Anchor Brewing – San Francisco
My tour of Anchor Brewing Company is proof that some of the world’s most high-quality beers are not found being coveted by neighboring states, traded illegally across federal lines, or drooled over in bars across America. They are not imperial barrel-aged this or wild lacto that. They are the beers that are proven time and time again to be relevant, consistent, and a source of immense local pride. At least one of the most notable breweries I am aware of that is constantly churning out beers of historic significance, but also with remarkable adaptability, is found in San Francisco, California.
I’ve got five fascinating things here that you never knew about the linchpin brewery of America’s craft beer revolution.
I visited one of Rogue’s bars in Little Italy and also 21st Amendment near Giants Stadium. On the way out of town, my parents agreed to let me snap some photos of Anchor Brewing as it was on the way.
When we arrived, however, there was no taproom or way to get much of a visual of the place. The host sitting just inside the door, Tom, explained that they only have a production facility but that I was welcome to look around. Tours, he explained, are the best way to learn and see, but they are sold out months in advance. Moments later, after I had frownfully informed my family we could return to the car, Tom indicated that a cancellation resulted in enough tour spots for all three of us — and it would begin in ten minutes! Life is funny sometimes.
Ten minutes later we were upstairs, admiring memorabilia and breweriana, ready for the tour with bells on. Anticipation makes the heart grow fonder, we realized as the tour guide was ten minutes late. Maybe she wouldn’t show? We felt pressure to get on the road and head south, but we couldn’t give up just yet. We agreed to wait another five.
Our guide Nick was priceless in his knowledge and sense of humor – he actually slapped himself to demonstrate the labeling machine – and the length and scope of the tour were ideal for the mixed crowd.
You can learn these and more by visiting the interwebs.
First, Anchor Brewing is responsible for the first IPA since prohibition. It is their Liberty Ale, which was first brewed to commemorate Paul Revere and his legendary trek. This is an ironic fact as the evolution of the IPA style means that Liberty Ale is now classified as a pale ale. Anchor recently added their Anchor IPA to fit the current tastes on what an American IPA should be.
Anchor was the first brewery to employ dry-hopping, or adding more hops to a beer after the end of the traditional brewing process. The Liberty Ale is dosed with whole-cone Cascade, and the new IPA with Cascade, Apollo, Citra, Nelson Sauvin, and Haas Experimental 431. They also experimented with spent hops – bet you’ve never heard of that. It is a bit like re-using a tea bag (yes, there are people who do that) and creates a milder flavor.
The first wheat beer after Prohibition was also brewed at Anchor, their Summer Ale. The history of the beer itself is fascinating as the brewery had a custom bottle (not label) made for the affair in 1984.
Similarly, the first modern American Porter was brewed at Anchor in 1972, over 40 years ago. The history of the style is one that I find quite fascinating, and you may remember that Anchor Porter was one of my absolute favorite beers of the Porter-Off competition over a year ago.
And finally, for the fact I find most fascinating, shocking, and entirely heartwarming: Anchor open-ferments their lagers. uhhhhWHAAAT?! was sort of the noise I made while gazing through a window into a magical little room full of bubbling square vats. I’ll say it again. Open. Fermentation. Lagers. Yes.That means the ubiquitous classic, Anchor Steam, and also the California Lager bubble happily away, uncovered for all to see.
On a related note, consider the following two bonus facts: to reinvigorate secondary fermentation, Anchor brewers use a process known as kräusening, or adding a portion of active wort to fully-fermented tanks. “Kräusening was originally developed as a method of initiating a slow secondary fermentation that would reduce the level of undesirable flavor components and produce a cleaner tasting beer. This secondary fermentation could take as long as three or four weeks, which was the standard aging period for most lagers. When kräusened in an enclosed tank, beer becomes naturally carbonated as well.”
Which leads to my seventh similarily exhilarating tidbit: all carbonation contained in every single bottle of Anchor beer is naturally produced. All of it. No exceptions. The place doesn’t even contain a force-carbonator. How great is that?
Now, I know many of you will say “bubbles are bubbles” and on one hand that is true. But personally, I wholeheartedly disagree. I find that yeast-derived bubbles are far more charming.
Our tour concluded with a few sips in the tasting room, but we couldn’t stay long. I thanked Nick and Tom on our way out the door, head spinning with novel facts from an unassuming source.
Obviously, I highly encourage Anchor tours. They sell out quickly and must be reserved on line far in advance. Special thanks to Anchor staff for inviting us along.