Beer 511

Exploring Craft Beer and Homebrew in Peru (Country Code 51) and the USA (Country Code 1)

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Anchor’s new Go West! IPA

When I toured Anchor‘s brewery in mid-November, head brewer Mark Carpenter offered us guests samples of a still-experimental IPA that the brewery was considering as an addition to its line-up of beers.  Well, those experiments have borne fruit and this month Anchor released its newest beer: Go West! IPA.



Go West! Launch Party

To mark the release of Go West! Anchor is holding a series of public release events at different venues throughout SF Beer Week. However, I was able to attend a special invitation-only launch party at the brewery itself on Thursday evening.



There I joined other guests in tasting Go West! as well as many of Anchor’s other beers, all flowing freely from the tap room and from draught stations set up throughout the brewhouse, along with hors d’oeuvres including cured meat and cheese pairings, beer ice cream, beer floats, and more. (I highly recommend making your float with Anchor Barrel Ale, by the way.)



The Beer

Ok. So, on to the beer itself…

Anchor’s own literature describes Go West! IPA as

“Made with 2-row pale barley malt and dry-hopped with a unique blend of American hops. Its mouthwateringly complex aromas of citrus, pine, and the tropics; spiky bitterness; gleaming golden color; and clean finish unite to create this singular 24-karat IPA.”

I found it to be very enjoyable, and somewhat unique for an American IPA, and particularly for a West Coast IPA.
Of couse, being an IPA, it is hop-forward in flavour, but bucking the trend out here, it is not a palate-numbing hop bomb, and it doesn’t include Cascade hops. Instead, fruit and citrus flavours do stand out, but the beer is well balanced, and finishes really clean.
The fact that Go West! IPA is so balanced and not overly hoppy is a testament to the skill of Anchor’s brewers, particularly since –I was told– it includes the addition of 3 types of hops in the kettle and 4 more during fermentation.  I can’t remember them all, but I do distinctly recall that Citra hops were one of the ones that went into dry-hopping.
Like I said, I really enjoyed Go West! IPA. I think that Anchor hit it out of the ball park with this beer!
As for the stats: Go West! clocks in at 6.7% ABV and 75 IBUs. I didn’t inquire about its SRM.

Anchor Christmas Ale and Spirit Release

On November 7th I had the opportunity to partake of a VIP brewery tour of Anchor Brewing and Anchor Distilling in San Francisco.  The event was Anchor’s 2015 Media Brewery Tour to mark this year’s release of their Winter Wheat Ale and the 2015 Merry Christmas and Happy New Year ale, from the brewery, and the 2015 Christmas Spirit from the distillery.

The current brewery is located on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, although there are plans to move to a new, larger location in the near future. I had never been to the Anchor brewery, even though I had long wanted to visit it. Tours book up well in advance, so it has seemed hard to find a time when I could go on one, even though I now live within moderately easy driving distance, so I was pretty happy to receive the invitation to this tour.

Upon arriving, and going up the stairs, one first enters the brewery’s well-appointed tap room. 

 Aside from the handsome bar, the room is lined with cabinets and wall displays filled with curiosities and antiques relating to Anchor Brewing, steam beer, and brewing in San Francisco generally.

Behind the bar, lining the edge of the cooler, is a display of Anchor bottles, old and recent.  Among the curiosities displayed there are two bottles of Anchor Steam with the labels upside down.

Mark Carpenter, who is the head brewer at Anchor, and who conducted the tour for us, shared that those were issued after the 1989 earthquake.

When the earthquake struck and the power went out, the beer was still in the kettles.  Mark and some colleagues, along with neighbors, stayed on at the brewery until the power came back on and they were able to transfer the wort to the fermenters.  Because the wort had sat in the kettles longer than the usual, the finished beer tasted different than the normal batches.  Rather than throw it out, then-owner Fritz Maytag decided to bottle and release it, but with a difference.

Passing through the tap room, we were invited into the brewery proper.

The guest list consisted of about two dozen bloggers and social-media types -hence my invite- who got to taste the new releases, enjoy hors d’oeuvres (including some yummy “lobster corn dogs”) and learn about the brewery.

To showcase the 2015 Christmas Spirit, they had a mixologist on hand preparing a couple of cocktails using the spirit, and other liquors and liqueurs imported by Anchor’s distilling arm. (Recipes at the end of this post.)
The Christmas Spirit, of which this year’s is the third batch released commercially, is made each year by distilling the previous year’s Christmas ale and, like on the Christmas beer, the tree on the label is different each year. It is a clear, unaged whisky, which comes in at 45% ABV. 
I asked the barman for a bit of it neat, and my curiosity was well-rewarded.  Oftentimes one is led to expect unaged spirits to be a bit harsh or to have an alcoholic “hotness”, but this spirit puts that notion flatly to rest.  It is really quite smooth.  (Unfortunately, Anchor is not able to sell it on premises until new laws come into effect on Jan. 1st, so I was unable to come away with a bottle.)

After a bit, Mark started the tour by inviting us back into the taproom to tell us a bit about Anchor’s history, and about the new beers.

He explained that while the Winter Wheat is produced employing a steady recipe, arrived at after some tweaking and experimentation, the Merry Christmas, Happy New Year (“Our Special Ale”) is different each year. As this is the 41st iteration of that beer, Anchor has produced forty-one different “Special Ales” in that time, and for 41 years fans have been kept guessing as to what has gone into each, as the brewery keeps the formulation a well-guarded secret.

Left: Christmas Ale; Right: Winter Wheat Ale
It is widely assumed that the recipe generally contains spices, and this year’s very tasty Special Ale has a hint of cloves, which could be the result of cloves being part of the mix, or from the yeast –although Mark said they use the same house yeast strain in the Special Ale as they do in Anchor Steam and their other ales.  In any case, Mark was coyly evasive as to whether cloves were present or not, however he did let out that the two spices that certainly do not go into the recipe are allspice and frankincense. 
Then, after sampling the brews, he led us on a tour of the facility, from the brewhouse on the third floor to the cold room and fermentation tanks in the basement, to the bottling and canning lines, shipping warehouse on the ground floor.

The lovely all-copper brewhouse

In the hop storage room
Anchor uses traditional open fermentaters for their primary fermentation.

Secondary fermentation tanks in the basement

The last stop on the tour was the distillery .

Anchor Distilling dates back to 1993, with Fritz Maytag’s foray into spirits production with Old Potrero, an old-style pot-distilled rye whiskey.  At the time, it was one of the few rye whiskeys being produced in the US and the only legally-produced commercial whiskey produced in a pot still (all others were produced in column or in continuous distillation stills).
Old Potrero was followed soon after by Junipero Gin, and Genevieve Genever-style Gin. Today the distillery’s offerings also includes two other variants of Old Potrero –an “18th Century” whiskey and an aged 16-year old one– as well as an Old Tom gin, and Hophead hop-infused vodka.

Afteward we repaired to the brewhouse and taproom for some more drinks, where I was pleased of the chance to taste a still-experimental IPA that Anchor was trying out for addition to it’s beer lineup.
All in all, I had a really good time and it was great to meet Mark and visit what is an icon in the craft beer scene.
Now, all I’ve got to do is find somewhere to get a bottle of the Christmas Spirit ….


On what is “craft” beer?

Watching Entre lúpulo y malta brought to mind the now-notorious video released last year by AbInBev in response to the Brewers Association’s introduction of its “Independent Craft Brewer” seal for use by breweries.

In that video the founders of breweries recently acquired by AbInBev’s The High End division –10 Barrel, Wicked Weed, Elysian, Four Peaks, and Devil’s Backbone—expound on why the label is a bad idea, even though they themselves are excluded from using it, and so on. Part of the way they do that is to argue that there is no difference between what they do and what BA member breweries do. While, from a technical standpoint, that may be true, they deliberately muddy the waters when it comes to what defines a “craft” brewer, and thus “craft” beer.

That they can do that raises the issue that, while for a long time what defined a craft brewery seemed pretty clear-cut, with an increasing number small breweries being acquired by brewing industry giants like AbInBev, Sapporo, Heineken, that definition is being blurred. (There is also the BA’s own continual expansion of the upper-bbl limit, but that is a matter for another time.)

In Peru there is the same sort of discussion going on as to what makes a beer a “craft” beer? But, there, the discussion is being approached from the other end.

Unlike the US, Peru has a living artisanal tradition and millions of people make their living from an artisanal economy, but until just a few years ago there was no history of small, independent brewers. Even those very few regional brands that existed tried to compete with the big brewers on their own terms, brewing the same kinds of beers, and as far as I can tell, all were either absorbed or went out of business. There was no equivalent to a Yakima Brewing, New Albion, or Anchor Brewing, to serve as a reference point.

So, Peruvian consumers, with no experience of small-batch, locally-produced beer, and no experience of beer styles other than big boy’s pilsners, are encountering an as yet small, and fairly localized (to Lima), but booming craft beer industry without a reference to what is a craft beer. But, they are trying to figure it out.

In so doing, many look to what they have in their hand: What makes this beer a craft beer and not that one? And, that’s where things get tricky.

As Peruvian craft brewers crank out a variety of very tasty ales –stouts, porters, weizens, fruited beers, etc.—consumers sometimes think that a craft beers is defined by “being in a different style” or by simply having “more flavor” than Backus & Johnston’s mass-produced lagers.

Another stumbling block is in the language itself. In Spanish, “artisanal” and “craft” are both expressed by the same word: artesanal. Now, because of Peru’s living artisan economy, everyone pretty much has an idea of what artesanal means. And, of course, what it means in most instances is things made at home, or in small home-based workshops, by hand or with minimal technology, without the refinements and standardization available to industrial producers.

Thus, I’ve had people in Lima ask me whether filtering would take away a beer’s artisanal quality. The working supposition being that an craft/artisanal product is less “finished” than an industrial one.

Naturally, there are those who argue –and with whom I agree—that what makes a beer “artesanal” or not is not the beer itself, but the brewer. However, even on that point, there is confusion. In discussions online with Peruvian homebrewers, some have expressed that they consider themselves cerveceros artesanales because their beer is home-made.

The lack of clarity on this point shows up in Entre lúpulo y malta, where the first cervecero artesanal that is presented is Christian Zapata, a dedicated homebrewer and president of the Peruvian homebrewers’ association, Asociación de Cerveceros Caseros del Perú (ACECAS).

Does it matter? Probably not that much. Not yet at any rate, while the Peruvian craft beer market is still quite small (in 2016 production was only 10k hectoliters, or 6.3k bbl), but as it expands and legislation and taxation begins to catch up and the Backus & Johnston conglomerate (itself owned by AbInBev) begins to feel threatened, a working definition of craft beer could well become quite important.

As it is in the US.

Fort Point Beer Co.’s new beer hall on Valencia

On Monday, Oct 7th, Fort Point Beer Company will open the doors to its brand new beer hall at 742 Valencia St., in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Fort Point Beer Co. was founded five years ago by Tyler and Justin Catalana, who had previously operated the Mill Valley Beer Works. Today it is San Francisco’s largest independent brewer.

However, despite its beers being found in bars and retailers throughout the city and beyond, and having a toehold in the Ferry Building market hall, Fort Point remained a production brewery and not open to the public. The company was thus wanting of a space in which to show off its beers the way it wanted, while having the opportunity to interact directly with the public. Enter: Fort Point Valencia.

Export Dortmunder-style lager (5.2% abv)

As founder Justin Catalana explained at a media preview soft opening event on Friday evening, opening a place such as Fort Point Valencia had been kind of a dream for them, and that they’ve striven to make it a space which invites customers to feel free to move about the hall, meeting people and enjoying its different areas.

A lot of care and thought went into designing Fort Point Valencia. It certainly does not have the semi-industrial look that is somewhat typical of brewery taprooms these days. While keeping the open ceiling and exposed beam timbers, they’ve eschewed the all-too-common black paint in favor of a pleasant tan or off-white base with vibrant accent walls.

Near the entry is a sort of front room, painted blue, which houses a low, sit-down bar with its own line of beer taps. The main space is populated with round tables of varying sizes with bar-height chairs. There follows a cozier space at the back with tables for two and booths for groups, with red accents and dimmer, more intimate lighting. The anchor for it all is the 40-ft standing bar.

The bar has recesses which accommodate the taps and leaves the bar top uncluttered, freeing customers and servers to interact without having to duck around a forest of towers and tap handles.

Westphalia Nuremberg Red Ale (5.6% abv)

According to head of brewing, Mike Schnebeck, all of Fort Point’s regular lineup of beers will be available full-time, along with seasonal offerings and a few guest beers from other craft breweries. Beers from the Black Sands brewpub, which Fort Point purchased last year, will also be available, as well as experimental brews and one-offs which will be served exclusively at Valencia. (A selection of wines and cider is also available.)

As for food, of course one cannot aim to be a proper beer hall without some food on offer. In this regard, the menu at Fort Point Valencia does not disappoint. It is certainly a cut above typical pub grub fare.

Chef Eric Ehler -who was pulled in from Black Sands- explained that he drew on his Korean heritage and on having grown up in Illinois (I’m pretty sure he said Illinois; maybe it was Indiana?) to create the range of flavors and dishes -from the cheeseburger to the dungeness crab rangoon, to the #00 on Rye open-faced egg salad and corned beef tongue sandwich. One of my favorites was the”pork chop bun” (think schnitzel sandwich) which, by the way, pairs really well with Westphalia red ale.

There are also plenty of genuinely tasty vegetarian options, from a crudités plate, to a luxed-up artichoke, to a lovely “hand salad” of endive, quinoa, pickled cauliflower, and black garlic.

Clockwise from top left: Hand Salad, Cheeseburger, Crudités, #00 on Rye

As of now, the menu doesn’t have anything very sweet on it, but if you’re in the mood for a dessert, I’d recommend ordering the “party bread”, which is a really tasty sweet-and-savory fry bread (it was a crowd favorite at the event on Friday).

Fort Point Valencia
742 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA

The Session #109: Porter It’s one of those beers that has come and gone in my repertoire and taste preferences, but although I seem to have settled pretty clearly on saisons, “farmhouse” ales, and sours, porter holds some strong and dear associations, still.

Back to the early 1990s when –after failing at making chicha in our Santa Cruz apartment– it ocurred to me that I should actually look into making my own beer,  I ordered Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing via university interlibrary loan, and photocopied most of it before I had to return it (I have since then made up for that by buying a brand-new copy).

It wasn’t until I moved to the Bay Area that I had access to homebrewing supplies, but in the intervening year, I pored over those pages, trying to imagine what all those kinds of beer, many of which I had never heard of, might taste like.    The craft beer explosion was only just starting, so there  there really wasn’t much beer variety around, and even now-commonplace-seeming beers such as Anchor Steam or Redhook ESB felt like serendipitous and exotic finds. I didn’t really have a notion of hops and their role, but I understood color, mouthfeel, and flavour, and I associated  more of those with robust darkness, much as coffee is more flavorful and robust than tea.

Add to that a sense that porter, an old style of beer, represented beer as it “used to be” and, perhaps, as it “ought to be”, and it is hardly surprising that it came to hold an almost romantic allure.  That was abetted by recipes like “Goat Scrotum Ale” and “Sparrow Hawk Porter” in The Complete Joy …. Reading Terry Foster’s Porter also served to foster the feeling that porter was a beer style redolent with history and tradition.

What was the first porter I tried? I’m not fully certain of that, but the first I do distinctly remember –because I chose it because it was a porter– was Samuel Smith’s Tadcaster (or “Taddy”) Porter. I remember that I really liked it.  For a while, it became a steady feature of my beer diet, but porter also proved the “gateway drug” to “bigger beers”, and as I fell prey to those heady days of the craft beer revolution, and my own homebrewing revolution, in which the focus was one “more!”, and “most!”, I moved away from porter, following a trail that led to oatmeal stouts, imperial stouts, IPAs, and barley wines.

Today, even though porter has sort of become a somewhat pedestrian style, almost an afterthought, it seems, in a sea of IPAs, part of any brewery’s basic repertoire, porter does hold its own in that any brewery or brewpub worth its salt has to have at least one porter on its menu.

And, that same allure that porter brought to the US beer scene twenty years ago is now being repeated in the nascent South American craft beer scene.

Cerveceria Barbarian and Cerveza Nuevo Mundo in Lima, and Sierra Andina in Huaraz, for example, are producing very nice porters in a land -Peru- which, although it once had had porters and stouts, had not seen anything like them being produced locally in a long, long time.Part of the reason I was eager to participate in this Session’s topic, is that in experiencing and tasting their rediscovery of porter, I have rediscovered it for myself!

(I had tried to get a Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter to have while I wrote this, but sadly where it was once ubiquitous, it is now not to be found, but I am enjoying a Sierra Nevada Porter.)


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