The Brooklyn Growler

"Life is all skittles and beer." — Tom Lehrer

San Francisco’s Anchor Steam Beer: From Cheap Suds to Well-Heeled Duds

Breweries are creatures that need a lot of space.

You can find San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co. down where the streets begin to give up their sidewalks. If you make the trek by foot, as I did, you are reminded that breweries are most definitely objects that occur in the more industrial parts of town. Anchor Brewing is only a few blocks away from San Francisco’s Berry Street Gravel Co. for instance.

This isn’t to say that the neighborhood surrounding the Mariposa Street brewery doesn’t have its share of gourmet restaurants and gyms these days but that in walking my way from Union Square to Anchor Brewing, I was reminded of my wanderings around Brooklyn searching for lost breweries.

Anchor is best known for its Steam Beer. Founded in 1896, the brewery was originally known as the Steam Beer Brewing Co. Steam Beer is a distinctly West Coast beer style. Historically the beer was produced with lager yeast and fermented without refrigeration. It’s a cheap beer, basically.

Steam Beer is also known as California Common Beer. The Anchor Brewing Co. copyrighted the name “Anchor Steam Beer” in the eighties. But the similarities between Anchor Steam and its ancestors are in name only. Anchor Brewing was one of the first U.S. breweries to lead the microbrewing renaissance of the seventies. We’ll get to that.

Steam Beer Brewing was purchased in 1959 by Lawrence Steese and Bill Buck, a duo whose enthusiasm for beer was not matched by their proficiency at brewing it. The only champion of the beer was Fred Kuh who was the owner of the Old Spaghetti Factory, which was a café that served Anchor’s beer.

The beer produced by Steese and Buck could be politely described as foul and inconsistent. By 1965 the two were about to throw in their brewing aprons and call it a day. Kuh wasn’t prepared to let the brewery go. By the fifties and sixties, Anchor was one of the very few “little breweries” still in operation in the U.S. and he wanted to see this tradition preserved.

Enter Fritz Maytag.

Maytag is the great-grandson of Fredrick Louis Maytag who founded the Maytag Corporation. Wanting a challenge that would match his ambition, Fritz Maytag was attracted to the brewery. At Kuh’s urging, he purchased a fifty-one percent stake of it in 1965. What he now had was a dilapidated brewery known by locals for producing a sour and undrinkable concoction.

His intentions were to make the best beer in the world. Noticing that many of his friends bought expensive imports when out at bars, Maytag realized that he needed to aim his product at people who were willing to spend a little more for something a little better than a Budweiser.

After finding himself unsuccessful at peddling Anchor beer as it was, Maytag also realized that for the brewery to succeed it would need to brew beer using only the highest-quality ingredients. San Francisco was also an important component to the beer and by naming his particular brew something that heralded back to the city’s brewing traditions, Maytag could look forward as well as back. It’s a move that you see again and again in the microbrewery world where some form of a pre-Prohibition recipe or style is updated with high-quality ingredients. It could be argued that Anchor was the first U.S. brewery to figure this one out.

The end result was Anchor Steam Beer – steam beer for the well-heeled.

Maytag has often been dismissed as a rich kid who used his personal resources to keep a brewery afloat that would have otherwise completely failed. It’s not something that Maytag has ever denied. But as Maureen Ogle notes in Ambitious Brew, “a focus on Maytag’s name and inheritance obscures the brewer’s prescience. The signs were everywhere for those who took the time to look.”

And they certainly did. Without Maytag’s persistence and vision, not only would a beer tradition have been lost, but the microbrewing industry would have lost an early champion.

Most importantly – Anchor Steam is a pretty great beer.

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Federal Brewing Co. Leaves Federal Dust

Some things are here for only a little while and then they’re gone, leaving behind very little. In the case of many former Brooklyn breweries, the buildings that once housed these businesses still remain, while the breweries themselves have long since been forgotten.

Brooklyn’s landscape is constantly evolving. Today, many former industrial neighborhoods of the nineteenth century are now full of luxury apartment buildings.

The old Schaefer plant in Williamsburg is now a community center and could, quite possibly, become condos at some point in the near future. A lesser-known brewery – the Leonhard Michel plant in Gowanus – is empty and who knows what will come of it.

Here’s a real deep cut –

The Federal Brewing Co., located at 83 Third Ave. in Boerum Hill, was a short-lived brewery that closed down operations in 1907. But looking at the building today, one would hardly even believe that was the former home to beer.

This brewery went through a variety of names and owners in its fifty-three years of life. Founded in 1854 by Samuel Duell, the brewery produced ales under the name of the Long Island Brewery. It was a small facility but grew in size over the next few years. In 1872, Duell sold the brewery to Arthur A. Brown who maintained the brewery’s name and production of ale.

By 1887, Brown had expanded the size of the brewery and added a lager to the beers Long Island Brewery produced. Arthur Brown died in 1879, passing the business to his son J.W. Brown who ran the plant until 1902 when it changed owners again and became the Federal Brewing Co. The plant held on for a few more years, closing for good in 1907.

As Quality Cosmetics in 1976, from Will Anderson's Breweries of Brooklyn.

The building still remains standing on a patch of Third Ave. between Dean and Bergen. From the exterior, the only major difference is that its turret has long-since been taken down.

After Federal left, the building was occupied by the Pittsburgh Glass Co., something called the Fred Goat. Co., and Quality Cosmetics. Will Anderson contacted Quality Cosmetics for his book Breweries of Brooklyn in 1975. Quality had no idea that a brewery was once housed inside its building.

Today, Federal appears to be an apartment complex and is little more than a footnote in the history of Brooklyn’s breweries.

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Cruzcampo Is Spanish for Cerveza

If you’re in Spain, munching your way through one tapas bar after another, and say to the bartender, “Una cerveza, por favor.” Chances are he’s going to pour you a Cruzcampo.

While not the greatest beer in the world, the taste of this golden pilsner is forever associated with Spain to me. It’s light and crisp and when served in a half-pint glass, goes down fast.

The Spanish love this beer. It is quite literally everywhere. To beer snobs, the taste can be a little bit of nothingness and some corn with an aftertaste of skunkiness, and I certainly had one or two glasses that made me change my drink order to a glass of txacolina.

But for the most part, feeling pleasantly fried by the sun and full of jamón, a cold Cruzcampo hit the spot in a most heavenly sort of way.

The Cruzcampo brewery was founded in 1904 in Sevilla, Spain (pictured at the tippy top of this post) by brothers Roberto Osborne and Agustin Osborne. Next to the brewery stands La Cruz del Campo (The Cross of the Field), which is a small temple that stands in view of the brewery. Cruzcampo was the first brewery in the province of Andalusia (more info here). The brewery is now owned by the Heineken Corp. Its previous owner was Guinness.

One last note, the Cruzcampo logo depicts King Gambrinus, the patron saint of beer. Hail to the king, baby.

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Cascadian Dark Ales: East Coast Style Meets West Coast Hops

There are times when you have to get away from it all to discover something that’s been staring at you without your notice for far too long. For me, that was rediscovering the glories of an IPA, while tasting beers in Montana.

American IPAs can be some heady brews with bold and bitter flavors offset by strong citric acids. The high alcohol by volume (ABV) means these beers often pack more than just a flavor punch.

Maybe it’s my East Coast-centric worldview, but it’s easy to forget how the Pacific Northwest is such a fertile bed for hop production – hence the proliferation of so many West Coast IPAs. The Pacific Northwest’s Cascades range is one such region, which is thick in hop production. And, ahem, not that IPAs haven’t spread throughout the U.S. and not that I don’t have something to say about it, just that I’m trying to wind my way to a point without mentioning how New York State used to be one of the largest U.S. producers of hops or that Brooklyn’s Six Point Craft Ale‘s Sweet Action is an IPA to inspire.

My point, and I suppose I might have one, is that with so many hops grown in Washington and Oregon – and with craft brewers excited to experiment with new varieties – a trip out West should be one where myriad IPAs are consumed.

Enter the Bozeman Brewing Co.

Bozeman Brewing was founded by Todd Scott, former employee of Spanish Peaks Brewing Co., around 2001. The brewery, a former pea cannery, produces three basic beers and five seasonal varieties. Its logo (pictured above) features elements from historic Montana beers (see New West for a detailed profile of the brewery). Scott has added a tasting room to the front of the business where about five beers are on tap and growler refills are in quick supply. The Bozone Select Amber Ale is its flagship beer.

We tried all of the beers on tap that afternoon. There were four of us in my party, so we were able to spread the beers around to get a full sampling (worth noting because Montana breweries not only have to close by 8 p.m. but also must limit each patron’s sampling to a total of three beers).

Hop-heavy beers dominated the Bozeman Brewing menu, with one hefeweizen thrown in for good measure (in tasting, the IPAs knocked it sadly into submission). Among the beers on tap were:

  • Hopzone IPA (7 percent ABV)
  • Hefeweizen (6 percent ABV)
  • Imperial IPA (9.6 percent ABV)
  • Belgian-Style Wit Beer (5 percent ABV)
  • Cascadian Dark Ale (7.5 percent ABV)

I was impressed by all of them, although, the Hopzone was a little too astringent in its bitterness to me. I can be sensitive to overly bitter flavors at times, which means that after one IPA, I’m usually done and ready to move on to an ale. I’m not into this drive of late to push the alcohol envelope in beers. Give me flavor and I’ll keep coming back.

It was with this in mindset that I dipped my beak into the Imperial IPA (everyone’s gotta have a high-ABV IPA that costs a few sheckels more) and, though enjoyable, didn’t blow me away. I liked the Belgian-Style Wit Beer and have to side with Tim Webb who noted that “American imitations [knock] the socks off certain freshly imported ‘real’ Trappist ales,” in his introduction to Stan Hieronymus’s must-read Brew Like a Monk.

But I’d yet to find “the one” to rule them all. That’s when I had my first taste of a Cascadian Dark Ale.

Cascadian Dark Ales are a relatively new variety of IPA, originated by Shaun Hill at Vermont’s Shed Brewery. Speaking to Imbibe Magazine, Hill described this new style of beer as one that can “drink like an IPA but look like a stout.”

The style was picked up by San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co. with the brewery’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, which is a double IPA (see this Beer Advocate article on American double IPAs for more info; in America, we go big with everything, y’know). The style has spread like a hop vine from there.

I’d not had the pleasure of drinking a Cascadian Dark Ale until I hit Bozeman Brewing. It was fantastic. Not too bracingly bitter, easy to drink, distinctively stout with a rich roasty malty taste and an IPA’s carbonation. I didn’t take it for an IPA at all at first. I thought it was a just a stout. My initial ignorance made me overlook the complexity going on with this beer. Further sips brought out the hoppy crispness of an IPA.

There’s a lot going on in these Cascadian Dark Ales. Though the style originated on the East Coast, it took a trip out West for me to discover this amazing beer. Expect more on these beauties in the future.

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MillerCoors Cruises for Craft Beer at Corner of 10th & Blake

MillerCoors today announced it is going to launch a craft and import beer business that will remain independent of the main MillerCoors company (see The Business Journal of Milwaukee story).

The new craft/import company will be called Tenth and Blake Beer Company. The name comes from the two successful craft breweries where Leinenkugel‘s and Blue Moon are brewed. Both breweries are now owned by MillerCoors.

Leinenkugel’s is brewed at Miller’s Milwaukee, Wis. brewery located at 1515 N. 10th St., while Blue Moon is brewed at a brewery (the Sandlot) on Blake St. in Denver, Colo.

The article also states that –

The crafts and imports business have been performing well for MillerCoors of late. In the second quarter, the business was led by a strong performance of Blue Moon and Leinenkugel’s, and the segment delivered double-digit growth. Crafts and imports are outperforming MillerCoors premium flagship brands like Miller Lite and Coors Light, which are posting flat or declining sales.

So now that Blue Moon and Leinenkugel’s are outselling Miller Lite and Coors Light, MillerCoors is following the money and seeing where it will lead. In addition to being a standalone company, Tenth and Blake will also have its own marketing budget and sales organization.

It will be interesting to see how this affects existing craft breweries.

The distribution might of MillerCoors means whatever beers are created and branded by Tenth and Blake will be spread widely through supermarkets and convenience stores. It also means that unlike Budweiser – which has released craft-style beers such as its American Ale and Bud Light Golden Wheat brands – MillerCoors intends to put all of its craft-style beers inside of a different bucket than the main MillerCoors bucket. You’re not going to see a Coors Light Amber Bock or an MGD Farmhouse Ale, basically. Instead, it will be Olde Timey Eccentric Craft Beer Name’s Lager.

Long and short of it, Tenth and Blake could shove existing craft beers off the shelves.

The one positive is that, as the Biz Journal article states, MillerCoors is having much more success selling hefeweizens, ales, and bocks over light beers in gimmicky bottles and cans – when the mountains turn blue this beer vortex manipulator is gonna get you drunk faster.

Hence, the average American beer drinker is seeking more flavorful and interesting beers than the old standards, while the big, industrial, mass-market beer-makers of yore are looking to take advantage of that. Can craft beer win out with its historically smaller market share or will it be shoved into becoming a niche market for beer snobs alone?

This is the part of the story where we wander our way into the very tip of the inverted triangle. Ahem.

Some assistance could arrive in the craft brewing bill S. 3330. The bill, which was introduced by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), would enact a reduced, graduated tax rate for small, American brewers (see Brewers Association for more info). The bill would free up money for craft brewers by cutting the Federal excise tax from $7 a barrel to $3.50 a barrel for the first 60,000 barrels a brewer produces. More cuts would be enacted as more barrels are produced.

In other news, earlier this week Vermont’s Magic Hat craft brewery was purchased by Genesee Brewing Company and Dundee Ales & Lagers, which distributes Labatt beers and Seagram coolers (see AP story).

Photo of the Miller Brewing Co. in Milwaukee, Wis. via Conspirator/Flickr/Creative Commons.

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Fine Sam Adams Glassware for Non-Sam Adams Beers

A few years back, the Boston Beer Co., which owns Samuel Adams beer, released the Samuel Adams Boston Lager Pint Glass, which as you can see in the Pulitzer Prize-winning picture I took, it’s a unique take on the classic beer glass.

There are some familiar ideas going on – the bell is reminiscent of a snifter; the bow in the glass on the way up from the base of the glass to the bell reminds me of a classic pint glass; the lip is bent outward like a tulip glass. You could also argue that the glass itself resembles some hybrid of a pilsner flute glass and a hefeweizen glass. Actually, it looks a lot like a weizen glass to my eyes, but it’s not as high and thin. In the end, however, the Sam Adams glass is distinctively that – a glass specifically designed to drink Samuel Adams beer.

So what do you do if you don’t drink a lot of Sam Adams?

I’ve nothing against Sam Adams. It’s a fine beer and one I’ve enjoyed many times. But for whatever reason it’s just never been a beer of choice for me. If I’m scanning the shelves of beer at my local deli, I’m unlikely to linger very long on Sam Adams. Lately, because it’s summer, I tend to go for a Mexican pilsner-style beer – Tecate, Modelo, Pacifico, et al – and even in winter, I lean towards a Brooklyn Lager or a Sierra Nevada or a Bass Ale. Even so, once I saw these glasses, I had to have a set.

From top to bottom, the lip of the glass is designed to hold more of a head, while the outward turn of the lip is meant to deliver the beer more smoothly to your mouth. There’s a narrow bit near the top that allows the head to sit on top of the bell. The rounded bell is designed to collect the beer’s flavor and aromas – which are then delivered to the head, making each drink more aromatic – while the thin walls toward the base of the glass are made to hold the beer’s temperature longer because your hand will naturally hold the glass by the base of the bell. Meanwhile, there are laser etchings on the very bottom of the glass that create a constant flow of bubbles that travel the length of the glass to the head.

It’s true that the glass does help the beer release more flavor. It’s helped some not-very-successful homebrews taste a bit cleaner. Overall, I’ve always found the glass to make any beer taste fresher than drinking straight from the bottle.

I did a taste test the other night between a Bass Ale and a Brooklyn Lager in the Sam Adams pint glass. The above pictures are of a Brooklyn Lager in the glass. The Bass, being a lager from the U.K., tasted a bit fresher to me than the Brooklyn Lager, which is brewed across town from me. The glass brought out a nice head in both beers – though stronger in the Brooklyn Lager. I let each rest for a few minutes after pouring, while also giving the glass an easy twirl to help release some of the flavors, and found that the Sam Adams glass delivers what it promises – an aromatic glass of fresh-tasting beer.

Over the last few years that I’ve had these glasses, I’ve found them to be my go-to choice for beer. I’m a fan of your watery domestic in cans as well, and I’ve often found that the Sam Adams pint glasses will give a Bud Light a bit more life as it warms up. The only beer that’s ever truly failed in the glasses is a Miller High Life, but when one of those warms up, it’s pretty much over anyway.

Are they an essential purchase? No, of course not, but you will be happy to have ’em. Are you chained to being a Sam Adams man after owning the glasses? Definitely not. I prefer not to use branded items unless I’m 100 percent comfortable with showing off the logo, and though I think I’ve had a total of one Sam Adams in the brewery’s pint glass, I’d still show off these glasses with pride.

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