Touring Anchor Steam: “Drunk In San Francisco Since 1896”

by Hal Davis, on special assignment for the Modern Gentleman’s Blog

“Let’s have another beer to drink while we tour through the brewery,” suggested our gracious tour guide and bartender.

On Monday, August 10, at approximately 3 PM Pacific Standard Time, eight Wingtippers and group leader Jennifer Phoenix bravely finished their third beer in order to receive their “walking beer” for a private tour of the historic Anchor Steam Brewery and Distillery.

“This is a civilized way to welcome in a new week,” commented one guest. Another astute guest observed that everyone in the brewery, including the production workers, had a cup of cold Anchor Steam in their hands. It must be one of the many perks of the job, and a requirement of a Wingtip brewery tour.

Anchor is America’s first and oldest craft brewery, with roots dating back to the California gold rush. Even with the efficient beer production technologies of today, Anchor still handcrafts its beers from an all-malt mash in its traditional copper brewhouse in Portrero Hill. Walking into Anchor’s facility transports you back to 1965 when Fritz Maytag, of the clothes washer fame, purchased the failing brewery. There is the original bar where customers could buy beer directly from the brewery. The smell of malted, heated cereal fills the air. Even the name, Anchor Steam, evokes a different time and approach to beer.

According to our guide, the name “steam” came from the way the old brewery chose to chill boiling wort. Not wanting to invest the money or time in hauling ice to chill the wort, Anchor brewers pumped the hot wort up to large, shallow, open-top bins on the roof of the brewery so that it would be rapidly chilled by the cool air blowing in off the Pacific Ocean. Thus while brewing, the brewery had a distinct cloud of steam around the roof let off by the wort as it cooled. 

As the tour progressed, members were allowed to inspect the gigantic copper brewing tanks, add fresh hops hops to the brewing beer, peak inside the hops room with mountains of green flowers smelling like the devil’s lettuce, interact with one of the lead distillers during distillation of what would become Anchor’s Junipero Gin, observe the active bottling line, and walk through six-story&endashhigh pallets of beer.

After touring through the inner-workings of the brewery, the Wingtip group was led to a secret rooftop apartment once used by Fritz Maytag himself. Now converted into a speakeasy bar, Wingtip members were warmly greeted by Anchor Distilling’s brand development manager, Jen Chen, and treated to a two-hour tromp through 19 different distilled products.

Wingtip members enjoyed drams of gin, mezcal, Scotch, Japanese whisky, Taiwanese whisky, and even American whisky, while taking in a panoramic view of San Francisco. Standing on the rooftop (almost) ready to fall, we noticed an advertisement for Anchor Steam that read “Drunk in San Francisco since 1896,” to which at least one Wingtipper in attendance confessed he could relate to after this fine day.


Special thanks to Wingtipper Hal Davis for his article. Additional thanks to Jen Chen and Anchor Steam for their hospitality.
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