers and the myriad of tap houses all over town tend to focus on local beers. Name the style you like and you can find an excellent version of it, though at a price.
We’re often asked to share our tasting notes on over 33,000 beers; this blog is in answer to those requests. Not all our notes, though. The great beer writer Michael Jackson admirably followed the Thumper Rule, and we’ll try to do the same. (“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.”) All the beers we post are from the top half of our ratings and most are from the top quarter. Of greater value, we think, are the stories behind the beers, and we try to give you enough about the brewery, the style and the places to find great beer to help you on your own beer journeys. At CulturAle Press we try to write books and publish posts that will help you “Drink Well and Travel Safely.”