Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hodgepodge 22/365 - Anchor Brewery

In my writing group today we were talking about what is now the Silicon Valley, but back in the 1960s. One of our group is writing about that time and place, and she has done beautifully thorough research: her descriptions positively rattle with vibrant detail.

Talking about the taverns of Palo Alto on El Camino Real, another member mentioned how in 1965 Fritz Maytag—great-grandson of the appliance king, and at that time a student of Japanese at Stanford—was in one such establishment when he overheard some patrons say that Anchor Brewing Company, founded in 1896 and once one of many hundreds of San Francisco breweries, was about to become the last one to shut its doors. Maytag immediately set about buying a 51 percent share of the failing business for a few thousand dollars of his inheritance. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The brewery today
That reminded me of the 1980s when I worked for a short time in San Francisco for PC World magazine as a graphic designer (okay, I was just a lowly paste-up and rubylith lackey, but still). Our offices were essentially next door to Anchor Brewery, at the base of Potrero Hill. Every few weeks the air would become saturated with the heady aroma of boiling malt and yeast, as the brewers brewed up a new batch. At that time, microbreweries were not a "thing" yet, so it felt extra special to be so close to a traditional, small, high-quality enterprise like Anchor dedicated to craftsmanship. And yes, occasionally, after a deadline had been met, we would take the afternoon off and visit the brewery for a taste and a tour. The perks of being neighbors.

Here is a 1972 article from the Eugene Register-Guardian about Maytag and his purchase. In it he says he bought Anchor "as a lark," that he knew "nothing of beermaking" but was just "looking for something to do." Fortunately, his "lark" turned the company around and helped inspire a revolution in the art of beermaking. And here is a story from 2010 with more recent information, including the sale of Anchor to new owners.

All this makes me think, maybe it's time for a return visit to Anchor. A taste and a tour: it's been too long.


  1. Anne - I know this story well. In an earlier career, I wrote books on the early craft brewers. I interviewed Fritz Maytag several times, visited Anchor often, and attended their Xmas parties for years. My first book, "Star Spangled Beer: A Guide to America's New Microbreweries and Brewpubs," featured Anchor and the early pioneers.

    1. Nice! I loved taking that trip down memory lane. Which is a lot of what this blog is about--how one thing leads to another; connections; memories. Thanks for reading.

  2. Rubylith! I haven't heard that term in forever!