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PUBS, PATIOS & BARS: Iconic San Fran brewery weighed down by history

San Francisco’s iconic Anchor Brewing Company – dubbed “the birthplace of craft beer” – says it is shutting down for good. The 127-year-old brewing company, known as a trailblazer of craft beers, announced it would close after years of declining sales and tough economic conditions. The tap room will remain open until the end of the month.

Anchor was a trailblazer in the US, brewing craft beers in the 1970s when most North Americans were loyal to a handful of major brands. Its unique brewing techniques ignited demand beyond the city borders of San Francisco, and it quickly became a sought-after prize by beer geeks everywhere.

In recent years, however, brewers have faced increasing difficulty turning a profit with a proliferation of canned cocktails, crafted drinks, spirits, and wines dinging beer sales. Lockdowns during the pandemic pressured brewers further.

“We recognize the importance and historic significance of Anchor to San Francisco and to the craft brewing industry, but the impacts of the pandemic, inflation, especially in San Francisco, and a highly competitive market left the company with no option but to make this sad decision to cease operations,” brewery spokesperson Sam Singer said.

Anchor Brewing had teetered near insolvency before and in the 1960s it was acquired by a Stanford University grad, Fritz Maytag. Maytag implemented new brewing practices such as dry hopping, and began bottling the beer in 1971, according to the brewer.

By the mid-1970s, Anchor Brewing had assembled a solid portfolio of respected brews – including Anchor Porter, Liberty Ale, Old Foghorn Barleywine Ale and its first annual Christmas Ale, which became a holiday tradition in locales far from San Francisco.

Jeff Alworth, author of The Beer Bible, said in a blog post that Maytag “sparked a revival in small-scale brewing” that would transform the industry and give the emerging craft brewing industry its ethos and attitude.

“He had this approach to beer, which was, ‘We’re going to use traditional ingredients and we’re going to use traditional methods and we’re going to be defiant as we do it and we’re going to be hyper-local,’” Alworth said. “It served as a blueprint.”Anchor Brewing was sold to the Japanese brewer Sapporo in 2017 and it’s decided to discontinue the brand.

Anchor said that it made repeated efforts over the past year to find buyers for the brewery and its brands, but that it was unable to find one. It is still possible that a buyer will come forward as part of the liquidation process, the company said.

The news of the brewery closing came as a shock to San Francisco native Frances Baxter, who said Anchor Steam beer is classic San Francisco just like sourdough bread.

“It’s just really sad because it’s over 100 years of history and it’s something so uniquely San Francisco,” Baxter said. “We lost so many sourdough bakeries … it’s a shame to lose this, too, because I’m not sure anyone is going to save it now.”

“I’m a native San Franciscan and I’ve been drinking the beer as long as I can remember,” said patron Suzanne Greva. “It’s one of my favourites and its like losing an old friend.”

With glass purposefully in hand, we at Travel Industry Today continue our series on some of the planet’s best bars, patios and rooftop venues. For more articles in the series, click here:

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First published at Travel Industry Today

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