Anchor Brewing Company brewmaster Mark Carpenter on beer history, earthquakes, and how the craft brewing world is changing.
Anchor Brewing Company has operated in California since 1896 and still makes all of its beloved beers in a traditional copper brewhouse in San Francisco. Each beer is brewed using carefully sourced ingredients, such as whole-cone hops, ant time-tested methods that were perfected during the California gold rush. “We do everything by hand in a very old-fashioned way, so we can control exactly how each beer tastes,” says brewmaster Mark Carpenter, who has been making Anchor beers for 40 years. “To us, that’s what being a craft brewer means.”
We sat down with Mark to hear stories from his years at this dream job, and get his take on the craft beer world today.
How did you become a professional brewmaster?
I actually got started brewing right here at Anchor. I had gone to work at a telephone company straight out of high school, and worked there for nine years. I was doing well there. I was working my way up, but this was the sixties in San Francisco and people were doing all kinds of things. So, I decided that I wanted a change in my life.
At that point, everywhere I traveled I took a tour of the local brewery because it was free and there was beer! I had taken a tour of Anchor and I just thought, ”What a cool place.” So, I decided I should ask for a job. I talked to the founder, we hit it off, and that was the start of my brewing career.
In those days there were only five people at the brewery: The founder Fritz, his secretary, and three guys doing the brewing. I was one of those three guys. At that time we didn’t brew much beer. We put out just under 1,000 barrels of beer the first year I was there. Now we do about 60,000 barrels a year, which is still incredibly small compared to other breweries.
Do you have a favorite beer?
Anchor Steam for sure. When I started that’s all we made, so I’ve had a lot of Anchor Steam in my time. But, the California Lager also has a soft spot in my heart. It was the first brew we created when I was here. A fellow brewer wanted to do a lager, but I thought lagers were so boring. But then I thought, you know, every time I tell the Anchor story I find myself mentioning lager because it’s the reason we exist.
The first brewers out here in California actually wanted to make lager, but they couldn’t because it was too hot, and so they made our Steam beer instead. Finally, the first lager came to California in the early1870s. I thought it would be fun if we could duplicate one of these first California lagers. We knew it would have been brewed with cluster hops, because by the 1870s those hops were being grown on huge hop farms up by Sacramento. It was the first American hop. We also knew about what the bitterness would have been, because we knew generally what people were drinking those days. So that’s what we set out to do: To recreate the first California lager. That was the first beer I ever did, and it was a huge success.
What’s your most memorable moment as a brewmaster?
I’d say that was during the 1989 earthquake, when all the power went off in San Francisco. We had brews going in the kettle, but everything had shut down. Another brewer and I volunteered to spend the night at the brewery so we could finish brewing the minute the power came back on, and hopefully save our beer. There were neighbors who saw we had some candles burning in the tap room; they came over and we were having a real party in there! Then, when the lights came back on around 10pm, we had to go right to work. We finished the brew, but they had been sitting there from five in the afternoon to ten at night, so the beer was much darker in color than your usual Anchor Steam and had a more caramelized flavor.
We knew we couldn’t sell it as our normal Anchor Steam beer because it tasted so different, but Fritz said we should filter it and bottle it and put upside-down Anchor Steam labels on it. We sent out a few pallets to some of our California distributors as special “earthquake edition” beers. Word got out and suddenly there were people selling these limited-edition “earthquake bottles” in the newspaper want ads for 50 bucks each! It was pretty special.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the craft beer world in the past ten years?
The number of brewerys. I’ve been so lucky to get into this industry when I did. There were just four breweries in San Francisco when I started. Now there are over 20, just in the city alone, and everyone is doing really unique, unusual beers. In the early days, many of the beers we developed were European-style beers and were often the very first of their variety made in America. Liberty Ale as the first dry-hopped ale in the States. Our wheat beer was the first wheat beer made in the U.S. And, in 1972, we produced the first American craft porter. We had a lot of firsts.
These days it’s almost impossible to come up with anything truly original. There are over 3,000 American breweries, each one putting out ten different beers, so everyone is searching and trying everything to see what customers like. Because of this, American brewers have turned the global brewing world upside down. They truly have. American brewers are leading the world in brewing. Last year I was in Munich with my son and we went to a couple small breweries, one of which had just released their spring bock. It was a delicious beer, but if we had one now and I didn’t tell you what it was, you’d say, “Oh, this is an IPA.” It’s made with American-style hops, it tasted just like an IPA. And this was Munich, one of the biggest beer cities in the world! When you have brewers in Germany making American-style beers, you know the brewing world has totally changed.
What hasn’t changed about brewing?
The hard work. Ninety percent of brewing is cleaning. The kettles, the pipes, the fermenters… you have to clean everything, all the time. Nothing will grow in beer that will hurt you, but the bacteria can make the beer taste differently than what you’re going for, so you have to be cleaning all the time.
We partnered with Mark and the brewers at Anchor Brewing Company to create craft beer sauces made with their signature Anchor Porter and Anchor Steam. The Anchor Steam Braising Sauce works well with chicken or pork; the Anchor Porter Braising Sauce shines when simmered with beef.