The OGs of Craft Beer | Anchor Brewing – Anchor Steam
Anchor Steam®. Those two words serve as a metaphorical window into a world filled with a veritable wealth of American beer history.
To view Anchor Brewing is to observe three distinct stages of American brewing: 19th Century to Prohibition; the resurrection of American craft and the establishment of craft as a business worthy of significant investment. To drink the beer is to enjoy a historical brewing process that afforded West Coast brewers an ability to brew successfully without ice; it also helped remind later-twentieth-century beer drinkers that beer need-not be clearish-yellow and full of adjuncts.
The story of Fritz Maytag (great-grandson of Maytag Corporation founder Frederick Louis Maytag) and his decision to purchase Anchor Brewing in 1965 has been detailed in a multitude of beer-focused publications.
Do you know why?
Because to anyone who claims beer as a passion, there are few other pivotal moments in modern beer history that rival Maytag’s decision to purchase the 1896-built brewery and turn it into a viable modern-day business. He proved that one could successfully brew a beer in the early ’70s that was not like all the others.
Granted, Maytag’s decision alone did not create the modern craft beer boom, but it serves as one of the chief catalysts. For example, Ken Grossman, of Sierra Nevada fame, sought advice from Maytag before opening his brewery. He said of Maytag to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2010, “He was a legend for the many small brewers who came after him.”
Alas, this is a beer showcase and not a history of Anchor. Therefore, I will only encourage one to find an excellent article or book on the brewery’s history (I recommend “The Audacity of Hops” by Tom Acitelli).
Meanwhile, I will now turn to the beer: The beer that helped make the brewery relevant —again.
The showcase subject, an OG beer born of an OG brewery, is Anchor Steam (although we could discuss Anchor Liberty and Anchor Porter, too).
But Anchor Steam. You can’t ignore the steam!
Malt: Blend of 2-Row Pale & Caramel | Hops: Northern Brewer.
Most agree that steam beer is almost certainly the oldest brewing style born in the U.S.
However, the origin of the name, “Steam Beer,” is often-debated and often-theorized, but no bonafide conclusion has arisen. Anchor Brewing noted, “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.”
While the etymology of the term remains mysterious, no debate exists about its meaning now because Anchor owns the trademark on the name, “Steam Beer.” Hence, when one stays “steam,” they mean Anchor. End of story.
Pouring Anchor Steam, which emerged in its modern form in 1971, reminds one of the early modern craft eras with its amber-reddish color and creamy head. But, like many craft beers, it’s not about doing something new as much as it is awakening dormant styles and techniques that hibernated during the middle decades of the 20th century, arguably America’s least-creative period of beer history.
Again, it’s best to let Anchor describe its brewing methodology.
“It is a process that combines deep respect for craft brewing tradition with many decades of evolution to arrive at a unique approach: a blend of pale and caramel malts, fermentation with lager yeast at warmer ale temperatures in shallow open-air fermenters and gentle carbonation in our cellars through an all-natural process called kräusening.”
The beer helped the brewery succeed (as well as the industry). It’s so successful it has since made the journey away from craft, as designated by the Brewers Association, to a brewery owned by a large ownership group. In 2010, Maytag sold the brewery to two spirits-industry veterans, Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio, who followed that by selling the brewery in 2017 to Japan’s Sapporo Holdings Ltd. for a reported $85 million.
However, the process that made the beer since 1896 and helped invigorate the current boom largely remains the same. To sip on an Anchor Steam, Anchor Liberty or the Porter is to drink a beer that helped pave the way for every beer next to it on the shelves, taps and in festival booths.
It’s more than a beer: It’s history in a bottle.
We at Porchdrinking.com thoroughly enjoy covering craft beer trends and showcasing the newest and beers. But, before terms like Brut, Milkshake, New England and even BBA entered the brewing-industry lexicon, beer fans were thrilled to taste Ambers, Pale Ales and some mysterious beer that may or may not have arrived from India. So, for one month, we are going to take time to remember some of those OGs of Craft Beer — the brews that made it all possible. While we can’t cover all the OGs of Craft Beer, we want to take this time in August to pay homage to several of them. If your favorite “classic” isn’t on the list; don’t fret. Let us know what you loved back in the day (or still do), and bring attention in the comments section below or via our social media channels.
Feature image courtesy of Anchor Brewing