In the age of hyper-local craft, we have a competing—or perhaps complementary?—narrative in the U.S., and that’s heritage brands.
You may have heard my counterpart, Matthew Curtis (who's based in London), mention the UK's traditional breweries more than once. It’s an interesting dynamic having young, upstart craft brands entering the market alongside these elder statesmen who are sometimes hundreds of years old, and both sets of companies are trying to reach drinkers with a message about quality and craftsmanship.
To U.S. ears, it’s a bit like listening in on a bizarro universe. We simply don’t have much of that traditional brewery credibility left because of prohibition. Most U.S. drinkers only rewind the tape as far as Sierra Nevada or Sam Adams. If you're from Pennsylvania like me, you might think of Yuengling (founded in 1829). Or in Minnesota, perhaps Schell’s comes to mind (founded in 1860). But those are the wonderful exceptions that prove the rule. By and large, the U.S. doesn’t have a traditional brewing scene.
One other exception, this time on the west coast, is Anchor Brewing Company. Founded in 1896, it’s largely known for its Steam Beer, or the California Common, arguably the only wholly-American-invented style of beer. It even owns the trademark on that. It operated in regional obscurity for almost 100 years before Fritz Maytag bought it and saved it from closure. Without that beer, the story goes, breweries like Sierra Nevada may have never started.
Anchor is still brewing its open fermentation beers, as well as many newer styles, in the location on Potrero Hill it moved to in 1979. But in 2010, it was purchased by The Griffin Group, an investment company specializing in alcoholic beverages. Shortly after, the brewery started distilling spirits.
Through all those years, the changes have been few, including the changes in brewmaster. And the latest shift in that role happened quite recently, leading to a host of new beer offerings that straddle the line between the traditional brewing approach of Anchor, and the constantly evolving craft beer industry of 2017.
Scott Ungermann has taken the weighty rings of this storied business and is combining his longstanding desire to have his own brewery with his experience at Anheuser-Busch to help bring Anchor along into the next generation ever so delicately.