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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

An Anchor Brewing Anniversary

Exactly a month ago, Anchor Brewing celebrated 50 years since 27-year-old Fritz Maytag purchased the almost-defunct Anchor Brewery in San Francisco, saving it and an American beer style from oblivion. I have been remiss in acknowledging the milestone, because while I don't think Anchor qualifies as the spark that ignited what we now call the craft beer revolution (it took twelve years until the next American brewery was founded), it is nevertheless an important institution on its own, unique merits.

Credit: Anchor Brewing.
Until sometimes in the 1990s, the United States was not much of a brewing country. Like so many other nations, we built it on the chassis of Bavarian lager brewing, slowly debasing it over the decades. We managed to embellish this tradition into a few minor styles, and among these San Francisco's steam beer is easily the most interesting. It is also a form of debasement, but in this case one that led to interesting, full-flavored beer. The shortcut that produced steam beer wasn't intended to weaken it in flavor or strength, but was a necessity of frontier brewing. It's a perfect example of the way styles emerge or evolve, and steam beer is an authentic American expression--if not one that fell very far from the Bavarian tree.

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.

Even though Maytag sold the brewery five years ago, his name will always be written first in the list of brewers who helped reshape American brewing. And it all started 50 years and one month ago.

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.”

Steam beer’s popularity suffered mightily with the arrival of refrigeration in the 1890s, which allowed breweries to make lagers even in warm places like San Francisco. It took a further hit with the 1906 earthquake and ensuing fires destroyed much of San Francisco. A bit more than a decade later, Prohibition came, finishing much of the work the fires didn’t. Following Prohibition, Anchor Brewing was the sole surviving purveyor of steam beer, and it limped along through more setbacks over the course of the next three decades until in 1965, facing bankruptcy, it planned to shut its doors.

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.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Tracking the Fresh Hop Ales in Real Time

In years past, I have tried (and failed, in lesser or greater degrees) to keep track of the fresh hop beers that blossomed across the Pacific Northwest. Despite my failures, I always wished that someone would do this properly. It seems like a great opportunity for one of the tourist boards or the Brewers Guild to get a month of post-summer travelers to the state and really boost what has become the region's signature style.

Someone has finally done it! Meet Ryan Sharp of Bend, who has this detailed Google Doc that he is busy updating with all the beers as they come online. If you go over to column J ("release date"), you can do a sort so that it filters by date--allowing you to peruse exactly what's out there at the moment you are jonesin' for a green pint of fresh hops.

Thanks, Ryan!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Visit to San Francisco; Last Portland Book-Signing

A few odds and ends. Let's start with this. I will be at the Powell's in Beaverton on Monday. It is the last scheduled book-signing in Portland (and Oregon), so if you have any interest in chatting with me about the book in person, this will the final chance around these parts. (My book tour continues in other parts of the country: full schedule here.)

Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing
Monday, August 31st,  7 - 9 pm
3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd.
Beaverton, OR 97005
For those of you who can't attend any events on my book tour but would like a signed copy, you can still order them through Powell's--but only until Monday. It looks like you can order signed copies of the softcover, hardcover, or "library bound" edition (no clue) there. 

Meanwhile, as the tour unfolds, I hope to be sitting down with brewers and beer people at select locations as I move about the country. My first installment is up at All About Beer. I had the chance to sit down with Dave McLean of Magnolia Brewing, and saw the world through his pub's window, sitting as it does one block east of the intersection of Haight and Ashbury.
McLean was at the tail end of the flower child migration (it seemed to die with Jerry Garcia), and he still embodies a part of that ideal. The pub was just coming alive as we sat down to talk, and the stereo’s first track, the Dead’s Franklin’s Tower, poured out as he described the changes he’d witnessed as two subsequent migrations had changed the city outside his doors.

“I came two years after the ’89 quake, so there was still a post-quake recession going on. It felt pretty sleepy when I got here. It was nice; the East Coast was very frenetic and people were hanging out in the parks. It was a nice time to come. Then the first dot-com boom took off just after I opened Magnolia—’98, ’99. It felt big at the time: the streets got more crowded, traffic got bad, restaurants were hard to get into. And then it crashed. 2001 was the bust, and that was the one year we didn’t have growth at this location. And then the slow climb back up to this crazy, current time which feels like an order of magnitude bigger than the first round. Everybody wants to live in the city; that’s different from the first round. There’s a lot of simmering resentment and anger because people are losing their apartments—there’s an interesting class economics dynamic that’s dominating all the news and papers and blogs.”
Read the whole thing here.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Sour, a Porter, and an IPA Walk Into a Book Signing...

On Friday, I had the great pleasure to visit Book Passage, a fantastic independent bookstore in Corte Madera (Marin County), just north of San Francisco for a Beer Bible-related event. And thanks to their wonderful pre-planning, I learned something incredibly valuable.

Pouring Beatification.
To make it a fun and memorable event, they had arranged to have some beer on hand for tasting: Russian River Beatification and Pliny the Elder, Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin', and Anchor Porter. I decided to incorporate the beers into a little presentation about the book. As I've been going along, I've been focusing on the nature of "style," and how it comes together as a result of a tangle of interesting factors (history, national tradition, ingredients, technology, war, and law). Having four beers there meant we could go through them and I could tell the story of the style as we went. Plus, it game me an opportunity to describe beer tasting and what to look for.

We started out with the Beatification, which is Russian River's spontaneous beer roughly in the gueuze style. The crowd was composed mainly of novices and intermediate drinkers, so I saw a lot of surprised looks with the first sips. I was describing how lambics have been made, and the effect of wild yeast, and at some point I mentioned that basically everything we were tasting came from the fermentation. Again, surprised looks.

The next beer was Lagunitas, and I mainly described the American practice of brewing, focusing on the way we have developed for exhibiting hop flavors and aromas. (If you're interested in a deep dive about that, listen to our podcast on Session IPAs.) I pointed out the flavor elements, but because there's a fair amount of caramel in it, I talked mainly about older-school IPAs and the development of the American oeuvre than I did on the flavor components.

Photo by Patty Stanton.
It was when we got to Anchor Porter, and I was mentioning that basically all the flavor there came from the malt, that I realized what a great line-up Book Passage had solicited. One beer's flavor came exclusively from fermentation, and one almost exclusively from malt. The last one, Pliny, gets almost all of its flavor from hops. For people who have been drinking craft beer sporadically or who don't brew or spend times on the blogs, this was absolutely revelatory information. Flavors in beer can be so strong, and in many beers, they are a melange of several sources. Having three beers where the sources were singular really demonstrated how variable beer is--and helped the people there begin to decode its flavors.

If you have people in your life who are a little interested in beer but not especially knowledgeable, I recommend buying three bottles of yeasty, malty, and hoppy beer and walking them through these flavors. (Something like a low-hop bock might be better than a porter.) It's quick, easy, and very useful.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Odds and Ends, Plus a Great Press Release

Three things for today's shorty post before I head to San Francisco for Beer Bible events. Should you have miraculously not gotten your fill of Beer Bible stuff, let me direct you to my post at All About Beer on why I wrote the book.

I can’t answer the most important question people have about this book (“okay, it’s long, but is it any good?”)—though I hope you’ll find a copy and see for yourself. What I can do is tell you why I wrote it, and why I think we need yet another book about beer.
Patrick Emerson and I have finished the most recent Beervana Podcast, and the subject, likewise, is a ranging discussion about writing the book. Patrick joined me on the first leg of my travels (in Great Britain), so he joins the conversation as well.

Finally, I want to leave you with one of the more interesting and amusing emails I've gotten lately. It comes 10 Barrel Brewing, which as everyone knows was recently acquired by AB InBev. This is the email introducing the press release:
Since people seem pretty stoked on 10 Barrel’s new Portland pub, we’ve decided to get a little more aggressive and announce seven brand new pub openings in Oregon. Some may say that we’re growing too fast, or that 10 Barrel is losing sight of who we are, but we took the restrictor plate off to give the people what they want! Check the video ( and feel free to share it before we announce on our social channels on 8/24.
If that doesn't seem skittish enough, how about the final paragraph from the press release itself:
“Honestly, these pubs have been in the works for a long time,” added 10 Barrel co-founder Jeremy Cox. “We started talking about these way back in May or June, and we’re glad they finally came together.”
You think anybody's feeling a bit scorched by the blowback from said buyout?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

When the New Car Gets Its First Scratch

Owning a new car is pleasurable and exciting--but it comes with an undercurrent of anxiety. You see it sitting out there on the street, and it looks like a magnet for mayhem. Anything could happen to it. You find yourself watching over it like a hen minds her eggs. Eventually, though, something does happen--a rock chips the paint, someone rams it with a shopping cart, you spill coffee over the front seat--and the bubble of anxiety bursts. The scratch allows you to move along.

After a week of extremely nice reviews (please look at Brian Yaeger's post in the Portland Mercury; this piece at the UW student newspaper is also great), I've gotten my first pan. A "sad rehashing of previous efforts." Ouch! More:
While Alworth lists Portland, Oregon as his residence his selection of beers in the "Beers to Know" listings is a bizarre collection seemingly devoid of any concern to the availability of the beer and its contribution to the brewing art. Alworth's book, in my view, is a classic example of "all form and little substance". Garrett Oliver's "Oxford Companion to Beer" is a much better reference both with respect to the history of brewing and the actual brewing process. While the book carries a 2015 copyright date, the Acknowledgements were written in May of 2013. His information on Trappist Beers is missing the last three brweries added to the group which occured in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
It's a nice, bracing critique, and not without merit. He's exactly right about the timeliness business, an issue that pains me greatly but which I had no control to change. I think he's less accurate on the "beers to know," which were selected primarily for their availability. (It's not just a collection of "ghost" beers only hardcore fans ever see. I chose among those readily available so that, no matter where you lived in the country, you'd have at least one typical example of the beer in question to try.) Whether Oxford Companion is a better source I shall defer to readers.

It gives me an opportunity to encourage/ask folks to review the book on Amazon once you've had a chance to look through it. I trust the wisdom of the masses, and hive mind always renders a judicious verdict. When there are only a couple reviews up, negative ones exercise quite a bit of sway. I hope his will not be the definitive position (though that's always possible!). So, if you're inclined give it a review.

I do welcome your feedback. Believe it or not, negative comments aren't the worst thing to a writer--silence is. So comment away!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fred Eckhardt, 1926-2015

The news came out last night that Fred Eckhardt had passed away after 89 amazing, vivid years of life. He was a Marine and World War II veteran, swimming teacher, Buddhist, sake promoter, and of course, "the dean of American beer writers." He was, until perhaps his 84th year of life or so, a constant presence at beer events around the city--many of which may not have existed had he not been an early advocate of a beverage too humble and ordinary for others to notice.

Sometime today, John Foyston is going to post a full, worthy treatment of Fred's life. In the meantime, I just wanted to offer my voice to the chorus. Fred was so important to this city and the beer culture that has emerged here--we can't thank him enough. He lived what looked to be a wonderfully rich, fascinating life, and so we should celebrate even as we mourn. Here's a final cheers to you, Fred--

Update: Here's that John Foyston remembrance we were hoping to see.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Beer Bible Launch: You Are Cordially Invited

Beer Bible Book Launch
Tuesday, August 11, 5-7 pm (some comments at 6 pm)
Belmont Station, 4500 SE Stark

On Tuesday, August 11, the Beer Bible will officially go on sale. We will celebrate this milestone with a celebration at Belmont Station, where you can buy the book and where I will gladly sign it. I'll plan to say a few words around 6 pm, but I'll be signing books from five onward--so come early if you can and pick up a copy of the book. Belmont Station is hosting this event for free (thanks, guys!), so consider enjoying a delicious beer when you come. I suspect there will be some toasting going on sometime a bit after six.

For those of you who have been following this odyssey, you know how much the book has dominated the last four years of my life. It's been odd to have such a huge presence that is essentially known only to me. Finally, finally, I get to share this thing, and I really hope you consider buying a copy, even if you can't make it to the launch. Whether you like it or not, at least you will finally see it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, good, bad, snarky, corrective, thoughtful--all of it will be great.

If you can't make the launch, it won't be your last opportunity. I'll be doing an event on August 31 at the Cedar Hills Powell's. In addition, next week I'll be elsewhere in the state. On Thursday, August 13, I'll be in Corvallis from 6:30-8:30 with Nick Arzner at the new Block 15 Taproom (3415 SW Deschutes Ave). Nick was a great advisor before I went to Belgium, and I will be pleased to see the new place and have a conversation about beer with Nick before another signing there. That should be a cool event.

On Saturday, August 15, I'll be visiting Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene (272 Van Buren St) from noon-1:30pm. Jamie Floyd has been a regular source of insight and information since he was at Steelhead back in the 1990s, and this feels a bit like a homecoming. Please join us for that if you're in Eugene.

In case you haven't seen my 219 posts about this book, here's a quickie backgrounder. Hope to see you next week--

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Extraordinary Tart Ales of Flanders

The latest podcast is up. Inspired by the recent release of pFriem's Flanders-Style Red ale, Patrick and I decided to look at the style more closely. We start out with a bit of history and then look at the way these beers are made, turning to Rudi Ghequire, brew master at Rodenbach, for descriptions of the slow process he uses to mature the beer. We also listen to Josh Pfriem describe the process he uses to make a new-world version. As usual, we taste the beers ourselves and then discuss some of the economic issues. In this case, the difficulty of competing in a marketplace with a beer that takes 18 months to make when other beer can be made in a month.

You can listen to in inline below or sidle on over to iTunes.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Mark Your Calendars - Upcoming Beer Bible Events

We have launch in T minus 8 days. That's when (next Tuesday), The Beer Bible goes on sale and I begin a months-long tour of some of America's finer cities. For those of you who live in Oregon, mark your calendars.
If you want updates or reminders about these events--or future ones outside Oregon--I will be posting those at the book's Facebook page.

I'll have a bit more Beer Bible-related stuff in the coming days.