Heritage Server > Story Bank > San Francisco History > Anchor Steam...
The Visiting Fireman, July 29, 1974

In the mid-1800s, thousands of men swarmed to California to seek their fortunes in gold. They were hard-working men and, after a long, hot day of panning for precious metal, a cold beer was a treat to their dry throats. But beer was hard to come by because ice, needed to make lager, was scarce.

The gold-seekers were an ingenious bunch, however, and it didn’t take them long to find a way to make a special malt brew without ice. The result was, and still is, steam beer.

Steam reached its peak in popularity in the 1890s. Breweries dotted the Mother Lode and there were 27 in San Francisco alone. Of all these, one has survived. The Anchor Steam Beer brewery, located in the heart of San Francisco, is the only brewery in the world that is producing steam beer today. The company is insured by Fireman’s Fund, through the San Francisco Branch.

Fritz Maytag, a young man with a keen interest in San Francisco’s beer tradition, is the owner and proprietor. When he got into the beer business nine years ago, Anchor was on the verge of collapse. Fritz rescued it and saved a tradition. Today, his brewery supplies steam beer to approximately 50 of San Francisco’s oldest and finest saloons.

Maytag insists on making steam the way it was made a hundred years ago. Even though most modern American breweries have, over the years, added increasing amounts of corn and rice to their brews, Fritz will have no part of it. The best beer, he says, is made only of malted barley, hops, yeast, and water. Rice and corn had no place in beer a century ago and, as far as Fritz is concerned, they have no place in beer today.

"But even more important to the making of steam," Fritz goes on to say, "is a process of fermentation called kraeusening." This is a method of natural carbonation, as opposed to the artificial injection of carbon dioxide, which is done in other breweries.

"After steam is make and aged, it turns flat," he continued. "Then, a dose of kraeusen, or newly fermented beer is added. For three or four weeks, the beer builds up pressure like a locomotive until it reaches 50 to 60 pounds to the square inch. The early brewers referred to this slowly developing pressure as ‘steam.’ Hence, the name."

The first taste of steam beer can be startling, especially to one who is used to the more bland, canned domestic beers. Steam is robust and full-bodied, and it may seem bitter. "But," says Fritz, "that’s the way good beer is supposed to taste. Hops are bitter, and they impart the flavor."

Until three years ago, Maytag supplied his beer in kegs only; now he also bottles his brew. The entire process—from malting the barley to labeling the bottles—takes place on the brewery premises. Last year Fritz and his five brewers made, bottled, kegged, and sold 155,000 gallons of steam.

When the Anchor Steam Beer brewery sought insurance protection, Bill Johnstone, of Maloney, Maritzen, and Johnstone Insurance Brokers, steered Fritz Maytag toward Fireman’s Fund.

The property, including the two-building brewery and the building contents, is insured for nearly $300,000 for fire, theft, vandalism and malicious mischief, and liability—the whole under a Portfolio Policy. Fireman’s Fund also writes the company’s workmen’s compensation coverage.

From a loss control standpoint, the Anchor Steam Beer brewery is considered a good risk; no losses have been reported. One reason for this record is that Fritz is as conscientious about his brewery as he is about his brew. His machinery is in tip-top condition, his ingredients are the best available, and his staff is knowledgeable.

Fritz Maytag maintains these high standards. And Fritz Maytag pours a fine, authentic, and old-fashioned taste of pleasure.

[04-01-03-005-0034 Fireman’s Fund Archives]


©1998-99 Fireman's Fund Insurance Company. All rights reserved.