Remember Anchor Brewing? Don’t worry, it’s easy to forget Fritz Maytag’s little brewery. Anchor Steam was all but forgotten when Maytag discovered it in 1965 and bought the brewery. Since then, Anchor Brewing has grown and prospered and pioneered many of the beer styles that are now firmly in the mainstream — porter, barley wine, and of course steam beer. Fritz Maytag sold the brewery in 2010 after thirty-five years of running the brewery.
Anchor Bock was one of the first beers brewed at the San Francisco brewery, and this spring is your last chance to try it. By Summer, Anchor Bock will be dead. It’s sort of sad, bock beer is hard to come by around here. Few brewers have time for nutty beers like Anchor Bock. Despite the dark color, roast flavor is lighter than in most porters. And you can’t beat the clean lager finish.
Spring is Near
While some area brewers struggle to stay relevant after three decades in the business, Widmer Brothers Brewing has found a way to remain fresh and tasty. It’s been a good year or more since I tasted the ubiquitous Widmer Hefeweizen, but their wide selection of seasonal releases could satisfy even the most ardent beer drinker.
The Columbia Common spring ale is proof that a tasty beer doesn’t need fancy foreign hops or exotic additives. Munich malt gives it a great fresh bread scent while Columbia and Willamette hops add their own herbaceous flavor. It feels amazing to drink, very clean, very fresh. And under five percent alcohol? It’s great!
Last Tuesday night, I made the short trip up the road to visit Ecliptic Brewing’s new pub. It’s housed in a giant warehouse a stones throw from the Widmer Brother’s plant.
The decor is spare, black pleather, concrete, and stainless steel. Industrial art references the path of the sun through the sky and the constellations. Through the glass partition you can spy the brewhouse tucked into one corner of what must be a gigantic room with plenty of room for to grow. It’s a sleek set up evoking a certain polish and serenity. Then you notice the soundtrack, classic rock — nothing but classic rock. It’s a strange juxtaposition.
There is a great disconnect forming at Ecliptic Brewing.It is possible to find the Ecliptic name attached to some fascinating beers made in collaboration and the native line is pedestrian by comparison.
Last summer, Ecliptic and Gigantic created the fascinating sour TicWitTic wheat beer. It was simple yet elegant. And this week Ecliptic and Stone released White Asteroid, a strong wheat beer made with orange peel, coriander, and Motueka hops from New Zealand. It’s a fascinating beer. It’s spicy and lemony and very hoppy. The imperial strength is well managed, barely noticeable.
At the brewery the simple pale ale is forgettable. NGC 881 has a dry cracker crust and a light lemony citrus filling. It evokes a memory of some other pale ale. It doesn’t taste entirely original. The new barley wine was way over the top. The Orange Giant is super bitter, super hoppy, super resinous, it’s just superlative. It reminds me of those strong ales so missed by old timers. It’s just huge without any nuance.
It’s as if the beer has two modes. In collaboration, Ecliptic is experimental and impulsive. At home in the pub, Ecliptic is sedate and predictable. Maybe the classic rock is a clue. The pub is for the regular drinker, the non-nerd, the guys who like beer, not the ladies who are obsessed with beer. The collaborations are for the freaks. The pub is for your parents.
a Little Late, a Little Lame
Bridgeport Brewing always seems a year behind the times, jumping on trends after they’ve left the station. Last month they released the first in a rotating series of IPAs highlighting different hop flavors.
Usually when you want to make a new beer, you make a new beer. The new IPA series at Bridgeport actually takes the place of the former Hop Czar IPA, a fact that is sure to confuse regular consumers of the beer. The first rotation of Hop Czar features Citra hops. It’s bright and balanced and dry, but the featured hops seem far too mellow.
I wanted to see something bold and exciting from Bridgeport, but they seem incapable of capturing my attention.
Last month the Stochasticity Project emerged fully formed from the ether touting a load of jargon and a fresh IPA. Mysterious bottles arrived at Draft Magazine and Brewpublic. No one gets it. A new brand within Stone? Some sort of performance art comment on the inane nonsense surrounding beer? Is it a joke?
The mystery brewery is called KoochenVagner’s Brewing Co. As in Koch and Wagner, as in Greg Koch and Steve Wagner of Stone Brewing. Get it? The beer is a grapefruit infused double IPA, Grapefruit Slam. It’s fruity and dry and tastes about like you’d think. It’s tasty, but I’m more fascinated by the concept than the beer itself. Which might be a detriment to the brand.
The line seems to be an extension of Stone devoted to one off and experimental brews. But it’s couched in the same obfuscation of a new line from Budweiser or Coors. Like Blue Moon and Shock Top before, Stochasticity Project outsources the risky business to keep the brand name untarnished.
Does covering up the connection hurt Stone and Stochasticity? Or is the utterly silly name of the company just a joke? Should I be taking it this seriously?
The Pelican Pub has always skewed toward British style beers. English summer ales, a Scottish wee heavy, and the ubiquitous bitter. I was surprised when the new Red Lantern IPA turned out so American.
Red Lantern pours out a deep mahogany and immediately bursts with tropical fruit esters. You know pineapple and flowers and stuff — very new world. The color implies more specialty malts, but don’t expect any caramel flavor from Red Lantern. It’s very dry.
But it’s only seasonal! Find some now!
Wells Bombardier is a bit more toasted than the competitors. It’s not too sweet, fairly hoppy for the style, and tinged with a bit of toffee. The whole thing is balanced and tasty.
The beer is backed up by cheeky advertising and the catch phrase “bang on!" I’m jealous that the beer you see on television here is so bland. When you do see a craft brewery attempt to enter the mainstream with TV spots, they are cripplingly earnest. You can sell beer, good beer, without making it about perceived quality and making something different than Budweiser. We get it: your beer is made with quality ingredients and it’s “different.” Just tell me a joke.
I always thought adding adjuncts were a uniquely American invention, but our wily ways are being exported to other regions. Samuel Smith’s Brewery of Yorkshire makes an Organic Chocolate Stout just like their American cousins. It is the sweetest beer ever. Imagine chocolate milk mixed with root beer. I enjoyed it for about five minutes then I had a tummy ache.
Mild is probably the most neglected and misunderstood beer style. It’s a uniquely English invention featuring both low alcohol and low hopping, so it obviously never caught on in the States.
Defining Mild is a bit of a chore. The term mild was originally used as a adjective, a way of describing the age of a beer. Mild ale was fresh, young, and in some ways immature. Stale beer — stale like stalled, not stale like bread — was fully matured and conditioned. The same exact beer could be found in both mild and stale form, or even mixed to combine the flavors.
In those days, Mild could be any color, but was traditionally lightly hopped and sweeter than Bitter. Now, Mild has coalesced into a darker style somewhere between ruby red and amber.
Wychwood’s Hobgoblin meets those standards. Hobgoblin is fruity and sweet, but not cloying. It’s light but full, and Hobgoblin hides a hint of chocolate. I would call it a mild, but everywhere on the interwebs claims Hobgoblin is an ESB. I don’t get that. There is little to no bitterness or hop flavor.
But I don’t make the rules; I just wonder why they exist.
The Thing About Beer Styles
When drinking a good beer, few people care what style it falls into. Outside the craft beer industry, it’s almost impossible to categorize a beer by looking at the package. This can of Abbot Ale from Greene King gives you plenty of information — alcohol by volume, metric and imperial measures, a canning date from way back in April of 2013 — but no where on the can does it claim a style moniker. Even the website is vague. It’s just “an irresistible ale.”
If you crack it open and give it a whiff, you might be able to rule out certain categories. It’s definitely not a porter or a stout. It’s pale. So it must be a pale ale, but that doesn’t tell us anything. Duvel is a pale ale. Even Java the Hop is a pale ale. It’s not Belgian, despite the name; the smell is all wrong. It’s not American — where are the hops? So it must be English.
Of course it’s English. Abbot Ale has a biscuity, bready malt and honey sweetness and gentle, balanced bitterness and a fruity scent. It’s English through and through. But I still can’t tell you if it’s a bitter, a special bitter, an extra special bitter, or a pale ale.
Does it matter?