Sunday, April 17, 2011

Anchor Steam (Anchor Brewing Company)

Wade Malcolm burst out of the gate strong with his first Beer Club contribution: Anchor Steam, one of the distinctive classics of the American brewing tradition. (After I wrote that I went to the Anchor Brewing website to check for details and in their first sentence is the phrase "the classic of American brewing tradition..." Hm. Maybe I need to go into the PR biz?) Anyway, the site says they have been making Anchor Steam out there in San Francisco since 1896. No telling how much the taste has changed between then and now, but it continues to be more or less unique in character.

From the squat brown bottle, the beer pours yellow gold to copper and very clear. I got an inch and a half of dense off-white foam with nice lacing. The subdued nose reminds me of cold champagne -- just a mild impression of yeast, any other flavor clues held close to the vest.

Sipping the beer, there is an immediate bitter hit, followed by a dense lightly roasted barley flavor. To be honest, the structure is not particularly complex in terms of having multiple layers or transitions, but its balance and the quality of the flavor is very impressive. The medium weighted, lively carbonated body drops off clean and dry, leaving a slightly astringent but pleasant grain aftertaste. It is a brief but rich trajectory.

The pint went down rapidly as I pondered the craftsmanship of the tight, controlled flavor. I kept trying to think of stylistic peers, and I kept coming up short. As good as any lager I have had, but not mistakable for any of them.

With this taste and its trifling 4.9% ABV, Anchor Steam is a true session brew! Versatile enough to stock as an everyday beer (i.e. not so slanted in any direction as to become tiresome), and certainly an ideal backyard barbecue accompaniment, but also of sufficient quality to serve without shame to house guests.

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