Thursday, October 19, 2017

Anchor: what does independence mean?

ABV takes a second look at a 2014 visit to Anchor Brewing Company in light of its sale to Sapporo August 1st, 2017. From what you may not know about Anchor, to the introduction of the Brewers’ Association’s Independent Craft Brewer Seal, follow along to learn more about the significance of the brand, and the new symbol of independence you may have already spotted at your hometown brewery.

My tour of Anchor Brewing Company is proof that some of the world’s most high-quality beers are not the objects of national press, traded illegally across federal lines, or drooled over in bars across America. They are not imperial barrel-aged-this or wild-lacto-that. They are the beers that are proven time and time again to be relevant, consistent, and a source of immense local pride. One of the most notable breweries that is constantly churning out beers of historic significance and remarkable adaptability is found in San Francisco, California.fr11_4_201475320

 

I’ve got five fascinating things here that you never knew about Anchor, the linchpin brewery of America’s craft beer revolution, from a trip that wasn’t meant to be about beer at all.

  1. Anchor doesn’t have a taproom.

This I did not know before traveling down the California coastline. My family and I were on the way to see my uncle in Monterey, so San Francisco was just a launching point. My parents agreed to let me snap some photos of Anchor Brewing on the way out of town.

anchor tin signsWhen we arrived, however, there was no taproom or way to get much of a visual of the place. The host sitting just inside the door, Tom, explained that they only have a production facility but that I was welcome to look around. Tours, he explained, are the best way to learn and see, but they are sold out months in advance. Moments later, after I had grimly informed my family we could return to the car, Tom indicated that a cancellation resulted in enough tour spots for all three of us — and it would begin in ten minutes! Life is funny sometimes.

Ten minutes later we were upstairs, admiring memorabilia and breweriana, more than ready for the tour. Anticipation makes the heart grow fonder, we realized, as the tour guide was ten minutes late. Maybe she wouldn’t show? We felt pressure to get on the road and head south, but we couldn’t give up just yet. We agreed to wait another five.

And then began the best brewery tour I’ve ever been on.

Our guide Nick was priceless in his knowledge and sense of humor – he actually slapped himself to demonstrate the labeling machine –  and the length and scope of the tour were ideal for the mixed crowd.

Many of you may know some of the crucial history behind the beer that re-launched American brewing, including that the man who purchased it out of destruction, Fritz Maytag, is the same Maytag of the appliance and cheese domains.

anchor exterior2. Anchor Brewing is responsible for the first IPA since prohibition. It is their Liberty Ale, which was first brewed to commemorate Paul Revere and his legendary trek. This is an ironic fact as the hop-heavy evolution of the IPA style, ushered in by this very beer, means that Liberty Ale is classified as a pale ale today. Anchor recently added Anchor IPA to their catalog to fit the current American IPA palate.

3. Anchor was the first brewery to employ dry-hopping, or adding more hops to a beer after the end of the warm portion of the brewing process. The Liberty Ale is dosed with whole-cone Cascade, and the new IPA with Cascade, Apollo, Citra, Nelson Sauvin, and Haas Experimental 431. They also experimented with spent hops – bet you’ve never heard of that. It is a bit like re-using a tea bag (yes, there are people who do that) and creates a milder flavor.

4. Anchor also brewed the first wheat beer and porter after Prohibition. Summer Ale, the wheat, required a custom bottle (not label) which was made in 1984. The history of the beer itself is fascinating.

The first modern American Porter was brewed at Anchor in 1972, 45 years ago. With it’s classicly robust but restrained profile, it appealed to a large audience that was mostly unfamiliar with dark beer.

And finally, for the fact I find most fascinating, shocking, and entirely heartwarming: 5. Anchor open-ferments their lagers. If only you could hear the noise I made while gazing through a window into a magical little room full of bubbling square vats. I’ll say it again: open fermentation of lagers. That means the ubiquitous classic, Anchor Steam, and also the California Lager bubble happily away, uncovered for all to see.

Here is a bonus fact — all carbonation contained in every single bottle of Anchor beer is naturally produced by yeast. All of it. No exceptions. The place doesn’t even contain a force-carbonator. How great is that?Nick pours Anchor

Now, I know many of you will say “bubbles are bubbles” and on one hand that is true. But personally, I wholeheartedly disagree. I find that yeast-derived bubbles are far more charming.

Our tour concluded with a few sips in the tasting room, but we couldn’t stay long. I thanked Nick and Tom on our way out the door, head spinning with novel facts from an unassuming source.

copper kettlesSo, what now? In the era of mergers and acquisitions, maybe Anchor wasn’t the most significant — maybe it was Wicked Weed, Lagunitas, or your neighborhood brewery. So the debate rages on about how to define craft beer. Is Anchor still making their beer “by hand”? Of course. But one thing changes for certain when the little guy sells out: they are no longer independent. Thus, independence, rather than craft status, has become the new standard, in some ways, by which to measure authenticity.  

The Brewers Association recently unveiled their new mark of authenticity, a symbol by which to guide consumers and steer them away from big beer, more and more frequently disguised as craft. At first, it may have felt like a gimmick, but the rate at which independent breweries have been adding it to their packaging (an expensive and irritating endeavor) is an indication of its power.

 “The beer lover has a right to know when they’re purchasing a beer from an independent craft brewer or big beer. This seal will allow them to make their choice with a visual mark,” according to Julia Herz, as told to CraftBeer.com

As of this writing, 1771 breweries have adopted the seal since June and the number climbs daily.

credit: CraftBeer.com

credit: CraftBeer.com

What’s more, the use of the seal is free for now, provided the brewery meet three criteria: a valid TTB license, that they sign an agreement, and, of course, that the brewery meet the definition of independent craft brewing. A special provision, orchestrated by the Brewers Association, means that updated packaging need not be approved by the TTB, either.

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