It has been a wild ride since San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing announced its closure on July 12. But, as fans may know, this isn’t the first time the more-than-a-century-old company has come close to extinction. In 2017 Japanese multinational corporation Sapporo acquired and subsequently rebranded the company, including canning the famously bottled beer in 2020. Then in June 2023 came the announcement the 127-year-old company would quit making its Anchor Christmas Ale and limit distribution to California, which raised concerns from both customers and employees.
What’s important to know right now is that according to workers, Anchor Brewing stopped production on July 27. Now, in tandem with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6 (ILWU) and nonprofit Project Equity, Anchor workers have joined a suite of other would-be buyers hoping to purchase the company’s assets. It’s unclear who, if anyone, will end up owning the company — and whether or not the future owner will resume beer-making once again.
For now, here’s what to know about the past, present, and future of San Francisco’s most beloved local brewery.
Is Anchor Brewing really shutting down?
Yes, for now, though there’s a chance it could get purchased and brought back. Throughout its history, the company has changed hands a handful of times; in 1965, Fritz Maytag bought the business, then sold it in 2010 to Griffin Group, a local beverage company, before Sapporo took the reins in 2017. But even though the company has been rescued from the brink of extinction several times before, it’s not a done deal the company will be revived this time.
So, can I still get Anchor Steam beer?
For now — though stock is probably pretty hard to find at this point. Since the business has stopped brewing for the foreseeable future, Anchor and its various products may still be available at the usual outlets — Anchor workers say BevMo has seen something like a 200 percent increase in sales, for instance — but supply will run out eventually if nothing changes. In any case, there likely won’t be more steam beer brewed anytime soon; if more beer is produced from the company’s legendary Potrero Hill plant, it will have to be after a new owner gets things started again.
How is Sapporo related to all this?
Sapporo USA, an arm of Japanese beverage behemoth Sapporo Holdings Ltd., bought Anchor Brewing in 2017 for $85 million. Sapporo was founded two decades before Anchor, and, at the time, it was seen as a company that could uphold the San Francisco business’ values and products. That said, workers and fans began to see the acquisition as a kind of death knell for Anchor, with current staff outright blaming the company’s mismanagement for the company’s shuttering.
How is the company being sold?
The process through which Sapporo aims to sell Anchor Brewing is called Assignments for the Benefit of Creditors (ABC), and it’s the same way Anchor was sold in 1965 and in 2017. Rather than filing for bankruptcy, this process allows a company to be dissolved and sold, bit by bit or in its entirety, to recoup lost money to investors as quickly as possible.
Who’s going to buy the company?
That’s unclear. There aren’t any known front runners at this point as the assets will be turned over to an Assignee for the Benefit of Creditors, or a liquidator, at the beginning of August. “Once the liquidator is in place the union and other interested parties can gain access after signing a non-disclosure agreement to business information to inform their bids for Anchor Brewing Co. either in whole or in part,” Anchor wrote in a press release.
Sam Singer, a legal representative retained by Anchor during this process, told the Chronicle that “two dozen investors and individuals have expressed interest in acquiring some or all of the brewery.” Liquidators will consider all their offers. The unionized workers hoped to get their bid in before this process began, but now claim Sapporo didn’t provide adequate financial information for them to do so. As of the last week of July, KRON4 reports workers are asking Sapporo to give them another month to rally efforts from the community; the company says it’s too late.
Why do San Franciscans care so much about Anchor Brewing anyway?
It’s one of those “heart and soul of San Francisco” kind of things. The company was founded in San Francisco in 1896 and invented California’s common style of beer, which the company branded as steam beer. Ardent fans including Tablehopper’s Marcia Gagliardi, local food enthusiast Andy Samwick, and Chronicle columnists Peter Hartlaub and Heather Knight have taken their chances to wax nostalgic about the brewery. Anchor’s production workers report lines down the block at Anchor’s Public Taps taproom and sales exceeding yearly expectations in a matter of weeks after the July 12 announcement. “People bleed Anchor,” former Anchor Brewing president Keith Greggor told SFGATE. “They’re passionate about it.”