Anchor Steam Beer

Review Date 9/20/2000  Last Updated 5/4/2020  By John Staradumsky


In a previous opinion on Samuel Adams Boston Lager , I wrote about beer entrepreneur and pioneer Jim Koch and the ways in which he expanded awareness of craft beer in the United States. While it's true Koch fanned the flames of beer enthusiasm here, the man who lit the fire was none other than Anchor Brewing's Fritz Maytag.

If you're wondering about the name of this opinion, it refers to the style name for steam beer: California common. Fritz Maytag protects the name "Steam" quite vigorously, and although there are other examples of the style brewed in the states they'll generally be referred to as common. So what is Steam beer? It's a style that originated in California, where the warm weather promoted the use of lager yeast at ale temperatures. This hybrid beer produced a lot of carbonation, so much so that casks of the beer seemed to "steam", hence the name.

Anchor Brewing traces its roots back to at least 1896. The brewery survived prohibition, but nearly went under in the mid nineteen sixties until it was rescued by beer lover and entrepreneur Fritz Maytag. His last name may be on a major appliance in your home, and that's where Fritz's wealth and ability to buy the brewery came from. He purchased it in 1965 and slowly nursed it back to health with years of hard work and dedication.

Though not a microbrewery, Anchor was producing Christmas ales as early as 1974 and a hoppy India pale almost that far back too. Maytag's beer was widely available, though pricey, long before any other craft beer. I remember getting six packs of Anchor Steam back in 1983 in Rhode Island. At $9.00 a six pack, it was a rare treat, but a very special one.

Anchor Steam seems to be a bit more reasonably priced, now. I can often get it for about $7.50 here in Atlanta. But as always, it's important to make sure it's fresh. This is a very perishable brew.

Indeed, I often had trouble in the 90s finding it in good condition on tap. On 8/17/1998 I wrote of a glass at the Mews Tavern in Wakefield RI:

Anchor Steam: Disappointing, listless, not flavorful at all. The keg had been on way too long. I've still not experienced a _really_ fresh keg of this beer, though I have had some excellent bottled Anchor Steam. This did not match up.

Steam Beer is a thing of beauty to behold even before you take a sip. The golden orange liquid supports a creamy, thick head formation of small, very tightly packed bubbles. A steady stream of bubbles rises to the top of the glass.

The nose hints at fruit and caramel malt. The palate is smooth, clean and crisp, slightly toasty and very malty and firm-bodied. There's a subtle fruitiness. A lively hop bitterness gradually sneaks up on you and doesn't make it's presence fully known until about thirty seconds after you've finished your sip.

Certainly an American classic, it's a great beer to match with just about any cuisine. Tonight I'm enjoying it with another American classic: a juicy, lightly seasoned steak with a baked potato and yellow squash.

Update 5/4/2020: In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, I ordered beer from Sherlock's in Kennesaw for curbside pickup. I wanted something comforting, something familiar, something classic-I wanted Anchor Steam Beer. At $8.99 a six-pack, it's about the same price I paid for it 37 years ago as a budding beer enthusiast back in Rhode Island. The bready, almost muffin-like malts, gentle fruitiness and dry finish make this a beer is wonderful today as it was all those years ago when I first enjoyed it. Anchor Steam Beer is a delicate, perfectly balanced beer that is sublime in its simplicity.

The dating convention has changed from the cryptic code Anchor once used, and my bottles say PKG021820. The beer, however, remains much the same. It's still made with 2-Row Pale and Caramel malts and Northern Brewer hops. Really and truly, the classic American craft beer.

From the label:

Anchor Steam brand beer is virtually handmade with an exceptional respect for the ancient art of brewing. The deep amber color, the thick creamy head, and the rich flavor all testify to our traditional brewing methods. Today Anchor is one of the smallest and most traditional breweries in the world. San Francisco's famous Anchor Steam brand beer is unique, for our brewing process has evolved over many decades and is like no other in the world.

Anchor Steam brand beer derives its unusual name from the 19th century when “steam” seems to have been a nickname for beer brewed on the West Coast of America under primitive conditions and without ice. The word "steam" may have referred to the pressure of natural carbonation developing in the beers. Today the brewing methods of those days are a mystery, and for many decades Anchor alone has used the quaint name "steam" for its unique beer.

Glad I tried it?  T

Would I rebuy it??


*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.

(B)=Bottled, Canned