My custom was to go in, buy an Anchor and settle in to hear the folkie of the night. But one night, sometime in 1974, they had a new beer and it was also from Anchor. It was Anchor Porter .
In those days I wouldn't have known a porter from a crab apple. But I tried it. Whoooosh! I fell in love. Decades have passed and I've tried at least 5,000 beers and Anchor Porter still remains in my top five.
It's liquid gold. Beer lovers have written poems about it. No wonder. An inky brew that's a tawny brown in bright light, the roast malt and hops explode from a surging head of tan foam. The taste is creamy and rich with a hint of chocolate, definitely coffee and perhaps a bit of ripe fruit from the ale yeast used to make the beer.
There is no chocolate or coffee in the beer. The effect is achieved with the blend of two row, pale barley malt, and an assortment of roast malts.
Anchor keeps its secrets on the hops, so I'll guess piney, citrusy Cascades. Doesn't really matter. They've achieved a perfect balance, the hops playing their role nicely in the background of this very malty beer.
Porter was the second beer Fritz Maytag introduced after he rescued and resuscitated San Francisco's historic Anchor Steam brewery in the late 1960s. He's always had an eye on history and on English ale brewing, so making a porter was a perfect choice.
This is the beer style that made London brewing famous. According to English beer expert Michael Jackson, who grew up walking to school past a porter sign, his research shows the first mention of porter around 1730.
"Most accounts of British brewing in the 1700s say that porter was a ready-made blend of three different styles ... known as 'ale,' 'beer' and 'twopenny.' Because it was a combination ... it was also known as 'entire.'
"It was popular with workers in the produce markets and apparently got the name 'porter' from them," Jackson says.
But Fritz Maytag has a patriotic side and his Anchor Porter is a very American, broad-shouldered, malty version of the style. By the way, he sells a lot of Anchor Porter in the United Kingdom. No wonder.
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Staff writer William Brand publishes What's On Tap, a consumer craft beer and hard cider newsletter. His column runs every other week. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 3676, Walnut Creek, CA 94598, or call (510) 915-1180.