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Legendary 127-year-old US brewer Anchor ceases operations

San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company, one of the oldest craft breweries in America, is closing down after 127 years.

In a press release from the brewer’s PR company, it said that it was “an extremely difficult decision” and was made “after many months of careful evaluation.”

Spokesperson Sam Singer said: “We recognize the importance and historic significance of Anchor to San Francisco and to the craft brewing industry, but the impacts of the pandemic, inflation, especially in San Francisco, and a highly competitive market left the company with no option but to make this sad decision to cease operations.”

The brewery, which produced Anchor Steam beer and Liberty Ale – which it claims is one of the first versions of the now infamous America pale ale style – was originally founded in 1896, and claims to be the first craft brewery in the entire country. In 2017, it was sold for $US85m to Japanese brewing giant Sapporo.

The deal at the time saw Keith Gregor, Anchor Brewing’s co-owner state: “Sapporo shares our values and appreciates our unique, time-honoured approach to brewing. With both a long-term vision and resources to realise it, Sapporo will keep brewing Anchor’s beers in San Francisco while expanding to new markets worldwide.”

Earlier this year, the company said that it would stop distributing its beers nationally, with the brewery seeing year-on-year declines during its ownership under Sapporo, with volume declining to 65,000 barrels in 2022 from 72,500 the previous year. Speculation had been mounting in recent days that an announcement was imminent.

Last year there was concern when Sapporo bought fellow Californian craft brand, Stone Brewing, in a US$165m deal that was described as the ‘ideal marriage’ for its long-term growth strategy by the CEO.

“I would like to have a production base on the west coast,” Hiroyuki Nose, vice president of marketing for Sapporo said in a Bloomberg interview. “We make and import most of [our beer] from Canada and there are logistical costs. This is a challenge for us.”

The Anchor brewery has given staff 60-days of notice and will sell-off its existing inventory, including its 2023 Christmas beer, in its taproom. Brewing operations have already ceased, but packaging and distribution will continue until the end of July while the firm goes through liquidation.

The company also acknowledged while it had been unsuccessful in the past year in finding a buyer, it could be picked up during the liquidation process.

Speaking about the news, beer writer Stephen Beaumont said on social media: “There is not, or should not be, a single craft beer aficionado in North America for whom this news is not a gut punch. I and many, many others have written extensively and repeatedly about how Fritz Maytag’s Anchor Brewing Company was the catalyst for the development of ‘microbrewing’ on this continent, and I have spoken to countless brewery founders for whom Anchor was an inspiration. Would there be craft brewing today but for Anchor? Probably, I think it was inevitable given the times. But would it take the same shape it has today? Almost certainly not.

“Further, Anchor is a bona fide piece of San Francisco history and heritage, and should be protected by the city council against redevelopment immediately! If Sapporo — formerly solid stewards of the brands and breweries they have bought — are unable to realise the profit potential in the land the brewery occupies, it might force them to sell the company as an entity rather than as bits and pieces of scrap and land and intellectual property.”
“This is much more than a simple brewery closure, folks. This is a loss of history and an abrogation of responsibility to future generations!”

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