Drunken Speculation

#52 Anchor Brewing Steam Beer


Around about the time I promised to start looking further afield for beers – that is, to the United States – I saw a six pack of the Anchor Steam Beer at my local bottleshop. In Australia, we normally only get the biggest brands of US craft beer, so I assumed this must be a relatively popular offering. I was right: as of writing, it’s been checked-in over 54,000 times on Untappd.

Anchor Brewing is an old brewery in San Francisco, dating back to the late nineteenth century. According to their website, they put a lot of emphasis on that fact and the time-honored traditions behind their beers. The label copy is lengthy but this is the relevant bit:

Anchor Steam brand beer is virtually hand made with an exceptional respect for the ancient art of brewing. The deep amber color, the tick creamy head, and the rich flavor all testify to our traditional brewing methods.

Anchor Steam brand beer derives its unusual name from the 19th century when “steam” seems to have been a nickname for beer brewed on the West Coast of America under primitive conditions and without ice. The word “steam” may have referred to the pressure of natural carbonation developing in the beers. Today, the brewing methods of those days are a mystery and for many decades Anchor alone has used the quaint name “steam” for its unique beer.

That’s half my word count met right there. Jeez.

Steam Beer is a straight-up golden colour. It offers a high level of carbonation, which means a creamy head and nice lacing on the glass. “Clear beer” is a relative term and this is translucent at best. There’s some caramel maltiness if the offing, although perhaps a trace of vanilla reminds me of a spirit (Galliano?) but far less intense.

It’s hard to nail down what the actual flavours are because the twenty-first century beer vocabulary is not built for nineteenth century beers. There’s an underlying bitterness, suggesting some use of hops, but the beer is most definitely malt-forward. It’s not unpleasant but it’s not a standout either. There’s molasses in there with a sweetness lingering in the back.

This Anchor beer is like a watered down modern amber ale in terms of flavour and appearance. Could this be the American counterpart to the Australian pale ale: traditional but not very exciting? The dry finish would certainly confirm that theory. Perhaps unlike the OzPA, the flavour is heightened but only when it’s too warm to be worth drinking.

Anchor Steam Beer is an intriguing, but not explosive, beer. If you’re a student of such things, maybe it’s worth picking up a six pack to experience the history. You could probably bang through them in a sitting but like many others, I just wouldn’t get too excited about it.


  • Website
  • Genre: Dark ale
  • Regionality: San Francisco, USA
  • Strength: 4.9%
  • Rating: 1.5 / 3 taste + 1 / 2 ancillaries = 2.5 / 5
  • Plus: Interesting technique underlying the beer
  • Minus: Just not that interesting to drink
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