Craft Brewery Taps Into Lager Thirst

Craft beer is still extraordinarily popular, with sales of craft beer in 2012 leaping 15 percent by volume over the previous year. But Anchor Brewing is staking its next major release on the belief that a surprisingly large number of drinkers who want to drink craft beer have thus far abstained for a variety of reasons.

“It’s too dark, too bitter, too alcoholic, too hoppy,” Anchor’s historian David Burkhart says.

To counter those perceptions, Anchor recently revived a circa 1876 lager that the company describes as having a “golden color, creamy head, balanced depth of flavor and smooth finish.” The California lager is currently only available in California, but will be released nationwide later this year.

Lagers were rare in nineteenth-century California, because the beer typically requires cool brewing conditions or the refrigerated simulation of them. But Burkhardt says a few headstrong German brewers found inspiration in a railroad camp pond near the juncture of the Truckee and Little Truckee rivers. Boca Brewery used the pond’s ice to produce a California lager for the state’s centennial celebration in 1876. According to a San Francisco Chronicle story about the new beer, Boca’s lager – sold for a dime a glass – set off a local lagering craze. It petered out in the 1890s, when Boca’s brewery burned to the ground.

The lager recipe was lost with the building, but Anchor’s team developed its “accessible craft beer” through educated guesswork. In early 2012, the company debuted its lager on draft: It started bottling in two sizes this year.

Burkhardt says the lager has been phenomenally popular. Anchor decided to quintuple its planned production before taking the beer to the rest of the country.

While Burkhardt concedes Anchor’s signature Steam Beer is likely to remain the company’s top seller, he predicts the California Lager will emerge as a “very strong number two.”

 
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