Anchor is probably the most important brewery in the US. Fritz Maytag, the owner, was at the forefront of a changing beer scene and helped to shape the future of US brewing. Arriving there today I meet a big, off-grey building, only suggesting it's a brewery through a few barrels of beer and a pick-up with the familiar logo on the door.
Inside the first thing that hits is the smell: freshly brewing beer - malty and sweet, fruity, delicious. It leads through to a bar and then the tops of three copper tanks, like upside-down beer chalices. This then moves through to the fermentation vessels, down to the cellar and then back to the bar to drink the beer.
They brew five days a week and Steam is 70% of the output. They can fill 100,000 bottles a day. Their output is 60% bottle and 40% keg. They also - which I didn't know before the tour - make three whiskies, two gins and have a winery across the street which makes wine from grapes grown at Fritz Maytag's vineyard (the whisky is Old Potrero and the wine is York Creek).
Onto the beer. Steam was super fresh, clean caramel malt and a dry, quenching finish. Liberty, which is dry-hopped, is lovely and floral and citrusy - a classic US pale ale. Humming Ale, the only one in the range which uses hops other than US grown varieties (Nelson Sauvin), is distinctive of the hop, tropical, dry, clinging and bitter and very drinkable. The Bock is like sweet toffee with a dry finish (too sweet for me). Porter is smooth and roasty with a berry sweetness and lots going on for its relatively modest ABV. And Old Foghorn, the barleywine and the star of the tasting, was amber-red, fruity, c-hoppy, balanced between big malt and big hops and really very good.
The tour is fun. It's also an unmissable stop on a beer trip to San Francisco, as without Anchor Brewery who knows what world beer would be like now.