Wanted to stop in and introduce myself. I've been a craft brewer (home brewer) for several years now and tend to be on the teckie geekie side of things. I've brewed many styles of beer and like the hobby. Why am I telling you this? It all has to do with the history of sour dough yeast and where the San Francisco taste was born.
You see, a style of beer known as "Steam Beer" which is kept alive thru the diligent marketing of Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing uses a very unique beer yeast. This yeast is unlike any other in the brewing industry. It has a flavor profile that fits uniquely between the classic lager and ale yeasts of which there are literally dozens in commercial use world wide. But there is only ONE San Francisco brewing yeast! Now imagine yourself 150 years ago in S.F. and you are a commercial bakery and you use a lot of yeast to bake.... Where are you going to get yeast.... From the bakery supply store or the brewery down the street! I think you'll agree that back then, they didn't know what was going on with the yeast, they just know that it made the beer... ah hum... the bread taste great! And the brewery was glad to sell or give it away because believe me... when you brew beer, you produce a HUGE amount of yeast in the fermentor.
When German brewers came to America and migrated to the west coast during the gold rush, they naturally took their 'old world' skills with them. One of these skills was brewing beers. The problem was, they had no ice caves in which to "lager" (a german word for 'store cold') their beers. As a result they did the best they could with the yeast they had carried half way around the world. Over the decades this yeast evolved to produce the classic BOLD tastes that are associated with Anchor Steam Beer. I've used this yeast, fresh from the yeast banks and using the standard recipes for french bread have produced some very fine 'sour dough' breads. They taste way better than the "bakers yeast" you'd use in the recipe and produce that famous 'west coast' taste that everyone loves.
You can acquire this yeast, use yeast ranching techniques that are easy to find on the web, and keep the yeast culture for months or years and have San Francisco Sour Dough bread anytime you want without having to keep a starter that will itself evolve and mutate into something else over time.
Go to Whitelabs.com and look for WL-810 San Francisco Lager Yeast or go to Wyeastlab.com and look for 2112 California Lager yeast. These are the same yeasts, and are "banked" for commercial purposes. You will be amazed at the taste if you follow the directions for the bread, but use these liquid yeasts (yes they ARE that fresh) to make the starter/sponge. And depending on where you live, you can order from almost any homebrewing supply house on the web. A couple I've used that have very fresh stocks are Midwestsupplies.com and morebeer.com
Enjoy and just remember.... Beer is known as 'liquid bread' for a very good reason.... ;-)
Try it.... You'll like it!
ClassicAles - Artisan Brewer and Baker