Remember when Christmas used to include surprises? Before the days of trolling the internet on Cyber Monday and getting all the shopping done in a tidy 2.6 hours? If you're yearning for a yuletide that includes the unexpected, then grab a six-pack of Anchor Steam Christmas Ale, a San Francisco original.Anchor Christmas Brew — Photo courtesy of Facebook
Many locals would argue the history of Anchor Steam is one of San Francisco's best success stories. Established in 1896, Anchor Brewing had a target audience of the thirsty men who came out West searching for gold and ended up mostly empty-handed. The brewers of Anchor imagined bottled beer in those eager and open palms, but ice for brewing lager was still hard to come by. Like today's Bay Area techies hellbent on innovation, the brewers found the solution in the cold fog misting off the Pacific. They designed open-air fermenters on the tops of roofs that cooled the batches - in fact, the legend is that the name "steam beer" comes from the steam that rose from those great vats cooling on the roofs.
The legendary Anchor Brewery at 1705 Mariposa Street in San Francisco follows the same brewing recipes as the original brewers but with some modern technology added, such as large copper vats.Anchor Brewery — Photo courtesy of Facebook
But the approach remains the same for the flagship Anchor Beer: a perfect mix of pale and caramel malts that is fermented in shallow open-air fermenters and gently carbonated through an all-natural process called kräusening. And since the beer is cooled by San Francisco air, visitors can get a true taste of San Francisco with every sip of Anchor Steam.
Anchor Beer can be enjoyed year-round, but the Christmas Ale is only served during the holidays, so it's a real treat. And not only is the beer handmade, every bottle has a Christmas tree designed by local artist Jim Stitt, who has hand-drawn the labels on the drafting board of his Sausalito houseboat for over thirty years. How many gifts get wrapping like that?
If you're really into brewing (and are planning a trip well in advance), try to get a spot on Anchor's popular brewery tour. The walking tour of 40-45 minutes includes fascinating highlights of Anchor's history, as well as some tasty samples. You can try to get them to spill the secrets of their Christmas Ale, but it would probably be easier to get Santa to tell you what you're getting under the tree next year. For tour reservations call 415-863-8350, ext 0, Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm Pacific time. Don't despair if the tour is booked, though. Most Bay Area groceries and bars have this local favorite, and the Anchor website's handy "Beer Locator" function will find the closest server to you.
If you're in the holiday mood for something festive and fun - with a little spicy mystery thrown in - grab an Anchor Steam and drink like a local. Bottom's up!Anchor Steam Beers — Photo courtesy of Facebook