The Anchor brewery, founded in 1896, used a unique American brewing method which was first perfected during the Californian Gold Rush days when refrigeration was not available. This method involved using bottom-fermenting lager yeasts in very shallow fermenting vessels which cooled the brew and formed a cross between an ale and a lager.
The brewery went bankrupt and was bought in 1965 by the washing machine heir, Fritz Maytag. (Perhaps with laundered money!) He maintained the traditional brewing practices, and indeed trademarked the name, and Anchor Steam Ale soon gained national recognition. It has been credited with sparking the revival of traditional brewing in the USA, I wouldn’t know about that, but it certainly is an outstanding brew.
WHAT IS STEAM BEER?
Perhaps it was popular amongst railway workers. Or maybe it is associated with the numerous Chinese laundries of San Francisco. It could be that the brewing process involved turning the beer into steam at some point. Maybe it’s because after drinking one too many, you would be steaming.
No, none of the above. It is thought that the name was coined as a referral to the hiss escaping gases from the casks when they were tapped.
This beer pours a slightly hazy, brazen copper colour with a thinnish, off-white, fine head and decent lacing. There’s a good mix of both sweet malt and hops in the nose with earthy aromas, light caramel sweetness and some toasted malt. The hops however are somewhat more dominant. There is a clean, light fruitiness with some floral tones as well.
Full bodied and a good carbonation give this a lively and distinctive mouthfeel. The first sensation is of a smooth creaminess and a sharp bitterness with a slight lemon tang. This is a very tasty beer, full of flavour and character. There’s a hint of fruit, a highly toasted malt flavour and lots of caramel. The variety of hops used lends itself to a woody, slightly earthy hop flavour, the hop bitterness overpowering the malt sweetness. It finishes cleanly with a dry, grainy, citrus after-taste.
At 5% ABV, this is a good session beer. It’s very tasty and a real credit to the brewery. Anchor Steam Ale has the hoppy flavour of an ale but the rich toasted malt of a lager, and is much fuller in flavour than most lagers. It may be too malty for some but it is actually a good beer for exploiting the benefits of both ale and lager. When served cold it is extremely refreshing and satisfying.