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Posted by at 8:52 pm | Category: Beer Backgrounds, Craft Beer History 1

By Dave Burkhart, Anchor’s Design and Graphics Production Manager
and Brewery Historian

Every Anchor brew begins with a story, a raison d’être. Without that story the recipe would be just a recipe and the label just a label. The story of Anchor IPA™, like the stories of Anchor California Lager® and Anchor Steam® Beer, has its roots in mid-nineteenth-century California. But unlike those brews, the first chapters of Anchor IPA’s story are about Californians drinking beer rather than brewing it.

Miners weighing their gold. Note the bottles in the foreground.




The California Gold Rush lured thousands west to “see the elephant,” a nineteenth-century metaphor for the hopeful but risky pursuit of happiness, adventure, and fortune.

The pursuit of happiness is deeply embedded in America’s DNA. So is our spirit of adventure, —the more exotic and challenging the better—from Christopher Columbus to Lewis and Clark to the Gold Rush and beyond. Fortune, as forty-niners quickly learned, doesn’t always come easy, nor is it always golden. Often, it’s redefined as the journey unfolds. In 1854, when forty-niner Richard Lunt Hale returned empty handed to his hometown of Newburyport, Massachusetts, he “realized that my experiences had been as valuable to me as the bag of gold I had come home without. The gold might easily vanish, but that which I had gained in pursuing the ‘pot of gold at the end of the rainbow’ could never be taken away.”

The expression to “see the elephant” is well known among historians and history buffs. It originated with a tale that predates the California Gold Rush.

There once lived a farmer who had heard of elephants but had never seen one. He longed for the day when he might catch a glimpse of this rare, exotic creature. When the circus came to town, he loaded his wagon with fresh produce and headed to market. On the way, just as he’d hoped, he came across the circus parade, nobly led by an enormous elephant. The farmer was ecstatic, but his horses were terrified. They reared and bucked, overturning his wagon and scattering its precious contents in the road. “I don’t give a hoot,” exclaimed the farmer. “I have seen the elephant!”

“For gold rushers,” writes JoAnn Levy in They Saw the Elephant, “the elephant symbolized both the high cost of their endeavor—the myriad possibilities for misfortune on the journey or in California—and, like the farmer’s circus elephant, an exotic sight, an unequaled experience, the adventure of a lifetime.”

The elephant became the universal symbol of the Gold Rush, as evidenced by the journals, letters, and sketchbooks of the forty-niners. Whether or not they struck it rich in the diggings, those plucky pioneers would forever treasure their California adventure as the defining moment of their lives. Gold seekers reflected on their experience of “seeing the elephant,” according to historian Anthony Kirk, “with the pride of having persevered in the face of countless dangers and difficulties, with the awe of having seen the new country and the mines, with the satisfaction of having had a grand and glorious adventure.”

What better symbol, then, for an India Pale Ale from Anchor than an Indian elephant? The elephant you see on our Anchor IPA™ was hand-drawn by our label artist, James Stitt, from an engraving by Simon-Charles Miger (1736–1820), which in turn is from a painting of a female Indian elephant by Nicolas Maréchal (1753–1803). The engraving appears in Illustrations de La Ménagerie du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (1808), by Étienne de Lacépède (1756–1825) and Georges Cuvier (1769–1832). Of course we couldn’t resist giving our elephant an Anchor blanket, especially since she is eyeing—and sniffing—the hops with such glee. And she is facing west for a reason, symbolizing the boatloads of English IPA that journeyed around Cape Horn to San Francisco.




As early as 1849, India Pale Ale—prepared by British brewers for export to India by adding dry hops to barrels of hoppy ale—was also heading west, from England around the Horn to San Francisco.

                       An ad from the Daily Alta California, 1853

Everyone knows the story of IPA but who knew that forty-niners drank imported IPAs or that, for nearly half a century, IPA was being shipped from England around Cape Horn to San Francisco? The answer is: nobody! The proof came from an exhaustive search of early California newspapers, in which the arrival and/or sale of cargo from London and Liverpool was often advertised. IPA is all about the journey and in the mid-nineteenth century, when IPA was in its heyday, all the great English IPAs were enjoyed in California just as they were in India. The list even included Allsopp’s, the first IPA exported to India—and California—from Burton-on-Trent. Although our IPA is not in the English style, the lettering of the words INDIA PALE ALE on our label is a tip of the hat to the way they look on an old Allsopp’s label.

Further research led me to Howard Calhoun “Cal” Gardiner’s (b. 1826, Sag Harbor, Long Island, d. 1917, Green Bay Wisconsin) In Pursuit of the Golden Dream, Reminiscences of San Francisco and the Northern and Southern Mines, 1849–1857. Written in 1896 (!), it is a vivid first-person account of the trials and tribulations of a real-life forty-niner. On Christmas Eve, 1851, in a cabin a few miles from the North Fork of the American River, gold seeker Gardiner resolved, though alone, “to enjoy the festival day. It is Christmastide, my boy! Let’s you and myself enjoy it. Let us eat, drink, and be merry. Tomorrow Lucullus shall dine with Lucullus.” [In other words, “party of one!” Lucullus was an epicurean Roman general, famous for his opulent banquets.] “Though prepared by myself,” Gardiner continues, “it is perhaps a pardonable pride that impels me to extol that Christmas dinner. Taking the surroundings into consideration, it was indeed a grand spread-out. I had procured a tin of canned turkey and a couple of bottles of Bass’s ale [IPA! In those days Bass simply called its IPAs ale or pale ale]. The turkey, with boiled sweet potatoes, good light bread and butter, doughnuts of home manufacture, strong black coffee, and the ale, with a post-prandial pipe at the finish, formed a dinner fit for the gods, at least I thought so, and enjoyed it accordingly.”

                       Daily Alta California ad, 1852

Oddly enough, despite the fact that Californians drank imported IPAs for nearly fifty years, there is no evidence of it being brewed here in the nineteenth century. The reason, of course, is obvious: California’s brewers in the mid to late nineteenth century—including Anchor’s—were virtually all Germans, with no interest whatsoever in making English ale.

                       Golden City Brewery ad, 1873




Thirsty forty-niners savored imported IPAs, but it wasn’t until 1975 that Anchor, America’s original craft brewery, pioneered the revival of dry-hopped handmade ales.

1975 marked the 200th anniversary of Paul Revere’s historic ride and an opportunity to create the beer that started its own revolution: Liberty Ale®. Thanks to Fritz Maytag and his small staff, including our current brewmaster Mark Carpenter, the brewery already known for Anchor Steam® created America’s first craft-brewed, dry-hopped ale.

From 1965 to 1975, Fritz had risked everything, surmounting great odds in his own pursuit of happiness and adventure. His new venture, Liberty Ale®, would begin a new chapter in Anchor’s history and inspire generations of craft brewers to follow his lead.

Fritz Maytag in the Anchor brewhouse with Mark Carpenter and Mike Lee




Now, that tradition fast-forwards to an adventurous new brew: Anchor IPA™. Made with two-row barley malt and fresh whole-cone hops, its bright amber color, distinctively complex aroma, spiky bitterness, malty depth, and clean finish unite to create a uniquely flavorful, memorable, and timeless IPA.

A friend asked me what was adventurous about Anchor IPA™. “After all,” she said, “Anchor has been around since 1896.” The answer is yes, precisely. Anchor IPA™ has an aroma, flavor, drinkability, and legacy like no other India Pale Ale. And everything about Anchor IPA™, from story to label to brew to first sip to second to third, is a reflection of Anchor’s unique history and ongoing adventure.

Have you seen the elephant? Check out our new Anchor IPA video.


Readers Comments (1)

It makes sense that English Brewers would export their IPAs to more places than just India. I love the imagery of the elephant. The beer is good too!

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