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Historic Anchor Steam Brewery Purchased by Sapporo

The Japanese company will acquire full equity of the iconic San Francisco brewery

Anchor Brewing

There’s been another big acquisition in the craft beer world, and this time it hits even closer to home: Anchor Brewing has been purchased by Japan’s Sapporo Holdings Ltd. The deal has been in the works for over a year, CEO Keith Greggor told the Chron, who also said that they company talked to many breweries to find the right fit.

The 121-year-old company is known as one of America’s first craft brewers, cementing San Francisco’s place in the scene and serving as the template for many breweries who followed. This deal will likely strike fear in the hearts of craft die-hards whose favorite breweries have lately been acquired by giant corporations, including the recent purchase of Petaluma’s Lagunitas by Heineken.

For now, Anchor insists that its beer will continue to be brewed the same way, at its headquarters in Potrero Hill, that nothing will change and no one will lose their job as a result of the sale. Greggor cites Sapporo’s own long history — it was founded in 1876, 20 years before Anchor — as one of the reasons for choosing them as a buyer, indicating that the sale was one of financial interests rather than a sea change for the company itself. Upgrading the canning line and other production processes will become a priority — currently the brewery is only operating at about 55 percent capacity, with approximately $33 million in sales per year.

When it does reach full capacity, however, there’ll be a new discussion about how and where Anchor Steam will be brewed. “Sapporo committed to investing in the Potrero Hill brewery until we exceed capacity of that brewery, but I have no idea when that would be,” Greggor told the SF Chronicle.

This isn’t the first time Anchor has been sold, as Chron writer Esther Mobley points out in her dissection of the sale. The company already has a long history of ups and downs, and various owners. Fritz Maytag, known for revitalizing the company after he purchased it in the ‘60s and creating the brand SF now knows as its hometown beer, sold the company in 2010 to Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio, both former executives at Skyy Spirits (now part of Campari America). That sale was the first step in the larger picture of globalization of the brand— these were financial guys, not craft brewers. Between them, however, they grew Skyy into a massive asset before it was acquired by Campari.

At the same time, Sapporo is also not a behemoth in the vein of AB-Inbev or Constellation; it is a private company with few holdings outside of Japan. Acquiring Anchor’s equity, however, is the first step in the company’s global growth plan. In a statement on Sapporo’s website, the rationale behind the sale is outlined as a 150 anniversary push to expand the company’s holdings in the beverage industry.

“Sapporo Group is pushing forward a distinctive plan that designates North America its business base and the rapidly growing “Southeast Asian” region as its highest-priority markets. In the US where the SAPPORO brand has maintained its position as the No. 1 Asian beer in the country over 30 years, the Group has been considering expanding its beer business through the acquisition of a new brand as well as further growing the SAPPORO brand.

Anchor is a prominent and historic US beer producer founded in 1896 in San Francisco. “Anchor Steam Beer,” its flagship brand, is said to be an icon that ignited the current craft beer boom in the US. Armed with its strong brand power primarily in San Francisco, where it is based, as well as other areas across the US, it has been enjoyed by countless beer lovers throughout the years.

The addition of Anchor’s strong brand power and network to the Sapporo Group’s US beer business portfolio through the conclusion of this agreement is expected to accelerate its speed of growth in the US.”

The full acquisition will happen on August 31, 2017; Anchor Distilling, which produces Junipero Gin and other spirits, will not be affected. While this sale isn’t necessarily a death knell for Anchor, or craft breweries in general, it’s certainly a sign of what it takes to keep a mid-size brewery in operation in today’s industry.

In the meantime, San Franciscans, hold those small brewers close and buy an extra pint or two. There’s no guarantee that they’ll stay small and precious forever. Stay tuned for more.

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