Full steam ahead

Anchor deepens its SF roots with proposed new facility

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A rendering of the forthcoming Pier 48 watering hole.

arts@sfbg.com

BEER Just across McCovey Cove from AT&T Park, the San Francisco Giants and Anchor Brewing Company are concocting a beer-filled future for Pier 48. As part of the Mission Rock development project, the new Anchor brewery, slotted to break ground in late 2015, would allow Anchor to quadruple production and remain in San Francisco.

The proposed brewery will eventually contain a restaurant, museum, educational space, and distillery. It's being designed with giant windows that will offer an unprecedented view of operations. Brewing would be transparent enough to be observed while casually strolling the pier or even from certain seats inside the ballpark.

"As you come in and you look into the brewery, the first thing you'll see will be one of the cold fermentors," says architect Olle Lundberg, referring to the large cooling pans or "cool ships" Anchor still uses to chill its boiled beer batches. "The bar for the restaurant will look out over that, so you'll be looking out over this kind of sea of beer into the brewery. If that doesn't inspire you to drink, I don't know what will."

Anchor has been poised to expand for years. It even has a copper German brewhouse ready to install in the new facility. It's been sitting in storage since it was purchased in the early 1990s by then-CEO Fritz Maytag. He left the collection of kettles, mash tuns, and fermentors unused when his plans for a new brewery were sidelined by that rarest of business concerns: happiness.

"In 1990 the brewery was doing about 100,000 barrels, which made it the number one craft brewery in the country," says CEO Keith Greggor in his cheery British accent. "Further expansion was going to be very difficult, very costly. At the same time, [Maytag] got very interested in distilling and he decided, 'You know what? I'm number one. I don't need to focus on being the biggest and the baddest. I'm happy with what I'm doing and I'm going to focus on distilling now.' And he was one of the first in that kind of craft distilling revolution that's happened."

This was the second craft revolution that Maytag, the great-grandson of Maytag Appliance founder Frederick Maytag, helped to ignite. In 1965, he was enjoying a "Steam Beer" at a North Beach restaurant when he was told it would be the last he would ever have: the brewery, which had survived Prohibition decades earlier, was closing. Hearing this, he purchased a controlling share of the company, saving from extinction not only a brewery in operation since 1896, but one of the only known styles of beer to have originated in America. "Steam Beer," technically classified as "California Common Beer," is a lager fermented at ale temperatures.

But times have changed since 1965. Craft brewing has been revived in America to the point that decorative plastic hops are A Thing. And competition demands more than being the only kid on the block with flavorful barley-pop. So in addition to the new brewery plans, Anchor will be discontinuing its bock beer and Humming Ale, while offering a new saison and an IPA.

"We like to say that we're resting those beers," says Greggor of the discontinued lines. "We have to respond to the consumer and retail demand for beer. And the demand for today is: 'I want new. I want new.'"

And new it will be. Since 2010, when Maytag sold the brewery to the Griffin Group of Novato, most noted for their work with Skyy Vodka, Anchor has introduced several new beers to its regular line, including Brekle's Brown, California Lager, and Big Leaf Maple. One the most recent is Small Beer, which draws from well-trod brewing techniques, making a lighter, more session-able ale from the mash of Old Foghorn — a more robust, flavorful brew.