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Greene King (Our Heritage, Our Passion. Your IPA)
Feb 2016

Anchor Steam Beer, Anchor Brewery

Added: Monday, February 1st 2016

Style Steam Beer ABV 4.8%

Anchor Steam Beer (4.8%)

The word “iconic” is over-used but it certainly applies to a beer that not only has a fascinating method of production but also played a significant role in the great American beer revolution.

Back in the 1960s, Fritz Maytag was a student at Stanford University in California and he enjoyed a San Francisco speciality known as steam beer in local bars. In 1965, when he ordered the beer, the barman told him it would be the last one he would ever taste as the brewery was about to close.

As a result, Fritz wrote his chapter in the American Dream. He had the good fortune – in every way -- to be a member of the Maytag family that had built a washing machine empire. Fritz cashed in some of his stock and bought the brewery, pre-empting by a decade or two the man who liked the Remington razor so much that he bought the company.

Steam Beer is unique to San Francisco and its name has nothing to do with older methods of brewing that used steam engines to generate power. It’s a style that dates from the California Gold Rush of the 1890s. When prospectors poured in the small town of San Francisco, they found a mainly Mexican population drinking wine or tequila. The gold diggers wanted beer – and in particular they wanted the lager beers they had enjoyed back east. Brewers were desperate to meet the demand but refrigeration hadn’t arrived in California.

The brewers tackled the problem with remarkable ingenuity by fermenting their beers with imported lager yeasts but at ale temperatures. They developed shallow vessels that exposed more of the beer to the atmosphere and encouraged it to cool rapidly. The beer continued a lively fermentation in casks in the bars, producing a high level of natural carbonation. As a result, when a cask was tapped, it let off such a hiss of escaping gas that drinkers said it sounded like steam.

Fritz Maytag nursed his brewery back to success and built an impressive new plant with copper vessels created for him in Germany. He immersed himself in both brewing techniques and world styles. He visited Britain and mainland Europe to see at firsthand how pale ale and genuine lager are made.

His brewery is now based in a 1930s Art Deco building that originally housed a coffee roasting company. He brews a wide range of beers using traditional modern kit but Anchor Steam is still fermented in open, shallow fermenters just 60cm or two feet deep. A lager yeast culture is used but at a warm temperature of between 16 to 21ºC or 60 to 70ºF. The grist is a blend of pale and crystal malts, with no added sugars. Hops are Northern Brewer, which are added three times during the kettle boil (units of bitterness 30-35). Following fermentation, the green or immature beer is warm conditioned for three weeks and is then kräusened, which means some partially fermented wort or sugar-rich extract is added to encourage a strong second fermentation.

The beer that emerges from this exhaustive process is bronze coloured, with a rich malty and nutty aroma, tart fruit and spicy, earthy hop resin notes. The firm, full palate has juicy malt, citrus fruit and tangy hops, followed by a long finish at first dominated by sappy malt and tart fruit but with a late burst of bitter hops.

It’s a complex and quenching beer, a world classic that inspired generations of American brewers to follow Fritz Maytag’s lead and make beer full of flavour and character.

335ml. £1.90 Marks & Spencer. Also available in Tesco and Majestic Wine and many other major outlets.

Anchor Steam Beer, Anchor Brewery