Well, they had a good run. A 121-year run of American ownership, to be exact, but San Francisco’s legendary Anchor Brewing has officially announced it is being purchased by Japanese macro brewers Sapporo. This comes seven years after longtime owner and craft beer figurehead Fritz Maytag sold the company to private equity firm The Griffin Group.
At the time, new owners Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio stated that their purchase of the company was “something we want to build on for the rest of our careers and pass on to the next generation,” but seven years later it appears that they’ve remembered that there’s money to be made in flipping venerable companies to multinational mega-corps. Sapporo will continue to run the business out of the classic Potrero Hill headquarters, while the company’s Anchor Distilling offshoot, which produces spirits such as Junipero Gin and Old Potrero Whiskey, will split off to become a separate, independent company.
Anchor is of course the producer of Anchor Steam, the legendary California Common beer that gave birth to the popularization of the term “steam beer,” which are made with lager yeast fermented at unusually warm, ale-like temperatures. Their contributions to the craft scene are myriad, and include creating what was arguably the first true American pale ale/IPA in Liberty Ale, several years before Sierra Nevada Pale Ale hit the scene. Other early beers included both Anchor Porter and Old Foghorn Barleywine, which both must have blown the minds and taste buds of San Francisco residents in the ‘70s and ‘80s who had never tasted anything comparable.
In terms of what will change at Anchor, the company reassured drinkers with the usual checklist of brewery acquisition notes: Recipes will stay the same, employees’ jobs are safe, etc. A new taproom will reportedly open on De Haro Street, across the street from the current headquarters, which would seemingly imply that the new ownership is expecting to increase their rate of visitors. Production, meanwhile, will continue at the Potrero Hill location “until we exceed the capacity of that brewery,” according to Greggor. The company was the 22nd largest craft brewery by volume last year, according to the Brewers Association.
When asked about the fact that this would presumably strip the brewery of its “craft” designation according to the BA definition, Greggor seems to argue that Anchor is a special case (we’re shocked), and should obviously retain all the benefits of being seen as independent, regardless of whether they are or not.
“Anchor has been making handcrafted beer since long before ‘craft’ was coined,” he said to SFGate. “I would argue (Anchor’s beer) is more handcrafted than any of the craft beer out there today. However, while it might not fit the definition of some self-appointed organizations, we’ll always be the original, and we’ll still be handcrafted in San Francisco.”
Those are some nice barbs the man is slinging toward the “self-appointed” Brewers Association, while simultaneously telling the entire rest of the industry that Anchor’s beer is “more handcrafted” than their product, even as steps down from the company in return for a large check. I wonder if the other 5,000 small breweries in the U.S. would agree?
Regardless, it’s a bit of a kick in the teeth for IPA Day 2017 to learn that the company that arguably produced the first real American IPA has just sold itself to a Japanese corporation.