Dark day for craft beer: Anchor Brewing ceases operations after 127 years

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(SAN FRANCISCO) — San Francisco is bidding farewell to one of its most iconic businesses, Anchor Brewing Company.

Much to the dismay of beer drinkers and bartenders nationwide, the beloved craft brewery pioneer announced Wednesday it will cease its Potrero Hill operations after 127 years.

Some San Francisco residents noticed this week that the company’s navy blue flag, which soars atop its Mariposa Street headquarters, had been turned upside down, typically seen as a sign of dire distress.

Anchor Brewing was acquired by Japanese beer giant Sapporo in 2017 following declining sales, and previously survived the city’s massive earthquake of 1906, two world wars and prohibition. Recent economic downturn, however, ultimately proved too great for the regional brewery founded in 1896.

“Right now, these are some tough economic times. And Anchor’s demise is symbolic of that,” Sam Singer, Anchor Brewing’s spokesperson, told ABC News San Francisco station KGO.

The company statement on Wednesday cited strict shutdowns in San Francisco amid the pandemic, which halted 70% of Anchor’s sales in restaurants and bars, inflation and a highly competitive market as the catalysts that left it “with no option but to make this sad decision to cease operations.”

“This was an extremely difficult decision that Anchor reached only after many months of careful evaluation,” Singer’s statement continued.

Employees of Anchor Brewing were given 60 days’ notice and promised severance packages, the company said this week.

Anchor has long been hailed a trailblazer for brewing craft beers. When Stanford University grad Fritz Maytag acquired the brewery in the 1960s, he implemented new practices and unique brewing techniques like dry hopping, according to the company’s history, and his first bottled batches sold in 1971 made Anchor a hit with consumers beyond the Northern California market, at a time when many Americans were loyal to larger beer brands.

By the mid-70s, beer geeks nationwide sought out the portfolio of beers that included Anchor Porter, Liberty Ale, Old Foghorn Barleywine Ale and its first Christmas Ale, which went on to be an annual bestselling seasonal tradition.

Jeff Alworth, a popular Portland, Oregon-based beer writer, wrote in a blog post for Beervana on Wednesday that Maytag saved the brewery and proved “that small breweries could exist outside an ecosystem of commodity canned lagers.”

Alworth hailed Maytag’s ability to revive small-scale brewing and further contextualized how he transformed the industry to give emerging craft brewing the ethos and attitude beer drinkers know and love today.

“Anchor wasn’t a craft brewery in the sense we understood the word — it was bigger than that. It stood as an example of endurance amid unbelievable change, of the possibility that little, quirky things can live in a world of hard-edged creative destruction,” he wrote.

While Anchor Brewing has stopped making new beer, the company said this week it will continue to pack and distribute what’s left of its supply and sell it on draft until inventory runs dry.

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