Anchor brewmaster Tom Riley has been working on steam beer for a long time—38 years, in fact. He started at Anchor in 1984, decades before craft beer was considered a viable career choice, and he’s watched the industry grow up alongside Anchor. He’s a company man, and in 38 years of brewing, this is the only place he’s brewed. Assistant brewmaster Dane Volek started at Anchor 14 years ago and—like Riley—he’s only worked at Anchor. He leads the Anchor’s R&D side now, across the street from the production brewery, making beers on the smaller brewhouse at Anchor Public Taps, but he shares a love of the company and their unique brewing culture. There’s a pride in craft, in the workmanship, and a genuine love of the brewery’s history and sense of place.
Of course, the beer they focus on is the ubiquitous Anchor Steam—brewed with pitched lager yeast, but fermented relatively warm in shallow, open-top fermentors in a temperature-controlled room (but without temperature control in the vessels). It echoes the 1800’s approach to steam beer, but with a focus on sanitation and consistency of which those earlier brewers could only dream. Today, the brewery on the corner of De Haro and Mariposa Streets in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco looks much like it did when Fritz Maytag was actively running the business, strategic production upgrades notwithstanding. And while the neighborhood around it has changed measurably over the past 50 years, the brewery’s flagship beers have not. Some things ought to change, and some things should not.
In this episode, Riley and Volek talk about style, history, and process for Anchor’s flagship beers—Steam, Porter, and Liberty Ale. Along the way, they discuss:
- the historical significance of Anchor Steam
- mechanics of open fermentation
- employing house yeast across a range of styles and ABVs
- fermenting with the same yeast under head pressure
- brewing blended batches with open and closed fermentation
- the value and importance of the story behind the beer
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