AMONG ANCHOR BREWING’S many pioneering brews the most famous must be their Anchor Steam. It’s a style they’ve trademarked, after all, and have been brewing for more than a century. Indeed, the bond between steam beer and San Francisco is arguably America’s best answer to such inseparable pairings as Vienna lager, Czech pilsner, Dublin stout, London porter, et cetera. Anchor itself is also recognized as a craft trailblazer dating back to 1965, when Fritz Maytag rescued the company from bankruptcy and launched a new era. Since then Anchor has helped develop numerous American styles including barleywine, Christmas seasonals, India pale ale, and porter. Several were the first of their kind to be brewed since Prohibition; more than 40 years later, some still rank among the nation’s very best.
One such recipe is Anchor Porter. A robust and full-bodied beer, its color is a scant couple shades from black, tinged just enough with deep brown to make it look more like cocoa than espresso. Head retention is not too strong, but lacing is substantial and the texture quite creamy while it lasts. The aroma is heavily skewed towards malts, blending dark bread, cocoa powder and milk chocolate both, nuts, and eventually some lesser suggestions of coffee and roast. Those darkest malts are not particularly prominent in either aroma or flavor, helping distinguish this porter from stout and keeping its overall impression quite velvety.
The mouthfeel is correspondingly generous, sweetened with chocolate and licorice, then undergirded by those black malts to imply a little crunch—like a piece of bread toasted enough not to turn soggy when spread with Nutella. And while Northern Brewer hops are not very clear in the mix they do push back somewhat in the aftertaste, effectively countering the panoply of malts without demanding attention. A classic approach.
And somehow also balanced: the mouthfeel is big and soft, full-flavored yet somewhat mellow, not sugary but still a little sticky on the lips, and showing some creamy carbonation late that’s overall fairly subdued. A light spreading alcohol sensation appears in the finish, although the 5.6% is by no means elevated. The finish offers renewed notes of dark bread, less roasted than is usual in a beer this dark and again standing clear of stout territory. If ever one wondered at the difference between the two, Anchor’s Porter should stand as exhibit number one.
Indeed, Anchor’s porter is quintessential. Newcomers have updated the style with stronger roasted flavors or more aromatic hops—Black Butte, for instance, or Founders’—and deserve to be recognized. But aside from Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald (and to a lesser extent Sierra Nevada), Anchor’s is the most tried and true porter that exists on American shores.
Served: 12 oz bottled 11/7/13 (3NF)