By John Holl Here’s something that might be hard to believe in the beer world: Until earlier this year San Francisco’s iconic Anchor Brewing Co. did not have a product that was labeled as an IPA.
That’s right. India Pale Ale, one of the most popular styles in America. One of the most recognizable and brewed styles in the world and an ale with a storied history. Clearly Anchor, a U.S. brewery steeped in tradition and dating back to the 1890s would have labeled one of their beers an IPA before 2013.
Nope, according to Mark Carpenter, who has worked at the company these last 43 years, and currently serves as brewmaster. With that title the task of developing the brewery’s first IPA fell directly on him, and it was one he took on with great enthusiasm.
(Now, there are some folks who will no doubt be saying: “Wait a minute! Anchor’s Liberty Ale is clearly an IPA.” Carpenter won’t disagree with that and points out that the golden amber cascade hop forward ale first introduced in 1975 has won gold medals in the IPA category in beer contests, but the bottle doesn’t say IPA and it’s not always referred to the style when discussed in the brewery.)
The challenge of developing Anchor IPA came from the brewery’s owners Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio, who purchased the brewery from industry legend Fritz Maytag (yes, of that famous household appliance family) in August 2010.
The owners have done much to keep the proud traditions of the brewery relevant while also pushing it onto a modern age. In the last few years, they’ve installed a pilot brewing system that allows Carpenter and the other brewers to experiment with new recipes on a smaller scale, and created the Zymaster series, special one-off beers available for a limited time. They also announced the construction of a second brewery (this one housing a restaurant) in San Francisco on Pier 48, close to AT&T Park, home of the baseball Giants. The new brewery will help grow production to 600,000 barrels per year, up from 132,000 barrels last year.
Back to that IPA. I had the chance to sit down with Carpenter last week in New York during a visit that would help launch the ale into the local market. He explained the process as this: “I wanted a beer that I would like to drink.”
Simple enough. So he went out and bought a bunch of beers already on the market and tasted and tasted and tasted and wrote down what he liked and what he didn’t. In the end, he wanted to move away from the San Diego-style IPA, which crams in hops for the sake of cramming hops (“a chili pepper eating contest,” he called it) or one that lacked balance.
What he created brings together some newer varieties of hops — Citra, Nelson Sauvin – as well as established varieties like Cascade and Apollo.
The ale also uses an experimental variety called simply No. 431, which imparts flavors of fresh peach. Brewed with caramel malt, the beer has a lively amber color, and a creamy mouthfeel. It’s the fun kind dangerously drinkable at 6.5 percent and paired extremely well with a cheeseburger topped with hatch peppers.
Maytag was a giant in the industry and the unquestioned face of the brewery he famously saved from extinction. The well documented story goes that he was living in San Francisco in the 1960s, regularly drank Anchor beer at his local watering hole, and when told that the brewery was going to close, stopped by for a visit, fell in love with the place, and purchased it. He brought it back from the brink and along with the brewery played a pivotal role in modern brewing history.
There were many who were concerned when the new owners came onboard that the brewery might lose some of its mojo. But talking with Carpenter, it is clear that while the brewery relies and cherishes its past, it’s in good hands for the future — and has every intention of growing and creating new flavorful beers.
John Holl is the author of the “American Craft Beer Cookbook” and editor of All About Beer Magazine. He lives in Jersey City. Contact him via Twitter @John_Holl or JohnHoll@gmail.com.