Disappointed, From San Francisco
Don’t get me wrong; I love Anchor Brewing.
Those dumpy, skittle-hipped bottles, the gorgeous, rough-hewn labels – even the term ‘Steam Beer‘ is all romantic and rose-tinted to me, recalling the fog devouring the Golden Gate Bridge and steamy, seamy summer months spent hunkered in a bar with a cool glass of Anchor’s flagship beer. Even the famous Fritz Maytag ‘popped in for some food and a beer, bought the brewery’ story is an enduring favourite with me, although I’m sure there’s more to it than the myth.
…And they are still producing such great ‘Core’ beers ,too. Sure, Steam is a beer that I’m perhaps over-familiar with; so much so that it’s often thought of as ‘just a fridge beer’, but it’s more than that. It’s a leader of the style – a style that actually isn’t particularly well-copied anywhere else. Porter is my favorite porter out there, butting up alongside Fuller’s London Porter for top spot in my heart. Christmas is still the only beer I buy a yearly release of, such is the flavour and difference between vintages. Humming and Brekle’s were fresh, bold new flavours to add to the range, and you could create a whole new blog post about the virtues of Liberty and Foghorn. Stone. Cold. Classics.
Yet I was quite disappointed with the two ‘new’ (to us) offerings from Anchor that have appeared this Autumn. First up, and the one I was most excited about, California Lager (4.9% abv). Apparently it’s brewed to ‘an authentic Gold Rush recipe, before the days of refrigeration’, which, although I can’t possibly corroborate, deflated any hopes I had for a fresh, snappy lager. Perhaps my hopes were too high from the outset, as what I got instead was an incredibly sweet, cereal-led golden ale; there is a crispness in the finish but that sweetness lingers. I felt it more akin to a light version of the Steam beer, rather than a ‘lager’, per se.
Big Leaf Maple (6% abv)is quite possibly the most autumnal-named beer on the market; in fact, Anchor think so much of it that they’ve seemingly trademarked the term ‘Autumn Red‘, which feels a little ridiculous, but there you go. It is red when plonked next to light, and carried a pleasingly tan head that dissipates quickly, leaving a comforting russet beer swirling around in your glass. It’s brewed with Maple Syrup, of course, but I didn’t get much of that in either the nose or the flavour of the beer; which is a shame because it’s one of my favourite flavours. There’s something other than sweetness in Maple Syrup, a woodsy, deep note that I can’t explain. Perhaps I was too eager to find it here, and was left wanting.
What it is instead is a richly sweet (again…) beer with an aroma, curiously, of Parma Violets and Brown bread, backed up by some ginger-bread spiced notes. Again, the body is fairly light for the abv yet is rich enough to satisfy. I found the whole package similar in flavour to Goose Island’s Honkers Ale, if you want a yardstick with which to measure against. Still, it’s worth seeking out; not unpleasant at all – just devoid of Maple to this reviewer. Which, if you stick it on the label, I want to be able to taste.