28 March 2011

How I Fell In Love With Anchor Steam

Many years before I was inducted into the Knights of the Beer Roundtable, I was a light beer drinker. It was during that time that I took my first trip to Colorado, where my friends turned me on to a beer with a funny name - Fat Tire. Fat Tire was a beer unlike any I'd had before - big on taste, hefty in mouthfeel, and endlessly drinkable. I was in love.

It was during that time - shortly after I moved to Indianapolis from small town Illinois - that Fat Tire was still an exotic beer, one that I couldn't find anywhere near home. Eventually the beer came to St. Louis, and it was not uncommon for me to make the 30 mile trip from my Mom's house across the river, all in an effort to bring cases of Fat Tire back to my apartment on Indy's southside.

That's all in the past now - I haven't had a Fat Tire in years - but there's something about beer drank on vacation that makes them more desirable afterwords. A friend once said to me that nothing tastes better than a beer in a foreign place - and I'm apt to agree. It was in Japan (of all places) that I really fell in love with Chimay, and after a week of looking for beer all around the circumference of Iceland that I found exactly what I was looking for back in Reykjavik - a bottle of a big stout by Ölvisholt Brugghús called Lava.

A funny thing happened when I joined Hoosier Beer Geek - I became a lot more picky about my vacation beer. Chimay is still magic; I'd have to believe that a bottle of Lava would still make me very happy. It's the beer I loved before HBG - Fat Tire - that I have a hard time believing would grab my attention like it did back then. I know too much now - an it's pretty rare that an American Amber sets my world on fire. It's not enough that a vacation beer be exotic anymore, it's also got to be really damn good.

So when we set our eyes on a trip to San Francisco, Anchor Brewing wasn't on the agenda. You may know the story of Anchor (from wikipedia):
Hearing that the Steam Beer Brewing Company was about to close and looking for something serious to do with his life, (Fritz) Maytag bought the company in 1965 and made it his mission. Steam Beer Brewing had produced awful, sour beer through the 1950s and into the '60s. To revive the company, Maytag altered the recipe and the brewing process and the beer soon surged in popularity. The brewery moved to a new location in 1979 and throughout the coming years demand continued to climb. Not wanting to sacrifice the small size of the brewery, and in turn the quality of the beer, Maytag helped competitors become proficient in microbrewing. This helped to ease the strain on his own company.
Anchor is a monument. But monuments aren't always the most exciting places to visit - and knowing that the Bay Area is filled with boundary pushing breweries meant that a visit to Anchor wasn't a priority.

Thank god we had a friend that knew better.

We did end up touring Anchor, a brewery unlike any I've visited before, with open / coolship fermentation, beautiful brass brew kettles, a long and interesting history, a warm and welcoming tasting room, and that beer.. well, I liked Anchor Steam. I liked every Anchor beer we drank that day. But it's easy to like a beer when you're in the brewery. It's another thing find yourself pulling it off a liquor store shelf again and again.

If you've got a general idea of Anchor Steam, you might have the feeling - as I did - that's it available everywhere. But it's rarely on tap; Finding bottles in a bar or restaurant is even more rare. That leaves us with liquor stores. Plenty of them have it, but - without knowing how the Anchor date code works - you can never be sure of exactly what you're getting.

Regardless of all that, I've taken to buying Anchor Steam regularly. It's been forever since I've been willing to make the commitment to a six pack of anything (unless I plan on drinking one and closeting/cellaring the rest), and despite my reservations, I've yet to have one that tasted out of date.

If you haven't heard the (now old) news, Fritz Maytag sold Anchor to Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio's Griffin Group in April of 2010, which came as a shock to many in the craft beer community. As it turns out, we were lucky enough to meet and have a nice impromptu conversation with both Fritz and Keith during our visit, and it appears the brewery is in good hands, and that the brewery's tradition will continue on an expanded but natural path.

I look forward to it. There's no such thing as too much of a great thing.

For reference:
Recent Anchor Purchases - Date Produced:
Anchor Porter - August 20th, 2010
Anchor Steam - December 7th, 2010

Anchor Date Chart Here: http://www.anchorbrewing.com/about_us/faq.htm

Our thanks to Krystle at World Class Beverages and Fritz, Keith, and Mike at Anchor Steam

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