Anchor Brewing

By Gregg Smith

The question's probably not fair, but when you think of San Francisco what beer do you associate with the Bay area. This year in particular it should be the beer most closely connected with the grand dame of micro brews - Anchor Steam. Why? Take a look at the bottle and the special date on each one, because according to the label it's their 100th anniversary.

"What do you seek?" During a conversation with Anchor's Bob Brewer a couple of the Beer & Tavern Chronicle's editors reluctantly admitted they had never visited the brewery despite many trips to San Francisco. Aghast over such an oversight, Mr.Brewer insisted a tour was mandatory. Thus it was that on a late summer morning the remiss editors found themselves at the entrance to the "new brewery" on Mariposa street, in search of micro's holy grail.

"I'm not dead yet!" The story of Anchor is a near classic tale. Fritz Maytag sitting in a bar hearing he should go visit this old brewery that's about to close forever. On seeing it he's quite taken and through faith, persistence and personal risk saves the last of San Francisco's famous "Steam" beer breweries. The historical aspect wasn't lost on Maytag and that's the first thing you notice on entering the tour. The taproom is essentially a mini-museum of signs, glasses, bottles, openers, taps, trays, equipment and wooden barrels from a variety of breweries. Mr.Brewer smiles as he proudly explains this is only a small portion of Anchor's collection.

"Where do you think we got these accents." The mini-museum is presided over by a beautiful wooden bar but it's the windows to the left that attracts visitors' attention. These provide a stunning view of the brewery's copper-domed kettles and tun. Tours begin there, at the top of the gravity system where the beer is brewed. It's then pumped behind a wall where the yeast goes to work in one of the industry's more unique fermenters; the large, shallow, flat bottomed, rectangular tanks used in the production of Anchor Steam. Your tour continues on past a hop room, kegging and bottling lines, and eventually to the cellar. It's in the bowels of the brewery amid piping that would make General Leslie Groves jealous where the brewery's most unusual, and quiet, brewing technique takes place. Here is where they add newly fermenting beer to an aging batch in a process called krausening. This is how they carbonate Anchor Steam and provide the lively effervescence for which the style is famous.

As the tour ended Mr.Brewer led the way back to the tap room for generous sampling of Anchor products on tap. It's there a striking feeling takes hold. It's just another brewery tour. Yet this one was different. It's more than the pride of theemployees, or the shining appointments, or the unusual design. It's something a little haunting, it's called a living piece of history.

If you plan on visiting the brewery call early, reservations are a must. Tours by reservation only take place weekdays at 2pm. To ensure a spot call the brewery at (415) 863-8350.

Gregg Smith


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