Sunday, December 20, 2015

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Anchor Christmas Ale and Spirit Release

On November 7th I had the opportunity to partake of a VIP brewery tour of Anchor Brewing and Anchor Distilling in San Francisco.  The event was Anchor's 2015 Media Brewery Tour to mark this year's release of their Winter Wheat Ale and the 2015 Merry Christmas and Happy New Year ale, from the brewery, and the 2015 Christmas Spirit from the distillery.

The current brewery is located on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, although there are plans to move to a new, larger location in the near future. I had never been to the Anchor brewery, even though I had long wanted to visit it. Tours book up well in advance, so it has seemed hard to find a time when I could go on one, even though I now live within moderately easy driving distance, so I was pretty happy to receive the invitation to this tour.

Upon arriving, and going up the stairs, one first enters the brewery's well-appointed tap room. 

 Aside from the handsome bar, the room is lined with cabinets and wall displays filled with curiosities and antiques relating to Anchor Brewing, steam beer, and brewing in San Francisco generally.

Behind the bar, lining the edge of the cooler, is a display of Anchor bottles, old and recent.  Among the curiosities displayed there are two bottles of Anchor Steam with the labels upside down.

Mark Carpenter, who is the head brewer at Anchor, and who conducted the tour for us, shared that those were issued after the 1989 earthquake.

When the earthquake struck and the power went out, the beer was still in the kettles.  Mark and some colleagues, along with neighbors, stayed on at the brewery until the power came back on and they were able to transfer the wort to the fermenters.  Because the wort had sat in the kettles longer than the usual, the finished beer tasted different than the normal batches.  Rather than throw it out, then-owner Fritz Maytag decided to bottle and release it, but with a difference.

Passing through the tap room, we were invited into the brewery proper.

The guest list consisted of about two dozen bloggers and social-media types -hence my invite- who got to taste the new releases, enjoy hors d'oeuvres (including some yummy "lobster corn dogs") and learn about the brewery.

To showcase the 2015 Christmas Spirit, they had a mixologist on hand preparing a couple of cocktails using the spirit, and other liquors and liqueurs imported by Anchor's distilling arm. (Recipes at the end of this post.)

The Christmas Spirit, of which this year's is the third batch released commercially, is made each year by distilling the previous year's Christmas ale and, like on the Christmas beer, the tree on the label is different each year. It is a clear, unaged whisky, which comes in at 45% ABV. 

I asked the barman for a bit of it neat, and my curiosity was well-rewarded.  Oftentimes one is led to expect unaged spirits to be a bit harsh or to have an alcoholic "hotness", but this spirit puts that notion flatly to rest.  It is really quite smooth.  (Unfortunately, Anchor is not able to sell it on premises until new laws come into effect on Jan. 1st, so I was unable to come away with a bottle.)

After a bit, Mark started the tour by inviting us back into the taproom to tell us a bit about Anchor's history, and about the new beers.

He explained that while the Winter Wheat is produced employing a steady recipe, arrived at after some tweaking and experimentation, the Merry Christmas, Happy New Year ("Our Special Ale") is different each year. As this is the 41st iteration of that beer, Anchor has produced forty-one different "Special Ales" in that time, and for 41 years fans have been kept guessing as to what has gone into each, as the brewery keeps the formulation a well-guarded secret.

Left: Christmas Ale; Right: Winter Wheat Ale

It is widely assumed that the recipe generally contains spices, and this year's very tasty Special Ale has a hint of cloves, which could be the result of cloves being part of the mix, or from the yeast --although Mark said they use the same house yeast strain in the Special Ale as they do in Anchor Steam and their other ales.  In any case, Mark was coyly evasive as to whether cloves were present or not, however he did let out that the two spices that certainly do not go into the recipe are allspice and frankincense. 

Then, after sampling the brews, he led us on a tour of the facility, from the brewhouse on the third floor to the cold room and fermentation tanks in the basement, to the bottling and canning lines, shipping warehouse on the ground floor.

The lovely all-copper brewhouse

In the hop storage room
Anchor uses traditional open fermentaters for their primary fermentation.

Secondary fermentation tanks in the basement

The last stop on the tour was the distillery .

Anchor Distilling dates back to 1993, with Fritz Maytag's foray into spirits production with Old Potrero, an old-style pot-distilled rye whiskey.  At the time, it was one of the few rye whiskeys being produced in the US and the only legally-produced commercial whiskey produced in a pot still (all others were produced in column or in continuous distillation stills).

Old Potrero was followed soon after by Junipero Gin, and Genevieve Genever-style Gin. Today the distillery's offerings also includes two other variants of Old Potrero --an "18th Century" whiskey and an aged 16-year old one-- as well as an Old Tom gin, and Hophead hop-infused vodka.

Afteward we repaired to the brewhouse and taproom for some more drinks, where I was pleased of the chance to taste a still-experimental IPA that Anchor was trying out for addition to it's beer lineup.

All in all, I had a really good time and it was great to meet Mark and visit what is an icon in the craft beer scene.

Now, all I've got to do is find somewhere to get a bottle of the Christmas Spirit ....



Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Rare Barrel

Impossible Soul
Golden sour beer aged in oak barrels with tart and sweet cherries
pH 3.38 / ABV 7.2

Cosmic Dust
Golden sour beer aged in oak barrels with hibiscus
pH 3.47 / ABV 5.4

The Rare Barrel
940 Parker St
Berkeley, CA 94710

Monday, September 21, 2015

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Cerveza Hops (Lima - Peru)

The first craft brewery I visited on this trip was actually Hops in Lima's Pueblo Libre district, just down the street from the Queirolo tavern and kitty-corner across the plaza from the Archaeology and Anthropology Museum.

Hops does not seem to emphasize its beer production side very much, but rather seems to have put its focus on its role as a multi-story discotheque and event space, with a brew-on-premises pub and restaurant included.   For example, the fermentation tanks are visible to the public, but are located on a second story and in a part of the building that, while open, is not utilized during the day.

That is too bad, because one of the challenges that craft brewers have in Peru is overcoming Peruvians' unfamiliarity with brewing and beer styles other than Pilsner-style lagers and dark lagers, and educating the public on them can only help the craft beer market grow.  And I think people would be interested, and that in itself would draw more customers.

The house beer menu

In any case, Hops has a decent selection of house beers brewed right on the premises, and even claims to have Peru's first and, so far, only beer made with  smoked malt.

Unfortunately, they were out of the Smoked beer and of both the Bock and the Stout, on the day I visited, but I did get to try some of the others.
The beers were nice.  Not as good as what we'd expect from a quality craft brewery here in the US, but definitely drinkable and enjoyable.  We must remember that the craft brewing scene in Peru is very new and ingredients --particularly hop varieties and specialty yeast strains-- are hard to come by.  Given those constraints Hops deserves to be commended for being one of the pioneers of craft brewing in Lima, having been established nine years ago.

After enjoying the Pale in the afternoon, with lunch, I returned in the evening to sample more accompanied by my dad.

I liked all the beers I tried, but I particularly liked the Dunkel. It could easily have been a lager with some color added, but instead it had more body and a slight roasted character which I liked and, actually, was looking for (I had really wanted to try the stout).

Pale ale
Wheat beer

Av. General Manuel Vivanco 785
Pueblo Libre, Lima

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cerveceria Nuevo Mundo (Lima - Peru)

 Two weeks ago, while trying to locate a craft brewery that I had an invitation to tour, I injured my knee and so, even once I had the correct address, I was forced to take a pass on the invitation.  Then, a few days later, I had to skip another brewery tour and guest list-only soft opening of their tap room.

Last Friday, I was finally well enough that I felt able to take on the tour, and so I got myself and Juancho on the guest list for it.   The young woman signing us in was somewhat incredulous that there were two of us with the same name and surname, until she saw our IDs!

The brewery was Nuevo Mundo, in Surquillo.

Their facilities are small, producing only 75 barrels a month, but they are expanding into a building that is being constructed next door, on the same property, that will allow them to install larger kettles and fermenters.

The brewery was started by a couple of Frenchmen, one of whom, Alain -originally from Alsace- gave us the tour and explained the brewing process, ingredients, and different beer styles.  No small feat, considering that most Peruvians have not had exposure to many styles of beer and brewing terminology.

Unfortunately, it hasn't been easy for small brewers to break into the beer market, although Cereveceria Barbarian, has done a lot to pave the way by getting its products into several major grocery store chains - Metro, Wong, and Plaza Vea.  Most access to craft beers is through a few restaurants and by directly ordering from the brewery.

Nuevo Mundo does have a small bottle shop and bar at the brewery where one can buy bottles --or cases!-- of brew, or put down a few draughts of their selection of British and Belgian-style ales.  However, they are hoping to expand their exposure and sales volume through their new Nuevo Mundo Draft Bar located in an upstairs space right across the street from the mian park in Miraflores, on busy and touristy Avenida Larco.

Miraflores city hall hasn't come back with the final permit approvals, so Nuevo Mundo has been carrying out an extended soft-opening of the Draft Bar for invited guests.   As part of our tour event we had entry to that evening's session, for which Nuevo Mundo had secured a number of guest beers --including a yummy sour ale with sauco from the Cerverceria del Valle Sagrado, in Cusco-- and rolled out a brand new special offering of their own, an imperial India pale ale (about 8% ABV).  We also got the opportunity to compare the bottle and draft versions of their Barihuait barley wine (which I like a lot!).

The space is nice and well-appointed, and the staff is quite nice.  I hope the bar does well for the brewery.

I think it will.

Nuevo Mundo brewery
1227 Prolongacion San Lorenzo
Surquillo - Lima

Nuevo Mundo Draft Bar
Av. Larco 421 (upstairs)
Miraflores - Lima

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Craft Beer Booth at the Lima Book Fair

I had a hard time at the Lima  book fair yesterday, I must say.

The fair is set up under a tent erected over the central part of park, covering a fountain and a number of steps.  The floor is thus of plywood sheets over a frame, and covered with carpeting, all of which makes in a bit uneven in many spots.  With my aching and sensitive knee, it made walking difficult, and even a bit perilous.   It was also very hot under the tent, and my off-gait was causing me to expend extra effort as it was.

Fortunately, there is a craft beer stand in the food court, set up and run by a small distributor representing four small breweries - three from Lima and one from Cusco.

I chose two beers to try.

First, I opted for the Ayrampo Roja from the Sacred Valley Brewery, whose beers I had never tried before.

The Ayrampo Roja (6% ABV, 35 IBU) is a red beer (hence the roja) coloured with caramel malt and the fruit of the ayrampo cactus, which is native to the Peruvian Andes and has long been used to color foods in the highlands.  The beer was good, and there was no ayrampo flavour (it can taste a bit like red beets).

Next, I went for one from the Cumbres brewery.  I have tried one other of Cumbres' beers, their Quinoa Kolsch, so I was anxioux to try another of their offerings.

I opted for the Maracumanto (6.2 % ABV).   Maracumanto is a Belgian Pale Ale, fermented with maracuuyá and aguaymanto  fruit.   I half expected it to be sour, owing to the presence of the maracuyá, but it was not sour at all.  It was actually very refreshing, and relatively low in fruit notes in the mouth, even though they came through in the nose.

Needless to say, I then felt quite refreshed!