Steamin’ Up The Kitchen…

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

Ingredients:

  • 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)

Procedure:

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.

OG: 1055

IBU’s: 37.7

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.

Anchors Aweigh…

All homebrewers and modern craft brewers owe a nod of respect and a thank you to Fritz Maytag. The heir to the appliance company fortune, Fritz rescued his favorite brewery, Anchor, from extinction in the 1960’s, and made it into one of the most innovative and respected small breweries in North America. Best known for Anchor Steam, the brewery also produces a surprising array of other beers, including a terrific porter, an American wheat beer, the classic Old Foghorn Barleywine, and my personal favorite, Liberty Ale. Liberty is a robust British-style pale ale, bittered with American hops (Cascades primarily) and dry-hopped in the secondary. I brew it with Northern Brewer hops as well, and ferment it with the same San Francisco lager yeast that I would use for Anchor Steam. Rich and hoppy, this is a great session beer for the moderate hop-head.

Ingredients:

  • 9 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 8 oz. toasted pale malt
  • 8 oz. 20°L crystal malt
  • 2-1/2 oz. home grown Cascade whole hops
  • 5.3 AAU’s Northern Brewer hop pellets (1/2 oz.@10.6% aa)
  • White Labs San Francisco Lager yeast (WLP810)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)
  • 2-3 whole Cascade flowers

Procedure:
Toast the pale malt (350°F for 15 minutes). Grind the grains. Heat 14 quarts water to 165°F, add crushed grains and hold 75 minutes at 153°F. Runoff and sparge with 14 quarts water at 170°F. Collect 24 quarts sweet wort, heat to boiling. Add 2 oz. Cascade hops, boil 45 minutes. Add Northern Brewer pellets, boil 30 more minutes (75 total), shut off heat. Remove Cascade hops, chill wort to 80°F. Take a hydrometer reading, pour vigorously into a sanitized primary fermenter, add 1/2 oz. Cascade hops (in a mesh bag), pitch yeast. Ferment in primary for 7 – 10 days at 55 – 60°F, transfer to secondary (remove dry hops), age 10 – 14 days more at 45 – 50°F. Prime with corn sugar and bottle. Bottle condition cool for two weeks or so.

OG: 1057
IBU’s: 60 (+/-)

Notes: I used my own home-grown Cascade hops to brew this beer, and thus am only able to guess at the IBU’s – recent commercial Cascade crops have ranged anywhere from 3.5%  to 7.2% aa – I chose to split the difference and calculated based on a value of 5.3%. I dry hop in the primary rather than the secondary, and steep a couple Cascade flowers in my priming sugar syrup to bring out the fresh hop aroma at bottling.

Home brewing is not an exact science, no matter what some may tell you. When I plan a brew, I always have a target gravity in mind, based on what I know about my ingredients and my system. I am usually within 3 or 4 points of my intended OG, but rarely right on the nose. Well, today I nailed it. 1057 exactly, right where I wanted to be, right at what Michael Jackson gives as the official Anchor Liberty OG. I’m so proud…