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Anchor Brewing, America’s Oldest Craft Brewer Closes After 127 years

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Anchor Brewing, America’s oldest craft brewer, will close after 127 years. The San Francisco-based company said Wednesday that it would cease operations and liquidate the cherished business “following a combination of challenging economic factors and declining sales since 2016,” according to a news release.

Craft brewers, in particular, have been struggling due to a variety of factors such as shifting customer patterns, rising costs, and unresolved supply-chain issues.

Anchor Brewing, America's Oldest Craft Brewer Shutters After 127 years

Another issue has been Sapporo, the Japanese brewery who purchased the brand in 2017. Employees complained last month to VinePair about Sapporo’s purported mishandling and lack of understanding of craft beer in the United States.

Furthermore, a 2021 makeover of Anchor Brewing was criticised for deviating too far from the brand’s historical image.

“This was a very difficult decision that Anchor came to only after many months of careful consideration,” stated Anchor Brewing spokesperson Sam Singer. He went on to say that the “impacts of the pandemic, inflation, particularly in San Francisco, and a highly competitive market left the company with no choice but to make this heartbreaking decision to cease operations.”

Anchor employees, who number 61, were given a legally required 60-day notice on Wednesday and will receive “transition support and separation packages.” Brewing has ceased immediately, and beer on hand will be sold until the end of July.

Anchor said last month that it would discontinue manufacturing of its fan-favorite Christmas Ale after nearly 50 years of production, limiting sales to California. (Until it runs out, a “small volume” of its Christmas Ale is being sold at its tap houses.)

Those steps were made to “reduce costs while final attempts were made to evaluate all possible outcomes,” according to Anchor, but “in the end, expenses simply continued to outstrip revenues, leaving the company with no other viable choice.”

Anchor Brewing, America's Oldest Craft Brewer Shutters After 127 years

Anchor Brewing Company Founding

Anchor stated that Sapporo had made “repeated efforts” to sell the company over the last year. Those efforts, however, have failed, while Anchor has stated that it is “possible that a buyer will step forward for the brewery as part of the liquidation process.”

Anchor Brewing Company was founded in San Francisco in 1896, becoming the country’s first artisan brewery. Fritz Maytag, a descendant of the Maytag Corporation, purchased Anchor when it was on the point of bankruptcy in 1965, ushering in the craft beer market in the United States. Steam Beer, a pale ale, was its most notable brew.

According to the Brewers Association, Anchor’s beer production has decreased significantly under Sapporo ownership (save in 2021).

Anchor Brewing, America's Oldest Craft Brewer Shutters After 127 years

Brewbound, a beer industry website, recently reported that Sapporo’s recent acquisition of craft brewer Stone Brewing raised questions among Anchor employees about how their brewery fits into Sapporo’s ambitions.Sapporo did not react to a comment request.

This year has seen no improvement in the situation of craft breweries. According to NIQ statistics provided to Craft Business Daily, the category’s sales are down about 4% year to date, while volume is down more than 7%, indicating that “craft has had a tough start to 2023,” according to the newspaper.

“This is a sad day in the history of craft brewing in America,” Craft Business Daily publisher Harry Schuhmacher told CNN. “I know Fritz must be devastated. He practically brought the company back from the brink of bankruptcy in the 1960s to become San Francisco’s hometown beer and a symbol of America’s craft beer revival.”

The demise of Anchor “highlights the sustained economic headwinds” facing craft brewers, according to Brian Crawford, CEO of the Beer Institute. “Between unnecessary and harmful aluminium tariffs, ongoing supply chain disruptions, and questionable tax loopholes for hard liquor products, the beer industry faces significant challenges.”

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