Time was that America had a thriving beer culture that rivaled anything in the world. Sadly, what pride American brewing had was wiped out by thirteen years of prohibition, when quality took a distant backseat to the expediencies of producing, smuggling, distributing and vending something that could earn you a jail sentence at any step of the way. By the time beer production started up again Americans had practically forgotten what good beer tastes like. Even today any of us can step back in time and experience the cheaply-produced swill sold in the wake of prohibition; just walk to the corner bar and order a Coors. For a brief time local breweries supplied beer worth its name, but as mass marketing and the romance of industrial progress grew through the 1950’s Americans’ beer experience became increasingly limited to five or six mega-breweries.
In 1965 Frederick Maytag III, an heir to the appliance fortune, bought a controlling stake in the local Anchor brewery for a few thousand dollars. He liked their signature brew, an unusual Steam beer that involves brewing lager yeast at ale temperatures, and preferred to make the beer himself rather than let it go out away entirely. Over the next fifteen years the demand for Maytag’s beer reached the point that his quality-focused brewing strategy could not possibly keep up. Thoudands of homebrewers gladly filled the gap and founded local breweries and brewpubs across the country. Following Maytag’s example the idea of commercial microbrewing became a fixture of the American brew scene. If American microbrewing has a Godfather Anchor’s Steam beer would be it.
We don’t get Anchor Steam much here in Pittsburgh (ergo the ‘micro’ in microbrewing) so I jumped at the chance to pick up a sixpack at Kazansky’s. Plenty of carbonation there, if you’re used to the usual high-ABV American micro you will find yourself burying your nose in foam to keep the overflow from spilling onto the table. The nose advertises malt with a hint of fruit (citrus to me, although some BAers say peach) and just enough hops to know you’re in America.
Expectations might have influenced my judgment somewhat but this beer could easily pass as the godfather and progenitor of the American microbrewing style. Citrus malt comes forward first alongside the carbonated bite, followed by a lingering hoppy aftertaste. You find only moderately more hops here than in, say, your average English ale but one can imagine how that slight imbalance could set off a growing demand for hoppy beers that has reached its climax in today’s Godzilla-big show dogs (I’m looking at you, Lagunitas). As for whether this makes a good summer beer for pairing with any sort of food, suffice to say that this is another beer that I had a hard time reviewing because my wife kept getting to it first.