1906 Earthquake Survivor: Anchor Brewing Company

Pub date April 25, 2006

1705 Mariposa, SF

(415) 863-8350, www.anchorbrewing.com

Situated at the foot of increasingly residential Potrero Hill, San Francisco stalwart Anchor Brewing Company defies typical American business practice. Still independently owned and community oriented after more than 100 years in business, the brewers of Anchor Steam have found international success without turning to outsourcing or investors. With only 54 employees producing a mere 55,000 barrels of beer annually (Sierra Nevada brews 600,000 and Sam Adams 1.5 million) Anchor remains small, traditional — and in business.

Anchor is a survivor, all right, but the brewery might not have lasted if it hadn’t been for a young Stanford graduate, Fritz Maytag, who bought a majority share of the business for a few thousand dollars in 1965. The 19th-century brewery had burnt down twice (once after the 1906 earthquake), relocated, changed owners at least three times, and closed for 13 years during prohibition.

Maytag recalls the flagging state of affairs when he first got on board: "The little brewery was so primitive, and the beer would go sour." He immediately set out to learn the beer biz and tinker with the formula, but he didn’t turn a profit until 1975, when improvements caused the popularity of Anchor Steam to soar.

Maytag then faced the dilemma of how to balance his company’s size and traditions with high demand for his suds. In 1992 he considered going public, but a microbrewery fad exploded in the United States, and Anchor Brewing suddenly had plenty of competitors. Maytag was relieved. "It would have cost such a lot of money to expand. I certainly didn’t have the money and didn’t want to sell."

Instead of growing his business, Maytag concentrates on the quality of his brews, using the freshest ingredients, original equipment, and personally ensuring the integrity of every batch.

"Being small is okay," says the owner, who knows all of his employees personally and sends them home with a case of beer each week.

He’s also a good neighbor. In 1990 Anchor made Potrero Commons Ale and donated all the proceeds to build a nearby park. And with Maytag at the helm, don’t expect to see Anchor in a can anytime soon. (Erica Holt)