The dark blue flag atop Anchor Brewing Company's San Francisco headquarters was flying upside down Wednesday following the announcement that the historic brewery's taps would go dry at the end of the month after several years of falling sales numbers and a changed business environment.
Employees received a 60-day notice Wednesday, and the company will offer separation packages, a spokesperson for the company said in an emailed statement.
“Anchor is grateful for its employees who exude so much passion for the Anchor brand," Anchor Brewing spokesperson Sam Singer wrote. "Anchor thanks them for their commitment and all that they have done to build and care for this beloved brewery.”
The company had earlier said it would no longer sell outside of California and cut production of its traditional Christmas Ale brand, but "[i]n the end, expenses simply continued to outstrip revenues, leaving the company with no other viable choice."
Anchor said it would pack, sell and distribute its remaining beer through month's end, including a small amount of the classic ale.
The company will pass up court-monitored Chapter 7 or 11 bankruptcy, instead arranging with an outside party under state Department of Alcoholic Beverage and Control guidance to hold its assets before liquidation and payment of creditors.
A buyer could have stepped up and allowed Anchor to continue, but none came forward despite management entreaties.
“This was an extremely difficult decision that Anchor reached only after many months of careful evaluation," Singer said, acknowledging the company's longtime local and regional prominence, but adding "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.”
Vicky Carrillo, a worker at a nearby company, said she enjoyed seeing brewery employees in the neighborhood "in their little white jumpsuits" and the shared experience of sometimes getting caught behind trucks loading at the brewery.
"San Francisco has had so much loss since Covid, and it feels like the city has lost so much with tech companies leaving and what's going on in the Tenderloin," Carrillo said. "So to have one more thing go, this is sad, and to know that it affects people directly with their livelihood."
"There's so many people, like working-class people, who work here, and like, that's something that just continues to get to moved from San Francisco," said Leslie Hampton, who was walking her friend's dog near the brewery on Wednesday morning.
'America's First Craft Brewery'
Official brewery historian David Burkhart wrote in his 2022 book, The Anchor Brewing Story: America’s First Craft Brewery & San Francisco’s Original Steam Beer, that the brewery 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, according to Burkhart's book.
In the decades leading to the mid-1960s, Anchor was once again on the cusp of closing forever. Fritz 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.
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, Japanese brewer Sapporo Holdings Limited, in 2017.