Beer Review: Anchor Brewing California Lager

For those times you just want a beer.

photo by Kevin Gibson

photo by Kevin Gibson

A few years ago, I interviewed an elderly gentleman, trying to get an idea of how the local lagers and pilsners of the 1950s differed from the mainstream, big-brand lagers and pilsners of today. “I believe from my memory that the old local beers, I think they were higher quality than they are now,” he told me. “The beers of today, they don’t have a strong taste of beer.”

It wasn’t eloquent, but the way he emphasized the word “beer” at the end of his sentence said what it needed to say. I knew what he meant, even if he really didn’t quite know how to communicate it.

With more breweries dialing back the clock to make quality light pilsners and lagers these days, his point comes home even more. Recently, I wrapped my taste buds around an Anchor Brewing California Lager, a throwback lager that made me think of that interview. Why? It just tasted like beer.

Most know Anchor Brewing by its venerable flagship, Anchor Steam, which is a reference to pre-refrigeration brewing. But this one is a throwback lager, clean in body, nicely carbonated for a fine crispness. It’s highly quaffable. And it just tastes like the beer so many Americans grew up with – maybe going back even farther than our grandparents.

Lagers came to America in the middle 1800s when German immigrants came here seeking political and religious freedom. Westward expansion in America, naturally carried those brewing traditions from the east coast to the west, and this is a tribute to a beer created by a small California brewery named Boca, which is credited for brewing the state’s first lager.

Even the bottle has an old-school feel, with “Anchor 1896” (the year Anchor was founded) emblazoned in a retro font, and the image of a bear taken from a woodcut by Durbin Van Vleck done in the 19th century.

California Lager isn’t what you’d call a complex beer, and that’s the point: two-row California barley, Cluster hops (the primary hop used in California during that time period), and proprietary lager yeast do it all. The result is a golden- to copper-colored brew with a clean, bready aroma and a fizzy, white head.

The flavor profile fulfills the promise in a crisp body that also offers a sense of creaminess. The bready flavor offers hints of the grains inside, and finishes with a hint of the hops with a tickle on the back of the palate. In other words, it just tastes like beer – no exotic hops or fruit filling. The beer finishes dry, leaving you wanting another, and you might as well, given it’s quite sessionable at 4.9 percent alcohol by volume.

I enjoyed mine with some chipotle cheese. If you’re not in the mood for a glass of merlot, you could do a lot worse than this Anchor to go with your snack. But there’s nothing at all wrong with enjoying one of these guys alone or with your grandfather. My guess is he would appreciate it.

Anchor Brewing California Lager is available in bottles, cans and on draft in select markets.