Do you love beer? Well on a San Francisco vacation, and as someone who loves beer, the Anchor Steam Brewery is not to be missed. The historic Anchor Steam Brewery on Mariposa and De Haro offers tours that cover the history of the beer, with its unique style of fermentation, given by friendly and informative guides, with free brews at the end (21 and over, please). That’s right.
Steam style beer began when lager-loving residents realized they couldn’t brew their favorite beer in the backwoods of 19th century San Francisco, with its temperate climate and lack of access to ice, and so found a strain of yeast that can flourish in the city’s middling temperatures. With this new discovery, beer lovers were able to enjoy ale that, with the proper care, would taste almost like a lager.
But the modern version almost wasn’t to be. In the summer of 1965, a young Stanford student named Fritz Maytag (he of the cheese and the washing machines) found that the Anchor Brewery, home to his favorite beer, was closing its doors. Staggered by the impending loss, Maytag sold his car to save the company from bankruptcy and buy a controlling stake in the brewery. Thereafter the Savior of Steam brought the company back from the ashes like a boozy Phoenix, so you can enjoy a free beer today.
Inside the Brewery you’ll see the copper kettles that boil the precious wort, along with the chemists’ room where local scientists meticulously check the cleanliness and specific gravity of the beer, the hop storage room, where Northern Brewers give off their spicy, floral scent, and the fermenting pools, those long, shallow reservoirs so instrumental in keeping the ripening liquid at acceptable temperatures. These pools were, in fact, what gave the beer its distinctive name, since the steam coming off the chilling wort was what locals noticed first about their new brewhouses.
You’ll learn all of this and more at the Anchor Steam Brewery. And you’ll get to taste the beer, including the signature Steam, along with standbys like Liberty (its basic recipe the building blocks for the famous Sierra Nevada Pale Ale), Old Foghorn, and Porter. Depending on the time of year, you might be able to try Anchor’s Summer Beer, a newish recipe perfect for those warm Potrero days, or Breckles Brown, brought back to life from its Gold Rush origins. Visitors in late summer and early fall get the chance to try the Humming Ale, a hoppy seasonal that’s my new favorite. Anchor’s come a long way from when locals used to drink it from buckets (and check out Frank Norris’ masterful McTeague if you don’t believe me), but this brewery is still anchoring San Francisco with its one-of-a-kind beer—free (with tour) for visitors.
For tour information call (415) 863-8350 to make a reservation. Note that this is a very popular tour that is only offered 2 days a week. It is suggested to make your reservation up to 6 weeks in advance. The tour is 2 hours and children are welcome but can’t of course participate in the tasting after the tour. Please note that you can taste all the beers available and usually end up with a bit of a buzz so it is recommended to use a taxi or the MUNI bus lines 19 & 22 which service the area. Anchor Steam Brewery is located at 1705 Mariposa Street cross-street is De Haro.