Anchor Brewing: The History, the Issues, and the Future

What is going on at our beloved brewery?

Anchor Brewing is a historic brewery in San Francisco, California. It was founded in 1896 by German immigrant Fritz Maytag, and it is the oldest brewery in the San Francisco Bay Area. Anchor is known for its classic beers, such as Anchor Steam, Liberty Ale, and Old Foghorn.

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The brewery has had a turbulent history in recent years. In 2017, it was acquired by Japanese brewing giant Sapporo. Since then, there have been a number of changes at Anchor, including a failed rebranding effort, a limited distribution to only California, and the discontinuing of the Christmas Ale tradition.

Shockingly, SFGate and the SF Chronicle are not giving this issue much press outside of casual reporting. As a result, fans of Anchor are not aware of the implications. Although the writing isn’t officially on the wall, Anchor is rich in real estate and a profitable Public Tap House.

Credit: California Through My Lens

The rebranding effort was met with criticism from fans of the brewery, who felt that it was a departure from Anchor’s traditional branding. The limited distribution has also been a source of consternation, as it has made it difficult for fans of Anchor’s beers to find them outside of California. And the discontinuing of the Christmas Ale tradition has been seen by some as a sign that Sapporo is not interested in preserving Anchor’s heritage.

There is concern among some fans of Anchor Brewing that Sapporo is intending to kill the brand entirely. Sapporo has not made any public statements about its plans for Anchor, but the company’s actions in recent years have raised some red flags.

Only time will tell what the future holds for Anchor Brewing. But if Sapporo does decide to kill the brand, it would be a major loss for the craft beer community. Anchor Brewing is a historic brewery with a rich tradition, and it would be a shame to see it disappear.

Why this matters

Fans of Anchor recognize this brand offers a unique and comforting experience. From the original artwork, signature bottle, and association with Northern California culture. Nothing says “the Bay” like “Anch” on tap.

BeerAdvocate has Steam rated at a “Very Good” score of 87 and describes the signature brew as:

Anchor Steam® Beer owes its deep amber color, thick, creamy head, and rich, distinctive flavor to a historic brewing process like none other.

It is a process that combines deep respect for craft brewing tradition with many decades of evolution to arrive at a unique approach: a blend of pale and caramel malts, fermentation with lager yeast at warmer ale temperatures in shallow open-air fermenters, and gentle carbonation in our cellars through an all-natural process called kräusening.

To this day, the recipes and proprietary yeast strains are a closely guarded secret.

Little-known facts about Anchor Brewing

  • The brewery’s name, in part, comes from the anchors that was used to moor ships in San Francisco Bay.
  • The brewery’s flagship beer, Anchor Steam, was the first American beer to be brewed with California hops.
  • Anchor Brewing was the first brewery in the United States to be certified organic.

Current issues facing Anchor Brewing

  • Failed rebranding effort
  • Limited distribution to only California
  • Discontinuation of the Christmas Ale tradition
  • Concern that Sapporo is intending to kill the brand entirely

You can help

You can reach the SF Chronicle Food + Home desk here via email, and SFGate Food Editor here. For press interested in researching this further, we have access to individuals close to the story who can be sources on and off the record, contact us via this page.

Christmas in July

Possibly for the last time ever, you can get tickets to the Christmas Ale Brewery Tour. Christmas is literally coming early for us diehard fans. Space is limited and this may be our last chance at a magical experience. Book your tickets here.

The future of Anchor Brewing

  • Only time will tell what the future holds for Anchor Brewing.
  • If Sapporo does decide to kill the brand, it would be a major loss for the craft beer community.
  • Anchor Brewing is a historic brewery with a rich tradition, and it would be a shame to see it disappear.

The brand has faced extinction before, and has come back from the dead. Let’s hope that if Sapporo does have an exit in mind, they choose to hand custody over to the employees or a reputable ally rather than opting to scrap it for parts. With all this, we hope we are wrong and will gladly print a retraction once the coast is clear. Until then, fans of a truly unique craft beer experience will have to hold our breath. We hope we are wrong.

Credit: California Through My Lens