World Class Beverages Indiana

April 28, 2010

Anchor Brewing Begins and Ends an Era

Filed under: Beer Business — Bob Mack @ 3:18 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On Monday, April 26, 2010 it was announced that owner Fritz Maytag of the historic Anchor Brewing Company would be selling his interest in the brewery to an investment company.

Anchor Brewing and Fritz Maytag ARE historic in the craft beer world. Fritz bought the brewery in 1965 when there weren’t really any “craft” beers available in the US. Anchor Brewing later pioneered the creation of craft beers as Fritz fought to make the brewery profitable and his efforts contributed greatly to the growing craft beer culture that we enjoy today.

It’s hard to say that Fritz will be missed as he will still carry the title of “Chairman Emeritus” at Anchor. But there’s little doubt that the change of ownership signals the end of an era for the craft beer world. Fritz started making great beer when very few people knew what great beer was. A lot of people must have thought Fritz a little crazy, especially with the craze for “Lite” beer just getting under way back then. But Fritz persisted.

An icon is moving on to other ventures and his daily guidance at Anchor Brewing will be missed. Fritz first fell in love with Anchor Steam beer while frequenting San Francisco’s Old Spaghetti Factory in the sixties. His fondness for the beer lead restaurant owner Fred Kuh to urge Fritz to visit the brewery itself which was then located on 8th Street. Fritz was smitten with the brewery that would eventually outgrow the 8th Street location under Fritz’s leadership and move to it’s current home in an old coffee roastery on Mariposa Street.

On September 24, 1965, Fritz Maytag purchased a 51% interest in the floundering Anchor Brewing company in San Francisco for a few thousand dollars, saving it from closing. Fritz had started an arduous journey that would eventually help lead the craft beer renaissance in the United States. The sixties and seventies must have been especially tough as the number of breweries in the United States continued their decades long decline well in the 1980’s when the general public began to take an interest in craft beer, partly due to the efforts of the Anchor Brewing to keep good beer alive. Fritz was even brewing beer at Anchor well before the first true micro brewery, New Albion, opened its doors in nearby Sonoma in 1977.

Anchor’s flagship beer, Anchor Steam, has a long history though it remains shrouded in mystery. One legend has it that “steam” beer was first created to satisfy the sudden demand for beer that began in California during the gold rush of 1849. Desperate for product to sell, bar owners concocted beer from whatever ingredients were handy and the resulting product, usually very over-carbonated, let off a jet of “steam” when a keg was tapped. Other legends purport that the beer was brewed with actual steam (which is not the case) and yet other stories cite the origin of the name to steam coming from working breweries or even from steamships in San Francisco bay. We may never know the true origin of “steam” beer.

For whatever reason the term “steam beer” came into common usage out west and beginning in 1896, Anchor Brewing began bottling their version of it. Anchor Steam became a San Francisco favorite that was brewed for local restaurants until the 1960’s (with a 13 year hiatus during Prohibition). Under Fritz Maytag’s leadership, Anchor Steam started to appear in bottles in 1971. By 1975, Anchor Brewing had also introduced Anchor Porter, Anchor Liberty and Old Foghorn into their everyday lineup of beers.

Today, there are over 1,500 breweries in the United States which is nearly 1,500 more than there were in the 1970’s!

At your your next convenience, please join me in raising a glass to Fritz Maytag. Cheers, Fritz!

Sources: The brewery history at the Anchor Brewing website was invaluable in the preparation of this blog as was the Chronology of the U.S. Brewing Industry.

Sound familiar? Fritz Maytag is the great-grandson of the Maytag Corporation (appliances) founder and son of the Maytag Dairy Farms (Maytag blue cheese) founder.

The Griffin Group is an investment and consulting company based in Novato, California, not too far north of San Francisco.

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