I remember very well my first taste of Anchor Steam. I was in grad school, living in grad student housing. In the basement of our tower, there was the GCB – the Graduate Center Bar. A little hole in the wall, with a pool table, two or three pinball machines, a dartboard. Neon beer lights, and a bar with about eight stools. Six or seven tables scattered around what had most likely been a storage room not many years before. Spartan, simple, and yet… My friend Paul and I went down once or twice a week, when we had any money, to shoot a game of pool and have a beer. To pretend we were not stressed-out grad students for an hour, pretend we had lives other than the books. The bar featured a few beers I had never tried before. I think they catered to the tastes of the regulars, most of whom seemed to be from other parts of the country. I think I remember seeing a list that included Red Stripe, Sierra Nevada, Shiner Bock, Negra Modelo… and Anchor Steam. This was in the mid-80’s, so pickings were much slimmer than they are now. Anchor was a revelation. The crisp bready flavor of the golden malt balanced by an assertive hoppy nose, the smoothness of a lager with the intensity of an ale – I am judging all this in retrospect, with almost 30 years of brewing, tasting and evaluating experience… At the time I probably just thought, hmm, this is really good.
When I began homebrewing, Anchor Steam was one of my first attempts at cloning. I have brewed something like this a dozen or more times, each time a little differently. I have had some success – in fact, I think the best beer I ever brewed was my first all-grain try at it. I have also had some not-quite-drinkable/not-quite-dumpable results…
There are two key ingredients that are a must in brewing this beer. It must be hopped primarily with Northern Brewer, and you must use a similar warm-tolerant lager yeast. Also key is the temperature – warm initial fermentation (lots of CO2 production, hence the “steam” reference), followed by very cool aging and conditioning.
Anchor Steam Clone
5 gallons, all-grain
- 10 lbs. Munton’s lager malt
- 1 lb. Weyermann Cara-hell malt
- 1/2 oz. East Kent Goldings hop pellets (@ 5.0% aa)
- 1 oz. Northern Brewer hop pellets (@10.6% aa)
- White Labs San Francisco Lager yeast (WLP810)
- 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)
Crack grains. Heat 14 quarts water to 165°F. Mash in grains and hold at 152°F for 60 minutes. Heat another 13 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collecting 25 quarts sweet wort. If volume is low, add water to kettle. Bring to boil and add the EKG hops and 1/4 oz. of the Northern Brewer. Boil 30 minutes, add 1/2 oz. Northern Brewer. After 15 more minutes, add last 1/4 oz. Northern Brewer. Boil 15 more minutes (60 total) and remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading, and pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch SF Lager yeast, seal and ferment at 65 – 70°F for eight to ten days. Rack to secondary, age cool (45 – 50°F) for two weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition two weeks at 45°F.
Note on style: Beer historians usually describe this style as a “necessary invention”. During the California Gold Rush days, long before refrigeration, brewers making beer for the miners and those who accompanied them used a lager yeast but couldn’t keep the fermenting beer cold. Others claim that the first Steam beers may have been made with the equivalent of a sourdough yeast. Either way, it is a hybrid, with an ale-like malt and hop profile but lager-like conditioning. The last of many breweries at one time producing this style, also known as California Common Beer, Anchor Steam nearly went out of business in the 60’s before Fritz Maytag (heir to the appliance fortune) bought it, revived it and made it a very profitable brewery.
Note on yeast: I love this WLP810 yeast – not only for Steam beer but it can be used for almost any lager style when you can’t be sure of colder temperatures. It is understood that White Labs’ culture comes from Anchor themselves, so you can’t choose a more authentic yeast for this recipe.
Note on this version: I brewed this a little bit stronger than usual, a “standard-strength version” would have had only 8 to 8-1/2 lbs. of the lager malt in the mash. The addition of a small quantity of Goldings hops at the beginning of the boil was the idea of Greg Noonan, who felt that it needed another hop for complexity, even if at a barely noticeable level.
Extract-based version: Steep 1/2 lb. each toasted pale malt and light crystal (or cara-pils) in 3 gallons of cold water. Bring gradually up to 170°F (over 30 – 45 minutes), remove grains. Continue heating to boiling, add 6.6 lbs. light malt extract syrup (or 5.25 lbs. light dry malt extract). Stir well to avoid scorching on the bottom. When boil resumes, add 1/2 oz. Northern Brewer hop pellets. Boil 30 minutes, add 1/4 oz. Northern Brewer pellets. After another 15 minutes, add 1/4 oz. Northern Brewer. Boil another 15 minutes (60 total), remove from heat. Chill, add to sanitized fermenter along with enough chilled pre-boiled water to make up 5.25 gallons. Take a hydrometer reading and pitch yeast (White Labs WLP810 or a dry lager yeast). Ferment/condition as above.