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A century old, staple of the country's brewing culture will be liquidated.
You’ve probably read it by now. Anchor Brewing, the innovators of Steam Beer and long-time constant in San Francisco’s beer culture, announced they would be ceasing operations and their assets liquidated. This news came only a month or so out from announcing that the brewery would pull back distribution to only be in California and the cancellation of their popular Christmas Ale.
If you are to believe most of the mainstream media reports written about this seismic news the blame for this is simply sales. But to call sales the sole issue for the closure of a beloved brand with over a century of history would be to believe that the sole reason SF’s neighboring Oakland A’s don’t have a new ballpark is solely money.
I’m not going to get into the long history of Anchor and it’s ownership. Let’s just know that since 2017 Sapporo Breweries has owned Anchor. In that time the Japanese parent company has given the brewery a very well panned rebranding and done very little to help the Potrero Hill godfathers of craft beer.
Dave Infante of the Fingers newsletter (mostly paywalled) has done some great coverage of this situation by talking to a number of Anchor employees and it really seems as if this relationship was doomed almost from the start specifically with Sapporo’s hope to upgrade the Anchor facility to brew their flagship rice lager. It wasn’t until the deal was done that they realized that this wasn’t possible. Or so they say. Who the fuck doesn’t do their due diligence there?
In 2019 the employees of the brewery, and their attached brewpub, voted to unionize citing declines in pay and working conditions. This made them the first unionized craft brewery in the country. The three year contract that was ratified in 2020 was due to expire this year and negotiations were underway but obviously those are off.
Edit: I was incorrect about this. The new contract was signed already.
In 2021 the brewery unveiled the ill-fated rebranding that no one asked for and killed the iconic logos and labels of the brand on the eve of it’s 125th anniversary. This move was almost universally hated by fans. While I believe something could be done to tweak things and refresh the brand I think it went too far towards modern and didn’t leave any relics of the nostalgic past. Look at Sierra Nevada’s ability to keep their timeless look on classic beers and stay modern at once.
Lastly, in 2022 Sapporo closed a deal to acquire Stone Brewing who’s facilities were more than capable of brewing the parent company’s rice lager it so wanted its American child breweries to make. At that point it appeared that the shiny new toy began getting lots of money pumped into including renovations of Stone’s Virginia brewery. Employees seemed to notice.
So much of this was left out of most reports about the closure. They just went with the PR organized press release that blamed Covid and declining sales and blah blah blah. I mean, ask some hard questions.
I mean the Covid blame game has been used left and right to justify closures in the public eye when in reality many places closed because they refused to adjust to changing times, made subpar to bad beer, had leases coming up and a multitude of other reasons. But it’s just easier to blame the faceless monster of the last 2+ years. Not our fault.
It really just looks like Sapporo stuck Anchor behind the 8 ball before the game was even racked and it’s a damn shame. Not only is Anchor an icon in the world of craft beer and San Francisco but it seemed to be a place that people genuinely loved to work at. Turnover appeared to be very low with many employees being longtime workers. Some even put in service of upwards of 30 years. I really feel for these people. Many have reported that they only learned of the news of closure from media outlets just like myself. That’s fucked.
Word is that there were attempts to sell the brewery but a buyer couldn’t be found, at least for the price Sapporo wanted. Now the brewery will be liquidated, scrapped and who knows what else. There is the possibilities that another brewery could buy the brands (a la Drake’s buying Bear Republic’s IP a few months back) and revive the beers but who knows how that would go. Anchor’s copper brew system and use of open fermentation are very specialized equipment and methods that many breweries don’t have the capabilities to do. These absolutely lend to flavor in Anchor’s beers and seem almost impossible to duplicate.
The president of Narraganssett Beer has launched a petition in hopes of saving the brewery. Honestly I don’t know what this would accomplish because a petition doesn’t buy a business. I would get it more if this were some sort of crowd funding attempt to buy the brewery but it’s not that. I signed the thing but, again, don’t really know what the point is.
I’ve drank many Anchor beers over the years despite the distribution for them being less than stellar in Florida over the years. They only recently changed distributors after many years of being with one of the big houses and being neglected. The distributor would drop brands, then bring them back and drop them again without much care. Steam seemed to be the only one you could somewhat find regularly. Only somewhat though. So, yeah, you could say that sales weren’t great for them down here if you look at it that way.
Besides the unmistakable mark that Steam has had on the brewing world their Porter is world class and one of the best beers I have ever had. I had that a number of times when I could find it. It will be sorely missed.
I never got the chance to visit their brewery in my visits to SF but definitely drank a few Steams while at Vesuvios in North Beach and that just feels like a right of passage to me. Anchor and San Francisco are just synonymous with each other.
I hope something good comes out of this for Anchor and it’s around 200 employees. I’ll hold out some hope for them.
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I’d Have a Beer
Non-alcoholic beers are definitely becoming a regular part of my fridge. It has been a fun segment of drink to explore with some many new takes coming out. Untitled Art’s Italian Pils is far and away my favorite NA beer right now. I wouldn’t call it the closest to tasting like real beer, that goes to Guinness 0.0, but it’s just so tasty and feels refreshing as hell in these hot, humid days. I decided to try another Untitled Art offering with their Citra Session.
Made to be like a session IPA or hoppy pale this one ticks most of the boxes. It’s certainly hoppy with a nice citrus character but does have a tiny bit of sweetness that I don’t like. If you’ve had a number of NA offering you’ll know what I’m talking about. Many just have a sweetness that is off putting because the style it is trying to emulate doesn’t normally have sweetness. I feel like most NA beers that mimic lighter styles have it to a degree. It’s a matter of how much you can accept. This one is acceptable to me.
It’s a really good NA beer but still am going to stick with the Italian Pils if I’m going to dish out money for Untitled Arts NA beers.
This is a Photo
West Palm Beah, FL
It’s been raining a lot here as of late. Like, big time rain and thunder. As I’m writing this the skies are getting dark and thunder is booming. The other week one of these storms had let up and I had to run over to the store. Right by the store is a park. I took my camera and took some shots while the skies were still ominous and no one was around. I snagged this one over by the basketball courts. I loved the framing of the banyan trees and the accompaniment of birds looking for worms.
Do you like my shots? I have prints available for purchase if you are interested. All sales are super appreciated.
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