04 July 2007

Pure independence

I'm fairly sure that my interest in craft beer began when The Porterhouse opened in Dublin back in 1996. One of the first international craft beers I ever encountered was the one often credited with starting the whole craft beer movement: San Francisco's Anchor Steam Beer. And yet in all this time I never got around to tasting it. Until now.

It reminds me a lot of the French bière de garde style: a medium-weight amber ale, strongly carbonated with a light dusting of sediment. There's a lot going on in the flavour department, with sweet caramel on the lips, a rich malty middle, subtle hops at the back of the palate and then back to a filling treacle sweetness at the end. Something is wrong though: the date on the bottle suggests that it's fresh enough, but there's a dry sour musty character to the beer that I'm not sure is supposed to be there. Either it doesn't travel well or it's not made to my taste in ale.

Anchor also make the paler, stronger Liberty Ale. Again, this is thick-headed and slightly cloudy, though golden rather than amber. Tastewise it's somewhere between a German weiss and a Belgian tripel: having a much greater complexity than the former in terms of fruit and spice, though definitely not as engaging as the latter. Dry, rich, malty and definitely a cut above its sister ale.

Over on the right-hand coast is another craft beer pioneer: the Boston Beer Company, who brew the Samuel Adams brand beers. Their Boston Lager is fairly well known in these parts (reviewed here), but recently I spotted their Black Lager for the first time. It's a humdinger. It pours a deep deep red with light fizz and a short-lived head. The taste is an up-front smack of smoke and liquorice, fading to treacle and malt afterwards. Of the three beers in this post, this is the only one leaving me wishing it came in bigger bottles, 'cos I could do a pint of this. And then another. Why they didn't call it "Dunkel Sam" is beyond me.

Of course, these days you can hardly move for excellent American craft beer from a variety of small producers around the country. But for this post, given the date, I thought it appropriate to explore some of the origins of American independence.


  1. I'm not a lager fan but have tried several of the black variety and all have been to my liking, the latest one being Asahi Black which fortunately the one off-licence I've seen it in keeps restocking.
    The Lithuanian Kalnapilis Black is another great one, but not seen it here for a while.

  2. Bailey11:00 pm

    Weird. Me and Boak tried Liberty Ale and Steam Beer tonight, too. I've had them before and not been impressed, but maybe those previous bottles were off or, more likely, too cold, because this time I loved them both. Liberty Ale was the better, to my mind -- IPA-ish, but without being astringently bitter.

  3. Ed, yes I've seen the Asahi around the place occasionally. I'll be trying it when I get the chance. Thanks.

    Bailey, IPA wasn't one of the labels that occured to me with the Liberty, but then I've no idea what I would call it. It has a lot going on.

  4. And I'm hoping your bottle of Anchor Steam didn't travel well, because I have yet to encounter a musty flavor. I classify Anchor Steam as a really nice session beer. It's medium-bodied and got some floral and fruit hints, but delightfully drinkable. (In my opinion, of course)

  5. Given how often I encounter this mustiness in beer, I think it's a probably a legitimate flavour that doesn't sit well with me.

    I wouldn't call anything "drinkable" that only comes in 355ml bottles (which it does here) -- two mouthfuls and it's gone. Until I have a pint in front of me I'll have to reserve judgement.

  6. Bailey11:59 am

    Roger Protz classifies Liberty as just "pale ale" in his 300 beers book, but I think it's light enough and hoppy enough to qualify. I get the "musty" flavour in quite a lot of beers from the supermarket and corner shops -- something to do with age and flourescent lighting, I gather.

  7. My Anchor was taken from an open shelf in a fluorescent-lit off-licence with a south-facing shop window. That could explain it.

  8. must sya i'm a huge fan of the s.f brewing companies' beers. thier christmas brew (with a different label depending on what year it commemorates) is worth seeking out at yuletime!!