The Thirsty Beagle: Visit to Anchor Brewing a trip to where it all began

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Visit to Anchor Brewing a trip to where it all began

It's hard for me to talk about craft beer and go more than five or 10 minutes without mentioning "The Audacity of Hops."

The book is considered the most detailed account of the modern history of American craft beer, and it especially highlights the role that Anchor Brewing Co. played.

To sum up: Prohibition wiped out hundreds of small craft breweries in America, and the ones that came back fizzled out over the next few decades under the weight of Big Beer. By the mid-1960s, Anchor Brewing was the last small commercial craft brewery in business. The last one.

And it too was on the verge of going out business, before it was scooped up by Fritz Maytag, the great-grandson of the founder of the Maytag appliance company.

Maytag found the brewery in poor shape. It was filthy, stocked with run-down equipment and was one or two days away from shutting down for good. As Maytag described it, he purchased a 51 percent share of the brewery in 1965 for less than the price of a used car.

Through hard work, determination and the insistence that Anchor should never cut corners in its beermaking, Maytag saved the company and in the process, laid the foundation for the American craft beer scene we know today.

For years following Maytag's purchase, anyone who wanted to start a brewery would stop by Anchor first to take a tour, or to try to pick Maytag's brain, or they were just inspired by Anchor's beers. It's not an overstatement to say that the tree of American craft beer -- with some 4,000 branches now -- grew from a trunk called Anchor Brewing.

So, when I had the chance to tag along on my wife's business trip to San Francisco last week and set up a tour at Anchor, you'd better believe I jumped at it. In fact, within about an hour of landing at the airport, we found ourselves walking through the doors of the Anchor brewery.

When you first walk in, the building is not all that inspiring. In fact, it looks a lot like a 1960s or 1970s law office, with a small reception and waiting area giving way to a concrete staircase. The staircase leads you to the tap room, where you start to get a feel for the history of the brewery. 

It's plastered with old-school tin beer logos and memorabilia, photos and old beer bottles. In one tall glass case is every version of Anchor's Christmas beer ever brewed, starting with the first one in 1975:

(Interesting story about Anchor Christmas: The labels have been hand-drawn each year by the same person. He lives on a houseboat and draws a different tree each time.)

After you get a short lecture on the history of the company and each of its beers... get to go back to the brewhouse, where you see Anchor's iconic copper kettles:

The three kettles, imported from Europe and in use for decades, are used to make every drop of Anchor beer. Anchor is distributed in all 50 states and several foreign countries, so you might think it would be hard to produce enough beer in only three kettles. To solve that issue, they brew pretty much around the clock, taking a break only from about 2 a.m. to 5 a.m.

After leaving the brewhouse, you see the open-fermentation room, the hop storage room and the glycol chiller room. From, there, it's on to the bottling line:

And from there, it's back to the tap room to sample pretty much all of the beer in Anchor's main-production lineup.

Overall, it was a super-cool tour, and I came away appreciating Anchor probably even more than I did before. A word of warning if you try to make your own trip: The tap room is not open to those who don't have tours reservations, and they also don't serve beer for sale. You can stop by and visit the gift shop any time, but really your best bet is to get a reservation so you can take the tour and sample the beer.

Pints and Pins

-Evil Twin meet the brewer and glassware night at Oak & Ore is 5 p.m., Wednesday, followed by an Evil Twin beer dinner at TapWerks set from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. You can get tickets for the dinner here, but sticker-shock warning: they're listed at $69.57.

-Republic is hosting a Beer Social today at 6 p.m. The cost is $20 and gets you "A line up of pub favorites paired with small bites."

-Black Mesa is holding a beer dinner at Lottinville's on Wednesday. Call the restaurant for reservations.

-A date has been set for the annual Mashed In homebrewers showcase. Next year's event is set for Feb. 28.

-Oak & Ore is launching its new brunch menu and brunch drinks on Sunday, and everyone who shows up in their pajamas will get a free side of bacon.

-Super-cool deal coming up at The Patriarch -- they're accepting art that combines beer and Star Wars for a Dec. 10 art show. More details right here.

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