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A glimpse behind Anchor

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“These people changed the world, and now that I’m no longer the owner I can brag a little more about them.”

That was one of craft beer legend Fritz Maytag’s opening statements yesterday as he addressed Arizona State’s “Cultural and Chemical History of Beer” class at Taste of Tops in Tempe, Ariz. For roughly 40 minutes, Maytag, now former owner of San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing, took the students through a whirlwind historical overview of the brewery, and how it evolved from producing unintentional sour beer to shining examples of the craft.

“We have the world by the tail. The world doesn’t know it yet, but we do,” Maytag used to tell his staff.

With his grandfatherly tangential stories, Maytag was simply captivating and candid. He unabashedly recounted how difficult it was to sell Anchor beer after buying the brewery in the 1960s, being turned down by numerous establishments including one German restaurant owner who told Maytag his beer was not only terrible, but that he’d never sell it. This led to Maytag’s passion for yeast and Louis Pasteur, which inspired experiments inside the brewhouse to ensure his beer emerged from the fermenter uninfected.

But like the case with most overviews, it was the subtle asides that caught my attention. Like, how did “steam beer” get its name?

“I’m the world’s expert, and I don’t know,” said Maytag. According to Maytag, steam was obviously an important component to industrialization in the early 20th century, and as lagers and new brewing technology swept the country as the modern standard, steam beer “became a joking reference to the old way of beer.” As he noted, the acoustic guitar was just a guitar before the dawn of its electric counterpart. “We kept the name, later trademarked it, and when people heard ‘steam’ they thought of us.”

Outside of Anchor, what are his go-to beers?

“As soon I got the money (from selling the brewery) I went out and bought a case of Coors Light.” Like a perfect beer ambassador, Maytag reminded the students that different occasions call for different beers, and while he always has a stash of Anchor Christmas Ale in his fridge, it usually sits next to Coors Light and his favorite everyday beer, Sapporo.

Thoughts on wine?

“Many fine dinners have been ruined by a great bottle of wine because people who think they know more than you start talking about it.”

Finally, what about today’s craft brewing market?

Maytag thinks we’re on the cusp of critical mass for craft breweries, but noted, “For the consumer, this is the greatest age there ever was.”

Cheers to that.


Chris Staten is DRAFT’s beer editor. Follow him on Twitter at @DRAFTbeereditor and email him at chris.staten@draftmag.com.


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