I have been collecting a few bottles here and there to consider the style of some brewers we do not have ready at hand here in Ontario. One such brewer is Anchor of San Fransisco, Ca. - one of the cornerstone breweries in the micro revival. Here I have together the Libery Ale, an IPA regularly available at the LCBO, with the Anchor Porter and its version of Small Beer which I picked up a few weeks ago at the Party Source in Syracuse, NY. The LCBO had the flagship Anchor Steam but never restocked that shelf this fall. Boggles the mind how that is possible given the scale of the Anchor operations now and the consistency that Liberty is available...but there you go, its the LCBO.
First, a few words about Anchor Brewing. Their web site lays out its history over seven pages which I will not cut and paste here but the key moment was in 1965 when the brewery was about to fold and one fan, a member of the Maytag appliance clan, refused to let it die. He found a "bank balance (as of December 31, 1964) of $128" but bought 51% of the operation—for a few thousand dollars—rescuing Anchor from imminent bankruptcy. Smart move as the mid-1960s was likely the lowest ebb in the North American brewing economy. Buy low, sell high. That's what I say. It's not what I do, just what I say. What he was saving was the steam beer which, like cream ale, is a perhaps original US style or at least a venerable name for a way of brewing from the early days of the US West Coast.
- Anchor Small Beer: Traditionally, a small beer is beer made from a second run of hot water (liquor) through the mashed grains to create the sweet fuild (wort) to which the yeast will be added. As with olive oil and multiple pressings, the first run of liquor is the best - the most sugars are wash into the wort as are the best characteristics of the grain. Later runs are weaker and begin to get more harsh. Small beer, however, was used as table beer, a safe source of water for the family without unhealthiness of untested water as well the goodness of the food value of the carbs. Think pre-temperence Ovaltine.
Anchor's version is like a lighter version of their Liberty Ale, though it is the second run off the barley wine, Old Foghorn. Crystal bright and actually amber coloured (confirmed by holding it up to a nice piece of amber we have sitting around the house). It's mouthfeel is very light and refreshing, clean malty flavour without the body. Fresh. Assertively hopped for the lightness of the body with a real quality hop. At 3.3%, it is not going to get you into any problems...well, unless you are a problem waiting to happen. The beer advocatonians are somewhat troubled by the brew - wishing the mash sugars were better spent in a barleywine. As, however, the Bible tells us, there is a time for barleywine and a time for small beer...or something like that.
One of the nice things about small beers when you look at old price guides from breweries is that it was dramatically cheaper as it was effectively a bonus gained from reuse of the grains required for the full strength beer and as it would have been more lightly taxed due to lower alcohol content. If this brew were on the shelf for 60% to 70% of others, it would be in every fridge and cellar. But we lack the good sense of our great-grandparents in these troubled times. Why pay less for less when you can pay more when you call it Bud Draft Dry Ice Lite?
Anchor Porter: This was one of the great porters I have tried so far in my half-span of life. A deep tan head leads to an aroma of pumperknickle, you know, those small dark slices you buy in a block with German writing all over the package, the one that the guy in Spinal Tap finds too small. Black and deep rather than condensed nutty malt. Unlike a lot of porters and stouts these days, and despite what the brewery says, it is not really reminiscent of chocolate, not coffee - just barley malt. Rich like homemade baked beers, roast beer or roasted walnut in balsamic. Big mouthfeel. It leaves no advocatonian unhappy. One writes:
A silky smooth experience on the palate that rides out with a prickly carbonation feel. Medium-bodied. Complex, yet subtle, malt flavours consist of an even dextrin sweetness, date/fig, ripe fruitiness, molasses bite, hint of unsweetened/dry chocolate, burnt edges and an astringent roasted malt flavour that peaks with a near puckering bitter citric edge. Lip smacking! Hops also lend a gentle herbal spice to the flavour. Finish is dry with residual burnt malt flavours.Remember that beers were traditionally brewed in gradations. Stout was originally stout porter and extra stout effectively a double stout porter - so where bottle guinness is quite rough with burnt toast flavours and draft Guinness is softer balancing the roast with the cream, any porter should be more mellow but still big, the edge provided by the hops rather than the blackened grains.
Notes: Hands down one of the best porters in the US. I'd even go so far as saying one of the best in the world. This is what a modern day porter should be. If you've yet to try this beer, go buy some now.
- Anchor Liberty: This is the US IPA the LCBO allows us as a year round listing. At around three bucks for a 650 ml bottle, it is a good deal - even though I would be just as happy to see a few fewer on the shelf if they were partnered with the Porter. In terms of body, this IPA is a notch lighter than some of the nor'easters I supped this year. It is, however, like them, big on the hops. Here is what Anchor says about Liberty:
A special top-fermenting ale yeast is used during fermentation and is responsible for many of Liberty Ale's subtle flavors and characteristics. Carbonation is produced by an entirely natural process called "bunging," which produces champagne-like bubbles. Dry-hopping (adding fresh hops to the brew during aging), imparts a unique aroma to the ale. It is a process rarely used in this country today.That is a good desciption. In the mouth the yeast is forward compared to, say, crystal malt or other body-making adjuncts like rolled unmalted barley (a big part of Guinness). This gives the brew a bready - rather than biscuity - quality. Biscuitiness comes from pale malt selection. The breadiness it is subtle, not heavy. The hops taste and smell are both grapefruity. Between the big hop and the subtle bread there is some honey, a tie. The beer is not so much balanced due to the hops as well organized, highlighting the elements of the ale while still being a strong hoppy glassful. Beer advocators say yea.