Anchor Steam fall brews flow for Autumn

If a reason was ever needed to raise one’s glass to the folks at San Francisco’s Anchor Steam Brewing Company, it would be to celebrate their continued excellence in local craft brewing and experimentation with new tastes and production methods.

If one is to do it with a pint Anchor Steam, then make it a toast with one of the new four flavors released for the autumn season: the Meyer Lemon Lager, Big Leaf Maple, a San Francisco Giants collaboration called The Orange Splash, and the third installment of this year’s Argonaut Collection: Anchor Barrel Ale.  

Beginning in October, the new beer blends were released on a limited local basis, such as the Meyer Lemon, wide release runs as is in the case of Big Leaf Maple and the Anchor Barrel Ale, or only on draft at select San Francisco venues, with The Orange Splash at Giants games.

Though these flavors may seem to be fabricated to coincide the rising trend in seasonal flavors in food and beverage, this assertion doesn’t apply to Anchor, since flavor fusion has been part of the micro-brewery’s history.

Anchor Steam Brewery has its roots in 1849; yet, the current way it pushes the boundaries of beer character and possibilities began in 1965, when Fritz Maytag (a member of the wealthy Maytag appliance family) purchased the brewery on the brink of being shut down.

Photos by Marlene Sanchez/SFBay

According to Mark Carpenter, Anchor Brewing’s brewmaster since 1971, Maytag’s legacy was cemented with his constant curiosity of which ingredients could be blended into his beer creations:

“He bought it in 65 and really revived it, as it was only steam, and only draft beer made when he bought it. … So many of the beers you see here on tap were the first in their varieties in America: Our liberty Ale was the first dry hop beer in the States. We made the first barely beer in America. Our wheat beer was also the first wheat beer in America. So there are many firsts done at this location that really set the whole craft brewery movement in motion.”

Carpenter told SFBay creating a distinct beer profile lies with its core ingredient: hops, specific flowers that act as stabilizing and flavoring agents in the fermentation process:

“We get about a dozen samples of hops from all of our different growers and we have a little test we put them through here and then we taste the beer here to see what kind of aromas are in there. … And every once in awhile one really jumps out on us that’s really good. We had one awhile back that tasted just like peaches, I swear to you, take the beer up to your nose and you felt the beer was made with peaches.”

There may not be any peaches this fall, though other fruits are vividly present, like in the new limited run Orange Splash. Brewed and aged with California orange peels, the citrus concoction is available only on draft at a limited number of bars, including those around AT&T Park.

Teagan Thompson, assistant marketing manager for Anchor, said:

“It’s the first time The Giants have ever done a collaboration beer with Anchor Brewing and we’ve been partners with them for years, but it is just a new learning experience for the both of us. … The plan is for next year to come out in package and draft to be distributed more widely.”

Blending to new heights is the Anchor Barrel Ale, whose flavor palette and vintage logo are in tribute and honor of Maytag. The Anchor Barrel Ale was made with aging a number of different beers, beers that are made regularly, mixed in with charred wooden staves (barrel planks), and aged inside used whiskey barrels.

Thompson said:

“There’s a lot of complexity with the beer since you’re blending a large number of other beers and having the charred staves gives it an intricate dimensionality. … You definitely get the age beer flavor but an issue with a lot of aged beers in whiskey barrels, is you run the risk of the beer of tasting too sweet, but with the Anchor Barrel ale, there’s only a hint of sweetness but primarily still smooth.”

Will Bloxham, a third-year doctoral student, is a frequent visitor of the brewery located in Potrero Hill. Bloxham was one of the first individuals to savour all four vintages for the first time during a tasting in late September:

“With the Big Leaf Maple you can subtlety note the maple syrup taste on the tongue but I gotta say my absolute favorite is the Barrel Ale because with every sip I get something different, which keeps me surprised. … I really love the beer they keep coming out with every season and it is really an honor and experience to drink any of their new beers.”  

When asked which of the four new releases is his personal favorite, Carpenter said the Meyer Lemon Lager has clinged onto his palette, not solely for its aroma and taste, but for the collaborative and original spirit Anchor Brewing is proud of fostering:

“Now, with this [the lemon lager] and all these latest ones, these beers are really the products of most of the crew here at Anchor who constantly have these great ideas, so they’re not directly my beers. … I’ve tasted it as it has been aging and blended throughout the process and I have to say it’s pretty damn good.”