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Under The Crown: A Brewery is Saved

Posted by at 3:39 am | Category: Beer Backgrounds, Craft Beer History 0

Anchor Historian Dave Burkhart brings us interesting tales of Anchor’s past, guided by the factoids printed on the underside of Anchor Steam Beer crowns. 


Under every Anchor Steam Beer crown (we brewers call bottle caps crowns) is a little piece of Anchor lore. Each represents anywhere from ounces to tons of research, and there are over 200 different crowns in all—start collecting them now! In the Under the Crown blog series, I’ll offer a brief elaboration on each UTC factoid (Under The Crown—another industry term).

1965 – Anchor Steam still at SF’s Old Spaghetti Factory

1965 – Fred Kuh tells Fritz Maytag about Anchor’s plight

1965 – Fritz Maytag’s first visit to Anchor

1965 – Fritz Maytag buys 51% of Anchor Brewing

1965 – Anchor Steam Beer first balloon ascension

1965 – Anchor sells 882 barrels of beer


Since all the crowns in this installment of Under the Crown are about 1965, maybe it’s best to tell their story by recounting our story from that time.

Fred Kuh, a bartender at San Francisco’s Purple Onion, opened his Old Spaghetti Factory Café and Excelsior Coffee House on Green Street in 1956. The bohemian gathering place and watering hole was “the city’s first camp-décor restaurant,” as Fred recalled, “but it wasn’t called camp then.” Anchor was the only brew on tap there. “We built our business around steam beer,” Fred said.

01 Old Spaghetti Factory-the stained glass sign now resides at Anchor

Anchor Steam signage at the Old Spaghetti Factory

By 1965, as America slaked its thirst with lighter, mass-produced, heavily marketed beers, the Old Spaghetti Factory had become one of Anchor’s last remaining accounts. Fred—ever loyal—even loaned the brewery money to help keep San Francisco’s beer afloat. In July 1965, he heard the news that Anchor—then known as the Steam Beer Brewing Company—was about to shut down.

Fred turned to a customer and friend who was living in the City by the Bay, twenty-seven-year-old Fritz Maytag—great-grandson of the founder of a well-known appliance company in Newton, Iowa. Fred knew that if Maytag paid a visit to the brewery, he might just fall in love with it. Sure enough, “it was as if,” Fritz reminisced, “someone said, ‘That’s the last cable car and it’s going out of business tomorrow unless you put up a few thousand dollars.’”

On August 2, Fritz Maytag shook hands with owner/brewmaster Lawrence Steese, purchasing 51% of the brewery (and its debt) and rescuing our brewery from imminent oblivion. Final papers were filed September 24. San Francisco’s iconic beer and “medieval brewery”—as Fritz fondly calls it—were saved!

02 Brewmaster Lawrence Steese

Former Owner/Brewmaster Lawrence Steese

To celebrate and promote his new acquisition, Fritz called on aeronaut Deke Sonnichsen and his balloon Libra. The first ascension of the Libra/Anchor Steam Beer balloon took place in Palm Springs in November. Another, on a chilly December day in San Francisco, was unfortunately more balloon than ascension. Nevertheless, Fritz—one of America’s first guerrilla marketers—succeeded in garnering some much-needed attention. We made the paper, albeit under the headline “A Valiant Fiasco”!

03 Libra-Anchor Steam Beer Balloon Ascension

The Libra/Anchor Steam balloon ascension 

By the time 1965 came to a close, we’d racked up sales of 882 barrels of beer—218,736 pints of a San Francisco original—including an uninterrupted supply to Fred Kuh’s Old Spaghetti Factory. The craft beer revolution had begun.

Next time you pick up a 6-pack of Anchor Steam Beer, be sure to check out what fun facts are under the crown! Share what you find with us on social media and tag @AnchorBrewing and #DrinkSteam for a chance to be re-posted! Use our handy Beer Finder to locate a brew near you!


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