The Anchor Brewing Story

America's First Craft Brewery & San Francisco's Original Anchor Steam Beer

About the Book

The sweeping illustrated story of America’s oldest and most iconic craft brewery, featuring a history of American brewing traditions and homebrew recipes for Anchor’s top brews including Anchor Steam and California Lager

“A tale of worldly curiosity, brilliance, persistence, and a thirst to succeed . . . If you ever wondered why beer drinkers get passionate about good beer, read this book.”—Charlie Papazian, author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing

San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co. is one of America’s oldest breweries, with an extraordinary heritage rooted in the California Gold Rush. Undaunted and resilient, it has survived earthquakes, fires, insolvency, and Prohibition. In 1965, when mass-produced, mass-marketed beer completely dominated the American brewing landscape, Fritz Maytag rescued the nation’s smallest brewery and its unique Anchor Steam Beer from the brink of bankruptcy. Focusing on tradition, quality, and flavor, Maytag transformed Anchor Brewing, igniting a revolution that paved the way for today’s craft beer movement. 

Anchor brewery historian David Burkhart tells the story of America’s first craft brewery in this compellingly definitive insider’s guide. With three hundred images—most shown for the first time—and original homebrew recipes for four of Anchor’s iconic brews (Anchor Steam, Anchor California Lager, Anchor Porter, and Liberty Ale), The Anchor Brewing Story is a book for beer drinkers, homebrewers, pro brewers, entrepreneurs, San Francisco–philes, and anyone who loves a good comeback tale.
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Praise for The Anchor Brewing Story

The Anchor Brewing Story sparkles. It made me want to drink the pages. It’s a tale of worldly curiosity, brilliance, persistence, and a thirst to succeed. It’s beer’s grandest whodunit, thoroughly revealed. If you ever wondered why beer drinkers get passionate about good beer, read this book, and discover the magic that makes great beer: the people, ideas, trials, tribulations, challenges, disappointments, joys, and triumphs.”—Charlie Papazian, founder of Great American Beer Festival, Brewers Association, and American Homebrewers Association and author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing

“As an aspiring young homebrewer, I first heard of Fritz Maytag and Anchor Brewery around 1969. It was in 1972, while cycling down the coast of California just south of San Francisco, that I had the opportunity to sample my first bottle of Anchor Steam. I still remember being awestruck by its flavor and intensity. I could only hope that someday I might be able to brew something that spectacular. With colorful storytelling, David Burkhart’s deep dive into Anchor’s history weaves together science, camaraderie, and lore with knowledge that only an insider can provide of the challenges, passion, and dogged determination of Fritz Maytag and the team he built as they transformed his dream into reality. A must-read for anyone who appreciates beer, history, or creativity of the highest order.”—Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

“From its earliest days through the Fritz Maytag years and beyond, the story of Anchor Brewing and its beers is legendary. It is the classic American tale of vision, work ethic, and fortitude. Anyone with an interest in or curiosity about beer should read The Anchor Brewing Story.—Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, co-owners of Russian River Brewing Company

“Anchor is one of the most consequential breweries in the entire, long history of beer. The Anchor Brewing Story—enjoyably readable and scrupulously detailed—is certain to stand as the definitive source of its history. It’s the perfect book for all fans of good food and drink.”—Tom Acitelli, author of The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution

The Anchor Brewing Story is inspirational, and the very word is apt: the company is a true anchor for the growth of the craft brewing industry.”—Charlie Bamforth, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at University of California, Davis

“Inspired by Anchor Brewing, craft brewers have emerged throughout the English-speaking world, providing us with an endless supply of liquid treasures to slake our thirst for beer. This book will slake your thirst for the story of a great brewing company.”—Bo Burlingham, author of Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big
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The Anchor Brewing Story


History in a Glass

While there are countless beers that are weird for the sake of being weird or because their odd combination of ingredients works, there’s something unique about quirkiness rooted in the past.
—Zak Stambor, Chicago Tribune (2014)

Welcome to San Francisco! And thanks for including Anchor Brewing on your itinerary. Time for a beer, right?

Here you go. Let’s have a seat. You know, people have been having friendly conversations over beer for thousands of years. So here’s to Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer! But more about her later. Let’s talk a little about that Anchor Steam in your glass and slow everything down so we can fully experience it from start to finish. First, lift your glass up to the light, twist it slowly back and forth. Note the deep amber and coppery colors and the bubbles wending their way to the surface, where they join a thick, creamy head of foam.

Tilt your glass a little and then back upright. What remains on the side of your glass is called lacing, one of the hallmarks of a naturally carbonated beer. If you don’t see lacing on your Anchor at home, by the way, start washing your beer glasses with hot water, but no soap, which destroys the head on a well-made beer.

Now swirl the beer around just a little and bring the glass up to your nose. What do you get— besides thirstier? There are no wrong answers. For me, it’s subtle aromas of fresh mint, evergreen, and wood outside an old-fashioned bakery; a synergistic complexity, with hints of caramel, fresh herbs, spices, fruit, and even flowers.

Bring the glass to your lips and take a small sip. Savor the mouthfeel and taste. Are they what the aromas invited you to experience? I get the gentle nip of lively bubbles, followed by velvety smoothness. There’s fullness and richness without heaviness, a marvelously refreshing balance of bitter and sweet. It’s biscuity, caramelly, a little fruity, with just a hint of savory herbal spiciness.

Now take a bigger sip to experience the finish. Does it linger? I get a hint of toffee-like sweetness, caught in a balancing act with mellow bitterness, followed by a farewell wave from the bubbles. Does it quench your thirst but beckon you to have another?

You probably noticed that I didn’t use the ingredients themselves to describe the beer—no “malty, hoppy, yeasty” or—God forbid—“watery.” That would be a cop-out. But one of the great joys of drinking beer is that we don’t have to wait for an expert opinion. We get to describe it however we see fit—and debate it over a second glass! Indeed, beer may just be the most democratic of all beverages.

To me, Anchor Steam is the uniquely extraordinary, everyday beer. No wonder it’s the sole survivor of the first Golden Age of San Francisco brewing. It’s history in a glass, and it never gets old. As Anchor’s own brewery historian, I must confess that I have gotten a little older since my first day at Anchor, May 20, 1991. In those days, everyone started out in production—on the bottling line or filling kegs—and eventually learned how to do just about every job at the brewery on their way to finding the job that suited them best. From day one, I was curious about the brewery’s unique history and asked a lot of questions, including many of Fritz Maytag. Fritz, great-grandson of the founder of the eponymous appliance company, was owner, president, and brewmaster of Anchor for forty-five years. I got to work alongside him for two decades, and he was always generous with his knowledge, wisdom, and insight. But even he didn’t have all the answers, which only added to my enthusiastic determination to learn more. So what makes Anchor’s story so special?

Traditionally, beer is made from four basic ingredients: barley malt, which gives it sweetness, body, and color; hops, which gives it bitterness and aroma; water, of course; and yeast, the hardestworking organism in the brewery. Yeast feasts on the malt’s sugars, transforming them into alcohol and CO2 (booze and bubbles) during fermentation, the yeast’s reproductive cycle.

Ever wonder why Grape-Nuts cereal tastes a little sweet, even though sugar isn’t listed as one of its ingredients? It gets its sweetness from malted barley. First, barley is steeped in water and allowed to germinate, releasing enzymes that convert its complex starches into more simple sugars—aka yeast food! The malt is then kiln dried, a bit like roasting coffee, giving it different colors and flavors according to the time in and temperature of the kiln.

Like a master chef—who might use Arborio, basmati, or jasmine rice; lemon, lime, or grapefruit juice; olive oil, butter, or sesame oil; a saucepan, a sauté pan, or a wok—one of the great joys of brewing comes from the myriad choices we have of ingredients and methods, combined in a distinctly distinctive way. For Anchor Steam, the ingredients are 2-row pale and caramel malt, whole-cone Northern Brewer hops, San Francisco tap water, which comes to us all the way from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park, and our own special yeast. (More about these later.)

Do you like IPAs? They’re all the rage today, in almost as many varieties as there are IPA drinkers. Well, in the mid-1800s lagers were all the rage, especially in the parts of Europe and North America with cold winters and lots of ice available year-round.

Yes, ice. By definition, lager beers are made with lager yeast, a type of yeast that does its best work at very cold temperatures over long periods of time. The word lager comes from an old German word meaning to store, lie down, or rest, and that’s just what Germans did with their lager beers: After an initial cool fermentation they lagered (stored) their lagers for months at a time in alpine caves or deep cellars, often literally on ice harvested from nearby lakes and ponds and kept available in icehouses year-round. It is during this lagering process—this slow secondary fermentation—that lager beer develops its characteristic crisp, clean flavors.

After the discovery of gold in California in 1848, German beer drinkers and brewers flocked to San Francisco, bringing with them the thirst for a good lager and the ingenuity to make one. In those days, as Mark Twain reminisced in Life on the Mississippi, ice “was jewelry. None but the rich could wear it.” During the California Gold Rush, ice was sometimes packed in sawdust and brought in by ship from Sitka or around the Horn from Boston or New York, at a price too dear for beer. There was plenty of ice in the Sierras, of course, but no practicable way to get it to San Francisco until the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. And ice-making technology and modern refrigeration were decades away.

But San Francisco was—and is—the cradle of creativity. “Brought into the world recklessly. Brought up recklessly. And now recklessly alive,” declared Californian William Saroyan with pride. “It is a city with no rules. Like nature itself, it improvises as it goes along. It does what it needs to do at the time and under the circumstances.” So brewers—like our first brewmaster, Gottlieb Brekle—being short on ice but long on ingenuity, ad-libbed, each in their own way, to create California common beer.

Fritz Maytag explained to a fervent fan that California common beers—also called quick-brewed, present-use, or ordinary beer—are not “specific ‘types’ of beers that can be clearly defined, because what scant evidence exists indicates a very wide range of brewing methods and materials, just as we would expect under pioneering and rapidly changing conditions. Brewers in those days did not follow textbooks; each would do the best he could to make and sell beer quickly and cheaply in the absence of modern technology.” Wooden barrels of California common were delivered by horse-drawn wagon to local saloons as soon as three to five days after brewing. These weren’t lagers in the traditional sense, but during the Gold Rush, Gottlieb Brekle and his fellow San Francisco brewers chose to call them lager anyway. And in those days there were no imported lagers to which they might have been unfavorably compared. So lager became the catchall term for nearly all of the beers brewed in California other than ale or porter. And it didn’t take long before Californians began asking for these California commons—these so-called lagers, brewed under primitive conditions and without ice—by their catchier, quirkier, colloquial nickname: steam beer. And for many decades, Anchor alone—the lone survivor of this bygone era—has used the quaint name steam for its unique beer. Today Steam Beer is a trademark of Anchor Brewing Company.

About the Author

David Burkhart
Award-winning author and historian David Burkhart is an honors graduate of Yale. In 1991, he joined the small staff of Anchor Brewing Co., where he worked side-by-side with owner and brewmaster Fritz Maytag. In his thirty-plus years at Anchor, Burkhart has done nearly every job at the brewery, adding Anchor brewery historian to his many titles in 2010. His books on the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and mixologist William T. “Cocktail” Boothby have won numerous awards. Burkhart is also a professional trumpeter; a founding member of the Grammy-nominated Bay Brass; a performer with San Francisco’s Symphony, Opera, and Ballet; and a professor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. More by David Burkhart
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About the Author

Fritz Maytag
Fritz Maytag grew up in Newton, Iowa. He graduated from Deerfield Academy in 1955 and Stanford in 1959, where he subsequently studied Japanese. The owner of York Creek Vineyards and chairman emeritus of Maytag Dairy Farms, Anchor Brewing Co., and Anchor Distilling Co., Fritz is the recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional and Lifetime Achievement Awards. More by Fritz Maytag
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