It survived San Francisco’s devastating 1906 earthquake, Prohibition and both world wars. But recent economic pressures proved too much for the oldest craft brewer in the country: After 127 years, Anchor Brewing Company is shutting down.
In a statement released Wednesday, the company, founded in 1896, said that the impacts of the pandemic, inflation and a highly competitive market left it “with no option but to make this sad decision to cease operations.” Employees were given 60 days’ notice and promised severance packages, the company said. Anchor added that although it had stopped brewing, it would continue packing and distributing beer while available. It will be sold on draft while inventory remains, it said.
The brewer’s sales had been declining since 2016, and in 2017, the company was acquired for around $85 million by the Japanese beer giant Sapporo.
“The stake through the heart of Anchor was the pandemic,” Sam Singer, a spokesman for the company, said by phone on Wednesday, noting that 70 percent of its product had been sold in restaurants and bars. In 2021, Anchor Brewing tried to adapt, rebranding and bottling and canning more of its beers to sell in grocery stores. But those changes “couldn’t make up for the significant loss of sales,” he added. In a last-ditch attempt to stay afloat, Anchor limited sales of its beer to California, and stopped producing one of its products, a Christmas ale.
But expenses continued to outstrip revenues. “The bottom line is that Anchor ran out of money, and it ran out of time,” Mr. Singer said.
Anchor, beloved by many Americans and often credited with spurring a craft beer resurgence in the 1960s, is the latest brewer to succumb to the pressures of a highly-competitive market. In recent years, a number of smaller brewers have been absorbed by larger companies. Others have reworked their distribution models, or shuttered.
Regional brewers like Anchor that are large enough to sell its beers at the national level but small enough to be considered a craft brewery are most vulnerable. They face competition from both local micro breweries and macro breweries like Coors or Miller, said Jarrett Hart, a scholar in agriculture and economics at the University of California, Davis, whose research has focused on craft beer. “They’ve been facing losses year after year in profits, and they’ve been generally losing market share,” he said.
After Anchor was acquired by Sapporo, workers spoke out about what they described as inadequate pay and unfair working conditions, and voted to unionize in 2019.
Joanne Marino, the executive director of Bay Area Brewers Guild, said on Wednesday that given the crippling economic reality, it was hardly a surprise that Anchor had shuttered. But she said the news was still heartbreaking.
“Whenever a small brewery is purchased by a large, multinational conglomerate, the calculus changes a little bit for their existence,” Ms. Marino said. “It’s not a surprise, but it’s a shock and it’s a very sad day here.”
Anchor Brewing said that despite repeated efforts to find buyers for the brewery and its brands, none had come to fruition. Mr. Singer said the brewery had gone through many crises in its history, and hoped there might still be a chance for revival if a buyer stepped forward during the liquidation process.
“San Francisco’s flag is a phoenix rising from the ashes, and Anchor has had many phoenix moments in its history,” Mr. Singer said. “But that’s out of that’s out of our hands now,” he added. “We can only hope for the best.”