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Anchor Brewing, America’s Oldest Craft Brewery, Shuts Down after 127 Years

After 127 years, Anchor Brewing Co., a revered San Francisco institution and the nation’s first craft brewery, is closing its doors.

The brewery has faced significant financial challenges and was “losing millions of dollars a year,” an Anchor spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle, adding that despite Anchor’s “historic significance,” the decision became inevitable due to the lingering impact of the pandemic, inflation, and a competitive market.

The announcement comes a month after Anchor halted national distribution, limiting sales to California only. Revenue had declined by two-thirds since 2016, and the pandemic exacerbated the difficulties as most of Anchor’s beer was traditionally sold through bars and restaurants.

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Despite attempts to expand retail distribution, the brewery struggled to make significant progress and was “unable to break through in a big enough way,” the Anchor rep told The Chronicle.

Founded in 1896, Anchor Brewing was considered by many to be the nation’s first craft brewery. However, a 2017 acquisition by Japanese beer giant Sapporo put the company’s “craft” status in peril. The brewery ventured into more trendy beer styles as well as introduced a modern taproom, pilot brewery, and began charging for tours.

Some workers disapproved of the sweeping changes, concerned that Anchor was losing its historic charm, Vinepair reported last month.

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Brewer Eric Svendberg operates brewing equipment at Anchor Brewing Co. on May 2, 2019. Yalonda M. James/San Francisco Chronicle | Getty Images

In 2019, workers at Anchor Brewing Company launched a unionization effort, driven by concerns about Sapporo USA’s management of the brand, its failure to understand the American craft beer market, and a controversial rebranding attempt.

Despite successfully unionizing and ratifying their first contract in 2020, workers were caught off guard last month, per Vinepair, when management announced plans to discontinue Anchor’s iconic Christmas ale and scale back distribution, further frustrating employees.

“What a major corporation sees as cost cutting, a lot of us see it as killing one of our most cherished traditions. It’s as if they don’t care,” an Anchor worker told the outlet in June.

Sapporo did not immediately respond to Entrepreneur’s request for comment.

There is a possibility that a buyer could step in during Anchor’s process of shutting down and selling its assets, however, Anchor reps told The Chronicle that “repeated efforts” to find a new buyer have not yielded any luck.

“Anchor’s always had a special place in the beer world and a special place in San Francisco,” they told the outlet. “[We] were out of cash and out of time.”

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