Historic Beer Birthday: Lawrence Steese

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Today is the birthday of Lawrence Steese (April 20, 1912-April 19, 1991). Steese is part of the more recent lore of Anchor Brewing. Originally from Mill Valley, in Marin County, he bought Anchor in 1960 when Joe Allen was retiring, though Allen stayed around to teach him how to make Steam Beer. Fifty-one percent of the brewery was then bought by Fritz Maytag, who eventually bought out Steese and assumed full control.

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Steese was from Mill Valley, and in the July 14, 1962 edition of the Daily Independent Journal, an article used the headline How a Marinite Rescued Steam Beer, which included the following in its coverage.

SOME THREE years ago the requiem for steam beer was being played, and the sad demise of a California tradition was being mourned. At that time Joe Allen, owner of Anchor Brewery, announced his retirement. There was no one skilled in the exacting art of steam beer brewing to take his place, and no one, it seemed, who cared to take the time and trouble to learn from the old master. No one, that is, until Lawrence Steese decided he’d like to try. Joe Allen was more than willing to teach. And since his official “retirement” these three years past, Allen has spent his days at the brewery as professor of steam beer brewing. The making of steam beer is not like the brewing of other beers. Steam beer is naturally carbonated; neither additives nor preservatives become it. “The Sincere Beer,” it is called by some. IT IS TRULY a “health food,” its devotees assert, containing more malt and hops than other beers, and without corn or rice to lighten it.

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And this is Steese’s story, distilled to its essence on Anchor Brewery’s website today.

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Comments

  1. says

    That’s a good one Jay. He is a key link in the story of the craft beer revival, but almost no one knows his name or any bio details.

    I assume he passed on, but when, did he live long enough to see the success of small-scale brewing, if so what did he think of it…?

    Fritz Maytag would know, why don’t you ask him, he’s just down the road from you more or less? There are so many unsung heroes in this story, Lawrence Steese deserves to be remembered.

    Perhaps Ken Grossman knew him too, or New Albion’s founder.

    Gary

    • Laura Roehrick says

      I grew up with his daughters, Helena and Laurie Steese. I forwarded this to them, maybe they will
      Chime in and answer these questions . I went to the brewery once with them and have vague memories of the barrels! I believed he passed away 20 years or more ago. Lived in Costa Rica for many years and I think died in a car accident.

  2. Miles Jordan says

    Helluva guy! In 1959-60 my friends & I used to frequent the brewery & score kegs of Porter for $ 15. A buck a gallon!! Such a deal. Damned fine beer, too. Helped us thru a lot of parties at Olive St. in SF back then. As the keg was being rolled out to our car we’d try to sample as much beer as we could. Ethelwin Steese once admonished me as I was blowing the foam off my pint by saying, “Foam is the essence of beer.” How right she was! Here’s to Larry & Ethelwin Steese

  3. says

    Thanks for that Miles. I don’t think it was known until now that Anchor had made a porter before Fritz Maytag introduced one in the mid-70s.

    There was, though, a dark version of Steam Beer, maybe it was that? But you called it a porter, was it advertised that way?

    Do you feel Anchor Steam itself has changed from then? Or is it the same?

    What happened to the Steeses? Did they live long enough to see the craft beer renewal?

    Gary

  4. Megen says

    Lawrence Steese was my dad. As Laura said, he (and my brother and I) moved to Costa Rica in 1975. I don’t think it really took off until the mid to late 90s, and he died in 1991 in a car accident. If he was aware of their success, he never talked about it. I have fond memories of the original brewery, too.

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