Goodbye to the Original Craft Brewery

San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company recently announced they were shutting down operations and liquidating the brewery site. The sad situation has rightfully struck a very sensitive nerve with craft brewers and craft beer fans all over the world. It’s terrible for their talented brewing team, who are being laid off, and for craft beer fans who have revered Anchor’s beers for decades.

Most beer fans know that the Anchor Brewing Company was rescued from bankruptcy by Fritz Maytag in the mid 1960s. As he took over the operation, cleaned up their beer and started releasing new beers in the 1970s, Anchor became recognized as the legitimate forerunner to the craft brewing movement that started later in the 1970s. Fritz Maytag is often credited with creating craft beer, and certainly inspired early brewers in California and other areas to open up their own breweries in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Anchor Brewing Company
Anchor Brewing Company

My personal memories related to Anchor:

My first taste of Anchor Steam Beer was from a bottle when I was a freshman at UC Davis. To be honest, I didn’t like it. I didn’t know what I was tasting but I suspect the intense malt character and the hop bitterness were a bit too much for 18 year old me and my Moosehead Lager and Michelob mindset. A couple of years later,  after I had dedicated my studies at UCD to brewing science, I got another chance to try this beer. Brewing Professor Michael Lewis used to hold informal meetups with his students at local pubs on Friday afternoons, and on one occasion we gathered at a local spot in downtown Davis called The Pub. We ordered pitchers of Anchor Steam Beer, and it was an awakening for me. It was so wonderful, so amber, so flavorful and delicious. I became a fan. In 1984, I tried to get a job at Anchor when I was close to graduating and I remember clearly the rejection letter I got from Fritz Maytag where he said that a small brewery like his rarely hires people, and he wished me luck in my job search.

4 years later, in 1988, I became involved with starting up the San Andreas Brewing Company in Hollister, CA with Bill Millar. One of Bill’s investors was a friend of his named Sam Armstrong. Sam was also a friend of Fritz Maytag and had traveled with him to South America in the 1960s to plant wine grapes and help start the viticulture and wine industry there. Bill and Fritz became friendly through that mutual friendship with Sam, and shortly after we started up our brewery, Bill arranged for us to take a field trip to Anchor and get a behind the scenes tour and tasting, which was absolutely amazing. I had never seen such a beautiful brewery. So clean, with shiny copper brewhouse, open air shallow fermentation vessels and so many technical innovations. Mecca, indeed.

Anchor’s beers became a regular pint for me, especially when I went to Judy Ashworth’s spot, Lyon’s Brewery, in Dublin CA (the first multitap craft beer focused bar I had seen). Judy was the first outside account to ever pour our beer, so I went in there as often as I could. Judy was a huge fan of Anchor and she usually had several of their beers on tap, and I enjoyed at least one just about every visit. I remember after we came out with our groundbreaking Apricot Ale in 1989, she started serving it with a splash of Old Foghorn Barley Wine on top, and she called it “A Foggy Night In The Orchard”. That was quite an honor for a young brewer like me, and the combination was delicious! I went to a LOT of beer festivals back then with San Andreas, and it seemed like Bob Brewer and Bruce Joseph from Anchor were always there too, so I enjoyed chatting with them and drinking lots of Liberty Ale, one the beers that really made me such a big fan of IPA.

Living in the Bay Area during the craft brewing explosion in the late 1980s and early 1990s was amazing. Craft Breweries were popping up everywhere, and just about everyone starting these breweries looked at Anchor as a leader, a mentor, and a spiritual guide. Drinking Anchor Steam Beer in San Francisco, in bars or at sporting events, was so experiential and something to be really savored.

The Ninkasi project, where they replicated a recipe for ancient Sumerian beer was a deep dive into some really cool beer history. I was fortunate to be able to taste this beer at an industry gathering in San Francisco in 1989

My wife’s sister and her husband got married in the early 1990s at their house in Potrero Hill, just a couple of blocks from the Anchor Brewery. At the wedding, one of her uncles was videotaping the ceremony and reception, and took me by surprise by pointing the camera in my face and telling me to say something. They were brewing at Anchor that day, so I said the first thing that came to mind: “I smell hops!”.  To this day, the family laughs about that. But honestly, her whole yard smelled like a brewhouse, and I remember the aroma vividly.

Anchor Steam Hat
Anchor Steam Coaster

One of my favorite memories at Stone Brewing was getting to interview Anchor Brewmaster Mark Carpenter about Liberty Ale for my book on IPA. Liberty Ale, still one of my favorite beers, was the first craft brewed IPA, and the first beer to feature the Cascade hop. The legacy and importance of this beer cannot be overstated.

Anchor Brewing Company has been a real institution in our business. They are the original craft brewery. I know they’ve struggled over the past several years, have gone through ownership changes and ultimately couldn’t survive. It can get really depressing looking at what’s happening with the craft beer industry I’ve known and loved for over 35 years. But let’s give Anchor the all the love and credit it deserves for starting this thing. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Fritz Maytag and the rest of the Anchor team for helping us get to where we are today. If you haven’t watched the Michael Jackson’s Beer Hunter episode on Anchor Brewery, do yourself a favor and watch it. You’ll get where we all came from.

Thank you Anchor Brewing

New Realm Brewing Co.

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