Yesterday it was announced that Anchor Brewing Company, the San Francisco, California based brewery was closing its doors with the taproom’s last day being July 31. The brewery is 127 years old and represents one of the oldest craft breweries in America. The brewery was bought by Japanese brewing giant Sapporo in 2017.
Originally opened in 1896 as a brewery making Steam Beer (Steam Beer or California Common is a unique wholly American lager that once slaked the thirsts of miners during the California Gold Rush), Anchor has been part of the beer lexicon since Fritz Maytag bought the brewery in 1965. By the 1970s, Anchor found its footing and made Anchor Steam one of the first bottled microbrews in America. Anchor paved the way for large regional brands like Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada to usher in a new generation of craft beer drinkers. There was nothing like Anchor and there never will be. Anchor’s additions to beer history are commendable, having brewed one the first American IPAs (Anchor Liberty Ale) in 1975 and their Old Foghorn was one of the first American style barleywines. There were a lot of firsts with Anchor and the beer industry is eternally grateful for this.
Every beer lover of a certain age has an Anchor story and for many, Anchor was their first introduction to craft beer. I never got to the brewery myself. I tried in 2012, making a phone call to get on a tour while visiting San Francisco from Oregon. The upbeat man on the other end of the phone said there was nothing he could do but perhaps I would be available in May to visit? It was February.
That same year I was traveling home to take a new job back in New England and a beautiful woman with long black hair and a black cocktail dress served me an Anchor Porter at the steakhouse at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas. That 12 oz. bottle of Anchor Porter was $13. When I got the bill, I just laughed. The porter was delicious.
More recently, every time I have visited San Francisco, I always have had an Anchor Steam on draft before getting on the plane back home. It became a tradition that I looked forward to.
And every holiday season, Anchor put out their Christmas ale, which each year was a different recipe with a different label featuring a simple drawing of a tree. I remember going to a bar in San Francisco that served different Anchor Christmas vintages, calling it “ghosts of Christmas pasts.” Anchor Christmas was savored around many fires, drank while opening gifts with loved ones, and one Christmas, my husband and I opened the magnum sized bottle and shared it amongst the family to great acclaim and fun. To see Christmas traditions die especially feels like the ultimate gut punch.
Beer always has with it a sense of place. Anchor was old time San Francisco to the core. The Protero Hill neighborhood brewery was making a beer that when you tasted it fresh brought you to its hometown city with lively thoughts and bouts of nostalgia. That’s the magic of beer. If we lose the icons that show us these time capsules and memories, what will happen next?
Anchor Steam and its brewery harken back to a different time, when beer was “filtered and bitter.” Beer can still be all those things today but to some, it doesn’t feel like it. What is beer today? Many would argue that it’s hazy, turbid and unappealing while also being more expensive but I disagree. I believe that beer today is casting a wider net to allow for new styles, new drinkers and new technology, although sometimes not paying attention to some of the original beers and traditions that made it what it once was. When things like the Anchor closing happen, beer geeks and beer professionals feel ill at ease and look to the future with a sense of unknowing. The future feels dim at the moment but perhaps there is hope; I hope Anchor Steam will be brewed somewhere else in the future and will live on as an icon of brewing tradition. It deserves that respect at least.
So if you can find Anchor Steam relatively fresh right now, enjoy it and savor it.