San Francisco Stars #14 Barrel Aged Old Foghorn
Date: July 12, 2019 —
The Story— We end this sojourn to San Francisco with one more day at the city’s iconic Anchor Brewery. Fritz Maytag changed Anchor from a struggling vestigial 19th century leftover making beer as inconsistently as 19th century breweries brewed them, to an internationally recognized superstar of craft brewing. He was also recognized as one of the best employers on the planet. But we all get old and wear out, and Maytag sold the company lock stock and barrel to a group of investors who largely continued Maytag’s work with only some changes. Their long-time master brewer, Mark Carpenter continued to ensure quality of the beers. More recently Sapporo Breweries acquired all the brewing operations. Saporro did not buy the distillery that Maytag had created as a sister operation to Anchor, and that’s going to make a difference in our Beer of the Day in the future.
Sapporo has had a foothold in North America– it brews Sapporo at the City Brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and purchased the Canadian Sleeman brewing company. Anchor seems a big step forward for them, though, and what happens under their ownership is a developing story.
The Old Foghorn is the classic original American Barley Wine – -based on English tradition, but with a distinct American touch. Anchor uses a “first runnings” approach in which they cut off water from the mash much sooner than usual. Think of the difference in taste between the 12 oz. Keurig run and the 6 oz. Keurig run. It takes them three kettles of grain to make one kettle of beer. In the past they’ve made a “small beer” from the only slightly used grains. We thought it was great, but apparently the extraction process is something of a pain. For example, when we used a similar process at Lost Rhino to produce our Mother Tupper’s Back of the Cupboard Imperial Rye Pale Ale, Lost Rhino skipped the opportunity for a small beer stage and sent the still sugary grain out to some very happy cows.
For now, the Anchor barrel aged Old Foghorn matures in the Portrero casks that Anchor was able to get strikingly wet — enough so that the published abvs show the barrel aged version significantly stronger. The official abv varies between 8% and 10%, but this barrel aged version clocked in at 12.6%. We’ve never seen that great a discrepancy. We’re not sure we haven’t <tasted> a discrepancy that big, but no other brewery we’ve seen has admitted that sort of difference.
The Beer– The aroma is simply stunning, an other worldly cascade of barrel and dark malts. One can assume the flavor couldn’t keep pace, but in this case it does pretty well, with deep fruit– dates, prune, raisins, orange peel, vanilla and a good dose of bakers chocolate, and wood with, somehow, the dark malt finding some room around the edges. Ellie’s reaction: Plum pudding with hard sauce. Happy Christmas!
Value — Excellent. Eight bucks for a 12 ounce serving would normally leave us short of feeling we’d gotten a “steal”, but this is the equivalent of a truly excellent wine aged to near perfection. My wino friends are dropping a C note to get this sort of experience.
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.”