Beer: Anchor Liberty Ale
Pros: Deep-seated hop bitterness and flavor balanced by luscious malt sweetness
Cons: Doesn’t come in IV bottles
The Bottom Line: Anchor Liberty may not be as sexy as some bigger, bolder, upstart IPAs, but what it lacks in power it more than makes up for in subtle, svelte sophistication.
I sometimes feel like the prodigal son when I’m out in the pubs or at my local beer warehouse, pulling down bottles of every strange brew I’ve never before sampled. After all the sampling, and all the experimenting, I often find myself coming home and popping open a bottle of a tried and true favorite masterpiece. Such is the case with Anchor Liberty Ale.
I’ve thought about reviewing this beer here at least a dozen times over the past year, but there was always something else in the fridge that seemed just a little bigger, a little weirder, or a bit more mystical. Liberty was a known quantity. It’s a benchmark. I’ve had it dozens of times, and probably every one else here has too.
Well, today is the day I come back home to Liberty. I feel so welcomed and loved by this beer that it just seems poetic justice that most Americans associate the word “liberty” with “life” and “pursuit of happiness.” I sure feel happy sipping a glass of Liberty Ale. Here’s why…
What an India Pale Ale Should Be…
Lots of beers are labeled “India Pale Ale” or “IPA”, and what they should have in common is big, bold hop signature. The best IPAs have, in my view, big hop aroma, big hop flavor, and a long lingering hop bitterness. I want hops, hops, and then more hops.
The style may have originated with English breweries making big, hoppy beers that could withstand a trip to India, but today’s big English brewers usually make anemic tasting IPAs. In my opinion, the very, very best IPAs available today are those from American craft brewers.
What these beers have in common is the ability to celebrate the wonderful range of bitter flavors and aromas that hops bring to beer. The beers are balanced with a firm, clean malt body, and they can range from normal gravity (12 Plato) to a fairly substantial body (16 Plato or so). While some brewers think a hopping rate in the 30-40 IBU range is acceptable for an IPA, I find it woefully inadequate, preferring those beers that hop to 50, 60, 70 IBUs or more…I like my hops…
When you have a beer that follows an English IPA standard, the beers are often lighter in their hops component and will have a more earthy hop signature than the citric signature that American hop varieties often bring to a beer. The softer hops character also means that a lower starting gravity will work with the beer because it won’t need as much malt sweetness to achieve balance. An English-style IPA is often a more subtle, stiletto-like hops bitterness compared to the brutal, battle-axe hops signature that some of the best American-style IPAs. Which varieties you like best is often a matter of personal taste…
The beer is a deep golden color with some orange hues. It’s got the faintest trace of haze (which clears as the beer warms a couple degrees) and it pours with a tight, creamy white head. This looks like a perfectly conditioned brew, judging just from appearance.
Oh this is sweet! I get some nice fresh citric and grassy hop character right off the bat, but it’s not so big nor so dominant that it overwhelms the soft luscious caramel scent of sweet malt. It’s a malt signature that also has a light fruity ester edge to it with a soft hint of apricot — it’s not assertive, but it hints at the wonderful balance and complexity of the beer.
I pick up a soft earthy hop flavor right away, and as I swirl the beer around in my mouth, the bitterness becomes more intense — coating my tongue and the sides of my mouth and leaving them with a haunting hop essence that hangs in there long after I swallow the beer. As I come back for a second swig, the hops have some pungent pepperiness to them that I really like. I’d bet that this beer is brewed with multiple hop varieties, each contributing something a little different to the flavor smorgasbord…
But hops isn’t all I pick up — no sirree — this is a very malty beer. I’d guess that it’s gravity is over 1065 (16 degrees Plato), but I don’t know the specs on this brew. There’s a definite soft caramel flavor to the beer and it has a soft, rounded malty mouthfeel. As the beer warms, it almost seems to develop a deeper, sweeter malt flavor.
I’m a card-carrying hop head (okay, so I made the card myself — I still carry it), I love nothing in this world quite so much as taking a big gulp of a freshly poured beer and getting my taste buds blasted away with an overwhelming burst of all good things bitter. While Liberty is no slouch in the hops department, this isn’t the biggest hop signature I’ve had lately. Not even close. But what it lacks in sheer intensity it more than makes up for in harmony. The bitter hops flavors just dance around the soft, sweet malt flavors creating an utter symphony of wonderful beer flavors. It’s artistry in a glass!
Although most beer critics regard this beer as an excellent example of the American IPA style, I find that it also shows off some of the positive aspects of the English IPA practices, notably the more even balance than you find in most American IPAs. I think that balance is what really pulls Liberty ahead of the pack when it comes down to race against bigger, bolder, stronger IPAs.
Can you tell that I like this brew? I do, and I always have. It’s a brew that I’ve sampled on dozens of occasions over the years, and its a brew that I have never turned down, and that I doubt I ever will.
About Anchor Brewing
If somebody told me that Anchor Brewing Company was the best darn brewery in America, I don’t think I’d be inclined to argue with them. There’s no doubt that they’d be in my top 5 list, and I bet a lot of die-hard beer geeks would feel the same way.
Anchor Brewing is both an old stalwart regional brewery and a pioneer of the modern craft brewery movement. The company’s owner, Fritz Maytag, is widely known in beer circles where he is respected for his craftsmanship and his revival of the steam beer style. But it’s not just Anchor Steam [review] that makes beer lovers do flips of joy. Almost every brew they sell is a standout — masterfully crafted and a model for other craft brewers to emulate (if they can — Anchor sets a mighty high hurdle).
Anchor’s San Francisco brewery is a mecca for serious beer connoisseurs, not just for its great beer, but for its use of traditional brewing methods. From the huge copper kettles to the rows of shallow open fermenters, the brewery feels like a home for great beer.
Beer Rating: A must – sensational
This review first appeared on Epinions.