25 Jul 2023

Farewell, Anchor Brewing

As Anchor Brewing likely closes their doors for good, I’d like to capture some memories I have from enjoying their fine craft over the years.

I moved into Potrero Hill in 2012, just three blocks up the street from Anchor’s HQ. While unloading my stuff from the back of my U-Haul, I heard a shout from across the street. A neighbor was taking out his recycling and yelled in a commanding tone: “Hey! You drink this now!” while emphatically pointing at a flattened cardboard case of Anchor Steam. Welcome to the neighborhood, I guess.

Anchor Steam was always a local beer, and it didn’t get much more local than living up the hill from the brewery. In the morning, the warm, yeasty scent of barley malt would hang in the air. It imbued the day with a pleasing sense of possibility: that good stuff was being made, and that I could make good stuff today too. When I walked by the brewery on my way to work, I’d often see a semi backed into Anchor’s tight loading dock, nose barely clearing the sidewalk, picking up a fresh batch to distribute. And when I’d walk by in the evening, on my way home, I’d often see a lone worker, garbed in all white (like a pair of scrubs, but for brewing), closing up shop with a quiet and sure hand. My impression was that Anchor ran a pretty lean ship; it seemed like a few people did a lot of work. But you could only see so much from the outside; I always wondered what it was like on the inside.

One day I got to find out. A friend, who also lived in Potrero, landed a coveted brewery tour. The way it worked was this: you put your name on the waitlist, which booked about six months out, and when you were getting towards the top, they called you with a time slot, take it or leave it. Ours ended up being on a Tuesday at 10am. We took it. I’d planned to just head into work late that day, but little did I know that the so-called brewery tour was really just a glorified excuse for Anchor’s staff to host guests in their private taproom and offer a tasting of their various brews. And when I say tasting, I mean really tasting. These guys were offering full pours, for free. When you’re in that room, being proudly served by the people who made the stuff, you just can’t bear not to drink everything you’re offered. It was straight from the source, and it was delicious. Needless to say, I didn’t end up going to work that day.

Speaking of the taproom — it had a wall lined with the bottles of each year’s Christmas Ale dating back to 1975. Every year featured a different recipe and a different kind of California “Christmas” tree hand drawn on the label. You’d think they’d run out of trees, but I’ve looked into it dear reader, and let me tell you, there are a surprisingly large number of pine-like trees out there. Over the ten years or so that I got to enjoy them, some editions of the Christmas Ale were amazingly good, and some were just amazingly… odd. But it was always fun to try, and it became a bit of a tradition in our family to buy a magnum (read: really big bottle of beer) to share over the holidays. There was a kind of annual rhythm to it.

My neighbor’s gruff greeting (that’s literally the only thing the guy ever said to me, by the way) wasn’t wrong. Anchor did become my go to: always available and always good. In most spots in SF, you didn’t even have to check the menu. You could just count on it. So when I’d meet up with a friend, and we’d immediately immerse ourselves in conversation, it was nice that when a server stopped by, we could just ask for an Anchor Steam without missing a beat. When served fresh, on draught, it was really special: malty, amber goodness, with enough bitterness, a crisp enough start, and a full enough finish to be nuanced and interesting. As these past ten years or so have tended more and more towards IPA’s and double IPA’s that are hoppier and more alcoholic than ever, I’ve found Anchor’s balanced approach to be more enjoyable than ever. There’s nothing else quite like it. I’ll miss it.

The ideal lives on, though: that of a small team, making the best stuff they can, for an enthusiastic customer base, across the test of time. So here’s to all the makers at Anchor who made great stuff for so long, and here’s to them finding fruitful and rewarding new pursuits. Anchor will be missed, but I’m hopeful many good things may come in its place.