Anchor Brewing Is Being Revived by the Billionaire behind Chobani Yogurt

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Anchor Brewing Is Being Revived by the Billionaire behind Chobani Yogurt

The complex and often sad saga of San Francisco’s iconic Anchor Brewing, which shut down last summer after 127 years in operation, is about to turn over to a new era. Today, the San Francisco Chronicle dropped some bombshell news for the city: Anchor is being revived, having been purchased by the billionaire founder and CEO of Chobani Yogurt, Hamdi Ulukaya. The company hopes to begin production in its original Potrero Hill campus as quickly as possible, while bringing back most of its previous employees. The resuscitation effort is clearly intended to restore public appreciation and street cred for the Anchor brand in the craft beer marketplace, including a return to the company’s previous logos after a much-maligned redesign in 2021.

Ulukaya has acquired every prominent piece of Anchor Brewing as a company: Its Steam Beer (and other) recipes, the Potrero Hill campus and all its brewing equipment, and various warehouses. A price has not been disclosed. Speaking with the Chronicle, the Turkish-born businessman makes the brewery sound like a turn-key operation, saying that things in the facility are pretty much exactly as they were left.

“I think everything is operational, but we don’t know,” he told the newspaper. “It’s like a movie — they pressed stop and left. You see boxes on the conveyors. You see bottles on the fillers. You see tickets written halfway. It’s like time stopped. And literally we are going to go and press start and move those conveyors and start it back up.”

Anchor Brewing Co. was founded in 1896 but until the mid-1960s was a brewery of relatively little note, struggling financially in a depressed beer market in which the top few companies controlled almost the entirety of U.S. beer sales. It was then acquired by Frederick Louis “Fritz” Maytag III in 1965 to prevent its closure, and began slowly modernizing. In the mid-1970s, Anchor began to introduce its own versions of what we would come to think of as American craft beer styles, such as porter, pale ale and American barleywine. In doing so, they provided absolutely indispensable inspiration to other start-up breweries that would soon follow, such as Sierra Nevada Brewing. Anchor, meanwhile, remained nationally famous for their Steam Beer, but the brewery’s public perception began to decline following their acquisition by Japanese brewing giant Sapporo in 2017, and the unpopular rebrand in 2021, which also coincided with the craft beer industry’s wider downturn. At the same time, Anchor’s workers successfully unionized, and members of this union announced their intention in July of 2023 to attempt to purchase the brewery and operate it as a co-op. They ultimately could not put the financial backing together to turn that dream into a reality, alleging that they were not given a fair chance to make the acquisition.

This naturally leads to a slew of questions with Ulukaya–who notes that he is “not a connoisseur” and wasn’t familiar with the Anchor brand before its closure–entering the scene as Anchor’s new owner. How serious is he about preserving not just the Anchor aesthetic, but its ethos? How much will he be willing to change, if sales for the revived Anchor beers aren’t immediately robust? How interested is he really, in working with the brewery’s previous employees?

Ulukaya certainly has said some of the right things in this opening PR salvo. He notes, for instance, wanting to get the brewery back in operation in time to potentially make Anchor Christmas Ale, aka “Our Special Ale,” for the 2024 holidays, which was intended to be the 50th anniversary of that iconic brew. He is reportedly consulting with longtime employees on which Anchor products are most important to revive, and according to the Chronicle says he “wants to hire back as many of the former workers as possible.” But at the same time, the following line can’t help but raise eyebrows: “He didn’t know whether the union that formed there shortly before the brewery closed would be part of the new operations.” How Ulukaya answers that question–which he really should have had an answer for BEFORE announcing the brewery’s return–will no doubt have a large impact on how the revived Anchor Brewing is ultimately viewed.

For now, though, Ulukaya seems to be putting in the time to at least get a better understanding of San Francisco, meeting with figures such as Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Shamann Walton, who represents Anchor’s district, and Giants CEO Larry Baer. Breed unsurprisingly touted the potential of the move.

“This is not just an investment in San Francisco. It’s a recognition of what makes our city truly special — our history, our institutions and our people,” Breed said to the Chronicle. “Anchor Brewing has always been a beloved part of San Francisco and thanks to Hamdi Ulukaya, it will be a part of San Francisco for years to come. I’m grateful for his commitment to being a part of the future of our city and for keeping the tradition of Anchor Steam beer being brewed right here where it belongs.”

It will no doubt be fascinating to watch the revival of Anchor Brewing unfold. We hope that its former employees will approve of the process, and that as many of them as possible will find themselves employed in the craft beer industry once again. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a fruitful new era for one of the oldest and most influential brands in American beer history.

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