Anchor gets back to basics with new pilot brewery/taproom

Anchor Brewing’s new taproom/pilot brewery combines history with beer innovation.

Anchor Brewing’s new taproom, which debuts this weekend, is more than just another place to drink beer. It signals, perhaps, a new direction for the San Francisco brewery that many would argue triggered the current craft beer revolution under the guidance of owner Fritz Maytag and head brewer Mark Carpenter.

Sapporo Holdings Ltd. of Japan purchased 121-year-old Anchor in August from Anchor Brewers & Distillers, which was formed when two Skyy Spirits executives represented by the Griffin Group investment firm bought the company in 2010. Sapporo paid $85 million for the beer business. The distilling side was not part of Sapporo deal.

Juicy IPA collaboration with Local Brewing

The beer fit always seemed awkward under Anchor Brewers & Distillers, and Anchor’s beer innovations seemed to flounder aimlessly following the 2010 acquisition. The company appeared to chase market trends rather than focus on the intriguing combinations of the core ingredients of water, hops, yeast and malt that had been Anchor’s trademark. While local craft breweries like Cellarmaker, Fieldwork and Almanac were brewing exceptional beers and passing Anchor by, the new ownership was pursuing a second brewery on Pier 48 as part of a Mission Rock development project, estimated to have a price tag of over $1 billion. Those plans now appear to have been scrapped.

If the new taproom and the ambitions of Anchor Brewing President Matt Davenport (pictured) are any indication, Anchor might be getting its mojo back by returning to its heritage of making great beer. More than just a taproom, the De Haro venue is a pilot brewery where the brewers can experiment with small batches of beer and serve them in a taproom setting to gauge their popularity. One of the new beers on tap during the media preview was a delicious German-style Berliner weisse, available with or without flavoring added, following the German tradition. With no flavoring added, the beer is pleasantly tart, easy drinking and refreshing without being overwhelming, and low in alcohol at under 4% abv. Also on tap were a citrusy IPA made in collaboration with Local Brewing, a red ale made with Thirsty Bear and a Saison collaboration with Brewery Ommegang. There was also a version of Anchor’s classic porter with local Four Barrel coffee.

Anchor Brewing President Matt Davenport

Ironically, just as Anchor seems to be regaining it footing, the brewery has run afoul of the craft beer hierarchy and is no longer considered a “craft brewery” by the national Brewers Association or the San Francisco Brewers Guild. The BA says that a craft brewery must be small, independent and traditional. Since Sapporo bought all of Anchor Brewing’s assets, including the Potrero Hill property, to ensure that the company will continue to be based in San Francisco, the iconic brewery that was making craft beer before anyone knew what craft beer was is no longer considered a craft brewery.

Regardless of those distinctions, Anchor is doing the right thing and if it continues on its current path could soon become relevant to a new generation of craft beer drinkers even if it doesn’t technically brew “craft” beer.

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