The rich history of Anchor Brewing can be traced all the way back to the California gold rush, when German brewer Gottlieb Brekle arrived in San Francisco with his family.
Gottlieb Brekle bought an old beer-and-billiards saloon on Pacific Street near Russian Hill for $3,500, transforming it into the American brewery that, twenty-five years later, would be renamed Anchor.
German brewer Ernst F. Baruth and his son-in-law, Otto Schinkel, Jr., bought the old brewery on Pacific (the first of six Anchor locations around the City over the years) and named it Anchor. No one knows why Baruth and Schinkel chose the name Anchor, except, perhaps, for its indirect but powerful allusion to the booming Port of San Francisco.
In an uncanny year of misfortune, co-owner Ernst Baruth died suddenly in February. Two months later, the devastating fire following San Francisco's great earthquake consumed Anchor Brewery. In January 1907, just as Anchor Brewery was opening at its new location south of Market Street, Otto Schinkel, Jr., was run over by a streetcar. Fortunately, German brewers Joseph Kraus and August Meyer, along with liquor store owner Henry Tietjen, were able to keep Anchor going.
Prohibition effectively shut Anchor down in 1920. There may have been a few “activities” during Prohibition and the era of bootlegging, but there is no record of Anchor Brewery doing anything—legal or illegal—during this time, other than waiting with the rest of San Francisco for the return of Anchor Steam® Beer.
After Prohibition ended in April 1933, owner Joe Kraus began brewing Anchor Steam® Beer once again after a hiatus of thirteen years. As luck would have it, his newly reopened Brewery went up in smoke the following February. He re-opened Anchor in an old brick building with a new partner, Joe Allen, just a few blocks from where the historic Brewery is today.
Kraus and Allen valiantly and lovingly kept Anchor afloat until Kraus’s death in 1952. By late 1959, America's—even San Francisco's—new-found "taste" for mass-produced, heavily marketed lighter beers had taken its toll on Anchor's already declining sales. In July of that year, at the age of 71, Joe Allen shut Anchor down for what would, thankfully, be a brief period.
Lawrence Steese bought and re-opened Anchor in 1960 at yet another nearby location, retaining Joe Allen to carry Anchor's craft brewing tradition forward. But one of Anchor's oldest accounts, the Crystal Palace Market had already closed its doors. And Steese had an increasingly difficult time convincing loyal Bay Area establishments to continue serving Anchor Steam. By 1965, Steese—like Allen six years before—was ready to shut Anchor down.
During a meal at the Old Spaghetti Factory, a North Beach restaurant known more for its eclectic décor and Anchor Steam® Beer than its spaghetti, a young Stanford grad named Fritz Maytag learned that the makers of his favorite beer were soon to close their doors forever. Despite its primitive equipment and financial condition, Fritz rushed to buy 51% of the historic little San Francisco craft brewery —for a few thousand dollars—rescuing Anchor from imminent bankruptcy.
100 years after Gottlieb Brekle founded the historic American brewery that became Anchor, Fritz began bottling Anchor Steam® Beer – the first bottled Anchor Steam® in modern times. By 1975, Anchor had produced four other distinctive beers, Anchor Porter®, Liberty® Ale, Old Foghorn® Barleywine Ale, and the first annual Christmas Ale. Though the terms “microbrewing” and “craft brewing” had yet to be coined, it was clear that Anchor was leading a brewing revolution in San Francisco.
By 1977, Anchor had five products, a dozen employees and had nearly outgrown its most recent Brewery on 8th Street. After a long search, owner Fritz Maytag purchased a wonderful old coffee roastery, built in 1937, on nearby Potrero Hill. On August 13, 1979, Anchor brewed its first Steam® Beer at its new Mariposa Street home, which remains our home today.
In 1984, Anchor celebrated its fifth anniversary at its new home by brewing a special wheat beer, the first wheat beer in America since Prohibition, and now known as Anchor Summer Beer.
In 1989, Anchor's pioneering spirit and reverence for classical brewing led to its Sumerian Beer Project and Ninkasi, a beer made according to a 4,000+-year-old recipe. Later that same year, the Brewery was rocked but not damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake, out of which Anchor's "Earthquake Beer" was born.
In 1993, Anchor Brewing became the first brewery in the world with its own in-house distillery. Anchor Distilling, doing for microdistilling what Anchor Brewing had done for microbrewing nearly thirty years before, began making Old Potrero® rye whiskey as it might have been made by George Washington. And then, in 1997, Anchor Distilling began making its unique pot-distilled gin, Junípero®.
After 45 years, Fritz Maytag, having inspired thousands of top craft brewers, announces his retirement with the sale of Anchor Brewing to Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio. Anchor’s new owners make plans to preserve and expand the iconic brand’s operations and cement its position as a leader in craft brewing and artisan distilling.
Today, Anchor Brewing remains one of the most traditional breweries in America, a pioneer of the craft brewing movement. Though its top beers—especially Anchor Steam® Beer—are known throughout the world, they are all still handmade in Anchor’s handsome copper brewhouse in San Francisco, California.