Update: At 4:44am ET on 7/12/2023, roughly 12 hours after this story was published, Anchor Brewing Company issued a press release announcing it will cease operations and liquidate its business. VinePair will be updating reporting throughout the day. 

Clarification (7/20/23): A previous version of this article stated that multiple current and former workers had told VinePair that Russian River Brewing Co. was a potential suitor to acquire Anchor from Sapporo USA. In an email to VinePair earlier this week, Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner of Russian River, denied that the brewery was ever even considering such a move. “I can’t speak to Sapporo’s intentions with the Anchor brand but we are all saddened by this loss,” she said. VinePair has amended the story accordingly and regrets any confusion.

Today at 9 a.m. local time, employees of Anchor Brewing Co. will gather at the historic San Francisco firm’s plant on Potrero Hill for an all-hands meeting with leaders from its parent company, Sapporo USA. There, they’ll be told that the storied company will cease operation and be liquidated, ending 127 years of production.

A representative for Anchor Brewing Co., Sam Singer, issued a press release early on the morning of July 12 announcing the closure. VinePair first reported yesterday on the imminent possibility that Sapporo USA would shutter the iconic brewery, which it acquired in 2017. Now, America’s first craft brewery and the maker of the Bay Area-born Steam Beer will be sold for parts.

It’s an unceremonious demise for the famous brewery. Anchor and Sapporo USA declined multiple requests for comment in the run-up to this watershed decision. In the release, Singer attributes the decision to a mix of familiar factors: “the impacts of the pandemic, inflation, especially in San Francisco, and a highly competitive market left the company with no option but to make this sad decision to cease operations.”

Current and former workers cite another factor: Sapporo USA’s ownership itself. Over the past few years, they tell VinePair, the Japanese conglomerate’s United States’ subsidiary has been deferring necessary plant maintenance, picking fights with its union, and investing in costly automation equipment in hopes of retrofitting the urban manufacturing landmark into a facility that could handle its lager-based ambitions. A controversial 2021 rebrand caused anguish among workers and drinkers alike who viewed the vivid packaging and slick logo as an affront to Anchor’s singular, artisanal aesthetic.

“I think Sapporo sunk Anchor,” says Nate Dias, a former production worker who left in June for another job, ending two-and-a-half years of employment at the Bay Area brewery. For the past few days, his former colleagues have been waiting for the official word on the closure they’ve unofficially feared for months. A current Anchor worker, speaking anonymously for fear of losing an opportunity for severance, tells VinePair that they first learned of the shut-down when we texted them about the release, which was issued at 1:44 a.m. local time.

The writing has been on the wall for many months, says Dias, but when Anchor abruptly discontinued its beloved Christmas seasonal ale, and pulled back its national distribution footprint to go California-only in early June — around the time he left the firm — Sapporo USA had begun ratcheting up the font size. It was a chaotic pivot that seemed to portend the brewery’s undoing, especially considering Sapporo USA had already slashed its entire sales team at that point, according to a current worker who spoke on background for fear of retaliation from the company. That employee says the ingredients for the first 2023 batches of Our Special Ale had already been purchased by then, too — a particularly galling twist given one of the reasons Sapporo USA and Anchor cited for the seasonal’s discontinuation was its cost.

Last week, the company had a mere 600 barrels of Anchor Steam scheduled to be brewed over the entire month of August, a tiny quantity that another current worker, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation from the company, described as “absurd.” Last night, that worker tells VinePair, the figure had been revised down to 400 bbls.

Workers are in the dark, their livelihoods hanging in the balance. A gradual exodus over the past three years has pared the close-knit workforce from around 85 people to just 61. (Editor’s note: a previous version of this article incorrectly put that number at “30 to 40,” based on a former worker’s estimate.) “Upstairs,” shorthand for Anchor’s white-collar offices above the brewhouse, had become “a ghost town,” according to another current worker.

Current employees who still speak fondly of “Fritz” (as in Maytag, the “gentleman brewer” who saved Anchor from the jaws of insolvency in 1965) have been steeling themselves for the indignity and searching for answers. Some wondered if Sapporo USA, rather than discontinuing production of beloved Bay Area beers like Anchor Steam and Liberty Ale — the first India pale ale commercially brewed stateside since Prohibition — like they had with Our Special Ale a month prior, might try to shift it to Stone Brewing Co., the much-larger craft brewery in San Diego that Sapporo acquired just over a year ago. And they fretted over what might happen to themselves and their colleagues: though workers represented by Anchor Brewing Union are ensured severance commensurate with seniority thanks to a recently ratified second contract with the company, non-union employees are not. The company’s release says only that Anchor “inten[ds] to provide transition support and separation packages in line with company practices and policies.”

About that rumored sale: rumors have swirled about suitors from Northern California’s craft brewing canon swooping in to rescue Anchor, much like Maytag did some eight decades ago. But if there was a deal in the offing, it never materialized.

“Anchor made repeated efforts over the last year to find buyers for the brewery and its brands, but none have come to fruition,” reads the release. “It is possible that a buyer will step forward for the brewery as part of the liquidation process.”

Multiple workers have received mysterious emails from UPS indicating they’d be receiving packages sent by Sapporo USA today. “Nobody gets packages from Sapporo via UPS,” one current worker tells VinePair. The explanation they’ve received from Anchor’s human resources is that the shipment contains something pertaining to the meeting.

“We’ve never done that,” the worker says.

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