News The Demise of Anchor Brewing – A Wide Angle Perspective

Many questions have been asked since Anchor Brewing announced last week that the iconic brewery was closing. And many reasons have been assigned as to what caused the demise of the beloved San Francisco brewery. But the story, and the outcome is both varied and complex.

Everyone one of us in the industry knows the history of Anchor Brewing. Most of us have stories. My first beer was an Anchor Steam (at age 16), sitting at the counter for lunch with my dad at Swan’s Oyster Depot in San Francisco. The owner, who my dad grew up with, offered me a beer in jest. My dad shrugged, and I suddenly had a small glass with fresh Anchor Steam poured from the tap. Things were different then.

San Francisco and the craft brewing industry is now getting used to a world without Anchor beer. Although not unexpected, it was a gut-punch to hear the news.

Since, there has been a flurry of analysis and commentary on why Anchor, after surviving earthquakes, fires, prohibition, the Great Depression, the domination of national brands and many other challenges, could somehow run out of life.

The list of “reasons” that Anchor couldn’t remain profitable is long. The craft segment has become too competitive, San Francisco too expensive, a bad choice in rebranding, poor social media skills, deferred brewery maintenance, a brewery upgrade that went wrong, low worker moral, the acquisition of Stone Brewing that drained resources. The list goes on.

The answer as to why Anchor did not survive is all the above. And perhaps a little more. The soul of Anchor Brewing comes from a time and a culture that simply doesn’t exist in the US today. And there is no going back.

Now what?

Will someone sweep in and buy the brewery? Extremely unlikely. Will someone buy the brand and intellectual property? Likely so.

Remember that included in the intellectual property is the trademark to “Steam Beer.” No brewery has been able to use that style name since Fritz Maytag trademarked it – and vigorously defended it.

The brand is worth something, and Sapporo will eventually sell it. And the most likely scenario is that a brewery will make Anchor beers somewhere else, preserving the iconic Anchor beers in name only.

Just as sitting at the counter with my dad and being served a beer at 16 is part of a culture that we no longer live in, so is the memory of steam wafting out the open windows of the little brewery on Mariposa Street blending with wisps of fog blowing in off the Pacific Ocean; both filling the City with joy.

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