On June 10th the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that iconic Anchor Brewing Company would halt nation-wide distribution of its beers. It’s a surprising move, but understandable given the economic realities of the beer market which has seen craft beer sales slow and the sector’s market share decline for the first time in many years, at the same time as shipping and materials costs have gone up. Currently, Anchor brews are available in all 50 states but sales outside of California account for only 30% of annual sales. Going forward, Anchor beers will only be sold within the Golden State.
An Anchor representative who spoke with the Chronicle also announced that the brewery’s Christmas Ale will be not be released this year. A small amount will be available on tap only at the brewery’s Anchor Public Taps tasting room on Potrero Hill in San Francisco. It is “unlikely” to return in the future.
According to the brewery rep cited by the Chronicle, the Christmas ale is being discontinued due to “time-intensive and costly brewing and packaging requirements”.
Things like this look like what so many feared, when Anchor was sold, coming to pass.
Anchor was founded in 1896, and bought in 1965 by Fritz Maytag, who rescued the company from bankruptcy and upgraded its facilities. Led by Maytag and longtime head brewer, Mark Carpenter, Anchor not only survived but became a beloved icon of the city and California brewing culture. After 45 years at the helm, Maytag retired and sold the company in 2010. Sapporo acquired it from the new owners in 2017.
Some changes were notable from the get-go once Sapporo took over, from redesign of the labels to the way the company related with the beer and brewing community. For example, Anchor stopped holding special beer release events open to the public and hosting events such as the California State Homebrew Competition awards ceremony. Overall, however, Sapporo appeared to respect the brand and things hewed closely enough to the traditions and standards set at Anchor, that we could feel that the spirit of California’s oldest brewery was still there.
In this vein, the announcement about the Christmas Ale is a disappointment.
Anchor Christmas ale is a dark winter warmer ale made annually since 1975. Each year the recipe is tweaked a bit and a different, but secret, combination of malts, hops, and spices is used each time. Each year the label also features a different tree design, making the bottles collectors’ items for some.
For many of us, myself included, Anchor’s Christmas Ale had become a regular part of our holiday celebrations and its release and reveal of each year’s label was much anticipated. Its discontinuation feels a bit like the Grinch came to town.