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Steve Jobs, Janis Joplin and Anchor Beer: A new book celebrates SF’s oldest brewery

Man with computer and beer bottle
Steve Jobs is pictured with his iconic computer and a bottle of steam beer. | ©Norman Seeff

Devotees to the Cult of Steve Jobs will know the image well: The Apple founder sits on the floor in a lotus pose, his face framed by a shaggy haircut, his chin resting on top of the compact Macintosh resting in his lap.

What many may not know is that when the photo was taken, there was a bottle of Anchor beer sitting to Jobs’ right, just out of the frame. A new history of the longtime San Francisco beer brand unearths this anecdote and others—including one contending that the early use of the term “microbrewery” was inspired by the microcomputers that Jobs and his Silicon Valley company helped popularize.

The Anchor Brewing Story: America’s First Craft Brewery & San Francisco’s Original Steam Beer was written by 30-year Anchor Brewery employee (and professional trumpeter) David Burkhart. He says he’d done nearly every job at Anchor before becoming its official historian in 2010. Burkhart extensively interviewed dozens of eyewitnesses to Anchor Brewing’s 125-year history including eccentric owner Fritz Maytag, who ran the brewery for 45 years. The book will be released Tuesday, Nov. 15, and will be celebrated with an event at the Potrero Hill brewery.

Janis Joplin, center, poses with her band at the brewery. | Photo credit Bill Brach

Beyond the cameo by Steve Jobs, who became a longtime friend of Maytag’s, the book includes other notable guest stars like Janis Joplin, who appears at the brewery in a promo photo shoot for the band Big Brother and the Holding Company, a group she had just joined in 1966. This was the year after Maytag had purchased the distillery, and he was onsite that day.

As Burkhart describes, Anchor Brewing has roots in the California Gold Rush but was officially founded in 1896. The “steam beer” that is Anchor’s flagship was originally a style of beer brewed with lager yeast that could produce proper fermentation at higher temperatures without the use of ice or other refrigeration, which was unavailable in the era. 

The company subsequently survived earthquakes (even if the brewery building didn’t) and Prohibition, but by the 1950s, when mass-produced lager brews dominated the market, Anchor Brewery was the smallest in America, the oldest in the West and the only producer of steam beer in the world.

In the decades leading to the mid-1960s, Anchor was once again on the cusp of closing forever. Maytag, the 27-year-old great-grandson of the founder of the Maytag Washing Machine Company, learned of the impending bankruptcy of the brewery, visited it the next day and agreed to buy it on the spot on Aug. 2, 1965.

The new book, which launches Tuesday, Nov. 15, is published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. | Courtesy image

Maytag later built a microdistillery—one of America’s first in the modern era—in the brewery in the 1990s, and produced pot-distilled whiskey from 100% malted rye grain, followed by other old-style products including gin’s predecessor genever. 

Maytag eventually retired in 2010 with a sale to spirits importers Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio, who in turn sold it to the current owner, Sapporo, in 2017.

In addition to the 125-year history of the brewery, the book includes 300 images, many of them published for the first time, along with homebrew recipes for four of Anchor’s iconic beers (Anchor Steam, California Lager, Porter and Liberty Ale).

A celebration for the book launch takes place Tuesday, Nov. 15. You can RSVP here. Additionally, the brewery is now hosting their seasonal Christmas Ale tours and tastings.