Thursday, July 13, 2023

Give Me Liberty, or, Goddam....


Let's save the crap business part (almost always the only kind of business part) for later, and first pour one out for the end of a brewing icon. After 127 years, Anchor Brewing will soon be no more. It's tough to remember now, given in a city like San Diego you can't throw a rock without hitting a brewpub, but in 1980, there were 8 craft breweries in the entire country. I mean, you could count them on your fireworks-damaged fingers. So what Fritz Maytag managed to do by reviving the often stumbling Anchor brand in the late 1960s and 1970s was revolutionary. 

Leading that revolution was Liberty Ale, arguable the first India Pale Ale made in America. Sure, it might "just" be a pale, certainly by today's standards when its 33 IBUs seems almost quaint. (For comparison, Pliny the Elder from Russian River, admittedly a double IPA, packs 100 IBUs.)  But that was a heck of a lot of hops in 1975 when the beer was released in honor of the 200th anniversary of Paul Revere's ride, and they even drop-hopped, too, so when that bottle cap popped, you got tickled in the nose with hops. Unbelievable. Five years later Sierra Nevada debuted its Pale Ale and every last West Coast IPA needs to bow down to both these beers.

This will be no surprise to regular George Eats readers, but I was a picky drinker from the get-go, and my go got going sooner than many as the drinking age way back when was a mere 18 and I was tall and mothers had just barely begun to get MADD. Eschewing Bud and the like (Lite?), I looked to Europe and became a fan of Heineken (Frank Booth would have beat my ass), Bass, Belhaven. Stuff with flavor. (Yes, Heineken was a flavor choice. Simpler times.)

Eventually landing in California in 1994 meant I arrived just at the beginning of the microbrew boom. Stone would whip up Arrogant Bastard two years later, asserting "fizzy yellow beer is for wussies." But first I was able to get Anchor and Sierra Nevada regularly, and that seemed like a dream. In 1995 I even got to take the Anchor Brewing tour in their stylish art moderne location Potrero Hill in San Francisco. At tour's end, they let you drink as much any of their beers as you'd like straight from the production line for a half hour. That Liberty Ale sang to me, easily the best beer I'd tasted to that time in my life, so fresh, crisp, and bitter, to the point you could never quite quench the thirst it drove. I still wish I could repeat that sudsy epiphany.

Soon that will be no more. The typical mamby-pamby press release--sent out at nearly 2 am, as if it were a last call message--cited all the insincere reasons you'd expect: competition, Covid, San Francisco is crazy, man! You'd think Ron DeSantis had a hand in writing it. True, sales were dropping, but that's been an industry-wide issue. The real disaster is Anchor got bought out by Sapporo Holdings Ltd. for $85 million in 2017, part of that wave of crazy investments in smaller brewers by large conglomerates. Practically none of these have turned out well, because giant businesses exist to, if I may mix ugly money metaphors, always be closing. If profits don't increase significantly every cycle, someone's head is going to roll. And no doubt it didn't help that Anchor's workers unionized and got their first contract in 2020. Nothing pisses off the suits like the workers actually getting their fair share. 

 Well, they've shown the workers what's what now.

Be sure to drink up the last of Anchor, as they sell all their inventory off, as you can. Tastes great, more history. And toast to whatever it takes not to sell out.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant write-up, George. A rueful eulogy.
    This is like losing an old friend...