Desperate Times: Anchor Brewing Exits National Distribution, Ends Christmas Ale

, Desperate Times:  Anchor Brewing Exits National Distribution, Ends Christmas Ale

(Anchor Christmas Ale 2020: Courtesy Anchor Brewing)

Anchor Brewing, which almost singlehandedly ushered in the craft beer revolution when Fritz Maytag purchased a controlling interest in a dilapidated San Francisco brewery back in 1965, has fallen on hard times.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle the once nationally distributed heritage brewery will no longer be available in 49 States, limiting its sales to California which generates 70% of its current income.

Once a symbol of both the history and vitality the American craft beer biz, Anchor Brewing was wedded to a national distribution model that most up-and-coming craft breweries aspired to at that time. The more states your beers were available in, the better.

But as craft beer fans migrated to smaller uber-local brewers in their own cities, where the offerings were ever-changing and the beer dependably fresh, Anchor’s national distribution model became a curse, as it did for other craft beer pioneers like Stone Brewing.

In 2017 Anchor Brewing which was owned at the time by the Griffin Group, an investment firm group that also held minority interest in BrewDog LLC, was sold to Sapporo, a Japanese beer major hoping to cash in on the American craft beer revolution.

That acquisition, an $85 million dollar deal, further alienated Anchor’s core fans. The brand was no longer considered true craft beer according to the national trade group, the Brewers Association’s definition and its authenticity increasingly questioned by beer purists.

, Desperate Times:  Anchor Brewing Exits National Distribution, Ends Christmas Ale

(Courtesy Anchor Brewing)

On January 25  San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company unleashed a maelstrom of criticism when it announced that it was celebrating its 125-year history with a new look that sacrificed its hand-drawn artisan label artwork in favor a more basic, and frankly, much blander generic look.

And Anchor fans took to social media to voice their distaste with comments these like this …

“There’s a reason Budweiser and Coors don’t so stupid shit like this ~ and their beer sucks.” And fans questioning why Anchor Brewing would make such a drastic change to its look when “it had one of the most aesthetically pleasing labels in the game.”

Anchor tried to explain its decision as a revitalization effort that the company hoped would help it stand out on retail shelves, but most likely it did just the opposite.

“The economic impact COVID-19 had been brutal and the beer biz never been more competitive,” we reported at the time “and while Anchor Brewing’s new label design might help its beers standout on retail shelves that doesn’t mean they are more attractive or pleasing. Anchor Brewing’s rich history and its unique steam ale are its greatest assets and its new imaging doesn’t do either justice.”

, Desperate Times:  Anchor Brewing Exits National Distribution, Ends Christmas Ale

(Courtesy Anchor Brfewing)

It’s not over for Anchor Brewing but clearly shedding its national distribution and limiting its existing sales footprint to its home state of California can be seen as a life-support move.

As is the company ending its famed Christmas Ale, an ever-changing seasonal ale with unique hand drawn artwork that was different from year to year as well. In addition to Anchor’s defining Steam Ale, its annual winter seasonal was the only truly ‘craft’ thing that the brewery had continued to do….and now that too is gone.

“Anchor and their external public relations teams were pretty terse on the root causes of this move, according to the Beer Street Journal, only stating that the cutting of America’s longest-running Anchor Christmas Ale was due to ‘time-intensive and costly brewing and packaging requirements.’”

So will these moves help this once legendary beer brand survive and prosper?

Unfortunately, given today’s inflationary post-pandemic climate, we don’t think so.


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