Anchor Brewery: Start of the U.S. microbrew resurgence (photos)

CNET visits the San Francisco craft brewery that sparked the microbrew revolution.

James Martin
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Beginning of the craft-beer revolution

In 1965, when beer connoisseur Fritz Maytag first visited the struggling Anchor Brewery, which was set to close within weeks, he had no idea how to brew beer. But he was almost instantly sold on Anchor's traditional methods, and the idea of becoming a brewmaster sparked a revival of the Anchor Brewing Company.

Over the next few years, Maytag devoted himself to learning traditional craft brewing from the ground up.

His approach toward brewing, defined by innovation, creativity, and exploration, marked the beginning of the craft-beer revolution.

Between 1965 and 1971, Maytag learned how to brew from scratch, and when Anchor again began selling its Steam beer in 1971, it became recognized as the representative California common beer, a modern handcrafted brew encapsulating the history and culture of the original California immigrants' brewing processes.
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A new kind of beer

Coming to California from Germany, Gottlieb Brekle began brewing beer in San Francisco in the 1880s. His fledgling brewery was soon sold to Ernst Baruth and Otto Schinkel, who bought it in 1896, naming it Anchor. These German brewers traditionally brewed lagers, which require refrigeration and near freezing temperatures during brewing.

San Francisco had just been founded, and conditions on the West Coast were fairly rustic. There was no refrigeration or ice to be had, and brewing the low-temperature German lagers was impossible.

It's unclear where the term "Steam" beer originated, but it may have come out of the necessities involved with brewing in the still-primitive city's climate.
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A wayfaring brewery

Surviving at various locations around San Francisco, Anchor was relocated after the 1906 earthquake, moved due to a fire, and disappeared briefly during Prohibition. After 13 years, Prohibition ended, and Anchor reopened at 13th and Harrison, then burned down less than a year later.

Anchor has existed at six different locations in San Francisco throughout its history, and moved to its current location on Mariposa Street in Potrero Hill, seen here, in 1979.
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Closed, sold, bought, and reopened

Closed, sold, bought, and reopened in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Anchor suffered from poor quality, mismanagement, and lack of attention to cleanliness, which hindered successful commercial operation.

When Fritz Maytag stepped in and bought a majority share of the brewery in 1965 for just a few thousand dollars, it was only weeks away from closing again.
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All-malt mash still handmade in copper kettle

Anchor Brewing remains one of the smallest and most traditional breweries in America, producing just 90,000 barrels a year of an all-malt mash still handmade in copper kettles in San Francisco.
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Steiner and Stiegl hops

Steiner and Stiegl hops grown in Washington are used in portions protected by Anchor as part of its proprietary recipes.

Here, hops wait to be added to the next batch of Anchor brew.
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Chilling the brew in 'cool ships'

Searching for a way to cool the beer in the early, refrigerator-deprived days of the brewery, its early proprietors let beer cool on the rooftops of buildings and allowed it to age in the nearly year-round 60 degree temperatures of the Bay Area. Long, shallow vessels called "cool ships" cooled the beer naturally in San Francisco's foggy, chilly climate.

As the beer cooled from around 200 degrees, the wort in the rooftop cool ships gave off steam. Some think this might be where the Anchor Steam name came from, but no one seems to know for sure.

Today, in the fermenting room (seen here), Anchor continues to ferment its beer in similarly shaped, long, shallow vessels akin to those used in the traditional method.
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Resurrecting the tradition

It was Maytag's desire to resurrect the tradition and return Anchor to simplicity and quality--which ushered in a new attention to craft brewing, and along with it, the American microbrew renaissance.
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Frosty vats

Frost on the side of the vats results from lowering the temperature to help precipitate out the yeast before the filtering and pasturization process, the final step before bottling.
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Eighty-five employees

There are about 85 employees at Anchor. Newbies start on the bottling line, rotating between the labeling, quality control, packing, and "crowning" stations--"crowns" being brewer's lingo for beer-bottle caps.

A perk of the job is that everyone gets a case or two of beer to take home each week.
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The bottling machines

The bottling machines, idle for Memorial Day Weekend maintenance, move bottles along the bottling line at the rate of 260 per minute, about 4,000 cases a day during the two daily bottlings, at seven in the morning and two in the afternoon.
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Barrels a year: 90,000

Today, Anchor produces 90,000 barrels of beer a year, all of it handmade with traditional processes at their Potrero Hill location in San Francisco, Calif.
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Beer lab

Beer samples inside the brewmaster's lab wait to be tested at the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco.
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From craft brewing to distilling

In 1993, Anchor Brewing became the first brewery in the world with its own in-house distillery, bringing its traditional, craft-brewing methods to distilling.
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Completely destroyed

The fires that followed San Francisco's great earthquake in 1906 completely destroyed the Anchor Brewery, seen here at its location on Pacific Street, between Larkin and Hyde.
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Tours of Anchor

Free, reservation-only tours of the Anchor Brewery are given daily, with spots booked weeks in advance.
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'Center of Excellence'

When Anchor was sold to the The Griffin Group in 2010, some thought the end of the traditions of Anchor might come to an end. But headed by two longtime San Francisco residents, Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio, Anchor is now slated to become part of a brewing "Center of Excellence," which will further the innovation and ideas behind passionate artisanal spirits and beers.

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