Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A trip to Anchor Brewery

Besides the Golden Gate Bridge, nothing is more iconic to me in San Francisco than Anchor Brewing. Dating back to the ‘49er era of the great gold rush in Northern California, Anchor has been relentlessly brewing beer for more than a century. Not too shabby for a joint that has been almost bankrupt, burnt down, shut down by Prohibition, shaken from constant earthquakes and even suffered a few untimely deaths that left the ship unmanned for a spell. Thankfully, they stuck it out to brew another day and quench our thirst.
I recently had an opportunity to spend a couple of hours on a perfect summer day in the “City by the Bay” to take a lesson from the ones who have given me an image of what San Francisco beer is and where it came from. Housed in an old coffee roastery from the thirties, Anchor was finally able to put down their own roots in 1971. Throughout its rich history, Anchor has had as many as 6 locations across the amazing city of San Francisco. Now located in the Old Potrero District, this one and only brewery and tasting room makes itself at home in an urban setting with an inspiring view of the city.
Before we made our way into the brewery, we spotted a vintage delivery truck parked out front and paused for one of many fantastic photo ops. As we entered, we were greeted with a smile and quickly directed up the stairs for our tour and tasting. We felt like we were stepping back in time. We passed the last known working payphone in existence randomly perched on a landing, but it wouldn’t be until we were headed out – post afternoon sipping suds – that the payphone photo sesh went down. Three floors up through wooden framed windows, we spied the heart and soul of Anchor. Famous for their copper pot stills, it’s not surprising that the space was left open to show the wonders of brewing’s historic beginnings. Staying true to their craft, they are still used today – some traditions are just worth keeping. Stepping into the tasting room we bellied up to the commanding mahogany bar. It felt as if we were standing there chatting with the good old boys about how relieved we all are that Prohibition was repealed.
We were lucky to have Jeremiah as our tour guide-slash-bartender for the day to talk shop and learn all there is to know about what’s on tap. The wood paneled walls, (if only they could talk!), are lined with the history of American brewing. Signage and vintage artwork from breweries across the nation keep our eyes busy as our palates are treated to all of Anchor’s current offerings!
One of our favorites and easily, their most famous brew to date, Anchor’s “California Common” which was trademarked “Steam Beer” and has been produced at Anchor since 1896. The recipe creates a highly effervescent, drinkable beer with great crisp flavor that isn’t too hoppy or high in alcohol. The term “steam” is a result of means turning into a method. Back in the day, without refrigeration, these guys had to get creative. How could they cool the hot mixture of grains and water that are boiled down into a soupy liquid of extracted sugars called “wort?” They decided to pump the boiling hot wort onto the roof tops into long, shallow bins that resemble a cake pan. It was the only way to chill the eventual beer using something they had plenty of…the cool San Francisco night air.
Today this process is done indoors in a pigeon and seagull free environment. They still use the same long, shallow bins. If I didn’t know better, once fermentation begins, I would think they were making the world’s largest angel food cake. Our stroll through a maze of hallways and staircases allowed us to see the “hop” room, bottling line, keg room and pallets on top of palates of Anchor beer stacked 3 stories tall. We even managed to sneak a peek at Anchors venture in the art of catching a buzz with distilled spirits, the still used to pump out three whiskeys and two varieties of gin! These guys have got it figured out and are more than happy to share a little slice of their heaven. A good time was had by all, and we learned a lil’ somethin’ to boot! Thanks to the Anchor team for their gracious hospitality. Just another day and just another reason why the city by the bay has made its way into our hearts to stay!
Cheers for beers,
Brandon Macer
Wine Bar Manager

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