|Credit: Anchor Brewing.|
Anchor's greater contribution to American brewing was demonstrating that it could be done on a small scale profitably. I don't actually think Fritz Maytag's beer was what inspired other breweries, no matter how many people want to credit Liberty Ale with establishing the modern pale/IPA. Rather, like so many other San Franciscan immigrants before him, he demonstrated that making good, honest beer on a small scale was possible. It was a proof of concept.
To add to the celebration, I'm going to excerpt a section from the Beer Bible about steam beer. There are a ton of fascinating stories about beer, and this is just one among many--but the anniversary gives me a good excuse to trundle it out. (And of course, it means I have to plug the book here, too: go buy a copy today!) (Sorry.)
I also had a chance to tour the brewery a couple weeks ago, and those photos are sprinkled throughout. Okay, to the excerpt...
Excerpt from The Beer Bible on Steam Beer
In the second half of the 19th century, beer was really on the move. German immigrants were pouring into North America, dotting the towns of the Midwest and West with new lager, breweries. Pale lagers were streaming out of Bohemia and Austria across Europe. And in America, migrants were sweeping across the continent in search of better lives.
One of the migrants’ prime destinations was San Francisco, where they heard the waters ran with gold. In 1848, it was the small hamlet by the bay, a community of fewer than a thousand souls. But by July 1850, census workers counted almost 95,000—a seething, sweating mass of dreamers and drifters. Franconian entrepreneur Levi Strauss saw them as customers in need of a sturdy pair of pants, and many of his countrymen figured they could use a beer, too. By 1900, the breweries were in place—two dozen at their peak—making a brew the locals called “steam beer.” Taverns bulging with hard-working, thirsty men meant breweries didn’t have the time to make proper lager. They brewed a beer with lager malts, generally (though not always) in the German decoction method, but instead of fermenting cool and conditioning the beer for weeks, they pitched lager yeast at ale temperatures, let the wort finish fermenting in wide, shallow “clarifying tanks,” and packaged it immediately, without any conditioning. The entire process took less than a week.
The origin of the name “steam beer” is obscure, but there are a couple decent possibilities. Anchor Brewing, which has kept the style alive through the decades, believes the name comes rooftop cool ships that steamed as the wort cooled. Robert Wahl and Max Henius, writing in 1902 in their American Handy-book of Brewing, Malting, and Auxilary Trades, put forward this theory: “This beer is largely consumed throughout the state of California. It is called steam beer on account of its highly effervescing properties and the amount of pressure (“steam”) it has in the packages.” Whatever the name’s origin, Wahl and Henius offer a description of what it might have tasted like: “light in color, hop aroma and bitter taste not very pronounced; very lively and not necessarily brilliant.”
That was when Fritz Maytag, who had a bit of his family’s washing-machine money, stepped in and bought a controlling share of Anchor Brewing. He didn’t buy it outright until 1968, and he spent the intervening years learning the brewing art from colleagues like Bill Leinenkugel and studying Jean de Clerck’s Textbook of Brewing. In 1969, he bought new equipment and, armed with his new understanding of beer, retooled the recipe for steam beer. Over the years, Anchor had succumbed to the same cost-saving shortcuts larger breweries had adopted, and Maytag scrapped them all. He went looking for inspiration in the old tradition of brewing steam beer.
Today Anchor makes steam beer in much the way breweries did decades ago. They use wide, open fermenters and a lager yeast strain. Wahl and Henius describe the process of kräusening—adding fermenting wort to finished beer to carbonate—to achieve high levels of carbonation, and Anchor does that now, too. The recipe is simple, just pale and caramel malts and Northern Brewer hops—and that’s likely how the old San Francisco brewers
would have done it, too. Nothing fancy, just simple, easy beer.
|That foaming thing in the wall is a grant. Old-timey stuff.|
|The "modern" brewery.|