Today is the 40th birthday — the Big 4-O — of Rich Higgins, who wears many hats in the San Francisco beer scene. He left his job as the brewmaster at San Francisco’s Social Kitchen & Brewery several years ago, and was also the President of the San Francisco Brewers Guild and Director of SF Beer Week for a time. He’s currently focusing his attention on his consulting, Rich Higgins Consultant à la Bière, and most recently had been brewing at San Francisco’s Bon Marché Brasserie & Bar, but it closed last year after a short run. Rich is also one of only six people to have earned the title “Master Cicerone.” I’ve gotten to know Rich working on SF Beer Week over the last few years, and he’s a great person, as well as a terrific brewer. I’ve haven’t run into Rich lately, so I’m not sure what new adventure he’s on. Join me in wishing Rich a very happy birthday.
Today is the birthday of Frederick “Fritz” Breckle (March 5, 1849-?). I can find almost nothing about Breckle, apart from he opened the Frederick Breckle Brewery in 1896, but it closed just one year later, in 1897. It was located at Point Lobos Road and Boice (or Boyce) Street. Given how close his last name is to Gottlieb Brekle, who started in 1871 what would become the Anchor Brewery in 1896, it would seem odd that they’re not related. In searching through old records, it appears that the two spelling are interchangeable, which frankly makes that more plausible. Also, a page from the 1880 census lists his father as “G. Breckle,” but with no more information that that. Still, it seems reasonable that both father and son could have been brewers. Although I have to say that’s pure speculation and guesswork, there’s nothing I can find that’s definitive or proves any connection.
Today is the birthday of Gottlieb Brekle (February 23, 1821-1888). He was born somewhere in Germany, most likely Württemberg, though possibly Ludwigsburg or Hamburg, arriving in America on July 31, 1852, along with his wife Marie and young son Frederick. In 1871, according to Anchor, “Brekle bought an old beer-and-billiards saloon on Pacific Street near Russian Hill for $3,500, transforming it into the American brewery that, twenty-five years later, would be renamed Anchor” when it it was bought by “German brewer Ernst F. Baruth and his son-in-law, Otto Schinkel, Jr.” Given how long ago Brekle was born, not to mention all of the records lost due to the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, little is known about Brekle’s life, and I don’t know of any pictures of him. Even the spelling of his name seems uncertain, with records existing where it’s spelled Breckle, Breckel, and Breckels, too, making trying to find information a lot harder.
After Gottlieb, or George, as he took calling himself later, died, his son Frederick took over the business. Since we know the brewery was sold in 1896, we can be pretty sure Gottlieb died before then, but it could have been in 1888, or some other year, nobody seems sure. Anchor wrote on their blog, in a piece entitled Under the Crown: A Brewery is Born, which I assume was written by Anchor’s historian Dave Burkhart (who I consider a friend) that Gottlieb Brekle’s naturalization papers indicate he became a citizen in 1854, and they display a small image of those papers.
But as much as it pains me, I’m not sure that’s right. Look at the paper blown up a bit, so it’s a little easier to read.
From what I can make out, he was a subject of the King of Württemberg on September 21, 1861, but became a U.S. citizen August 5, 1854, which I don’t quite understand, but then some of language is hard to read. But the name on that document appears to be “Carl Gottlieb Breckles,” so I’m wondering if it may be a different person?
I found this document on Ancestory.com, which is a voter “Register 7th Precinct, 4th Ward, San Francisco County, 1880.” Line 34, the third from the bottom, lists a Gottlieb Brekle, age 59 (which would make his birth year 1821 if he was 59 in 1880). It also lists his occupation as “Brewer” and his address as “1431 Pacific,” in San Francisco. But more telling is that last column, which lists the date he was naturalized. And for Gottlieb, what’s listed is August 4, 1879. And more confirmation is in the line below, where it lists a Frederick Brekle, also listed as a “Brewer” and living at the same address. Since we know that was his son’s name, it seems pretty clear that this document is referring to our Gottlieb Brekle.
Sadly, there isn’t much more known, though Anchor also has some more information they found in researching newspapers at the time.
Fortunately for researchers of San Francisco history, most of its early newspapers survived. In early 1874, San Francisco’s largest brewery—the Philadelphia Brewery—took out an ad in an SF paper to brag that it had sold more beer than any of SF’s other 33 breweries the previous year. Anchor, then called the Golden City Brewery, ranked 29th out of 34, with sales of just 585 barrels, the equivalent of about 8,000 cases of beer. If that seems like a lot of beer, our brewery’s sales in 1873 were just .33% (not 33%, not 3.3%, but .33% or 33/100 of 1%!) of total sales in barrels by all SF breweries!
In 2011, Anchor Brewing released a beer named after their first brewmaster, Brekle’s Brown.
And here’s a short video Anchor released at the time.
Bruce Joseph, who’s been at Anchor Brewery for many, many years turns 62 today. There’s a big picture of him when he was very young in the stairwell at the brewery that I see every time I’m there. He’s been doing the distilling for Anchor’s whiskey and gin for a long while now and plays bass with the Hysters (Anchor’s big band) along with the Rolling Boil Blues Band (the Celebrator beer band that’s all industry musicians). If there’s a nicer person in the beer industry, I’ve yet to meet him. Join me in wishing Bruce a very happy birthday.
On stage at the Northern California Rhythm & Blues Festival several years ago.
Today is the birthday of Joe Allen (February 9, 1888-April 24, 1976). Allen’s parents were Irish and came to America, settling in Minnesota, in 1883. At some point, Joe made his way to San Francisco and was working as a brewer at the Anchor Brewery when it reopened after the end of prohibition in 1933 at 1610 Harrison Street. Unfortunately, less than a year later, in February of 1934, the brewery burned to the ground. Owner Joe Kraus then partnered with his brewmaster, Joe Allen, and they re-built the brewery in an old brick building at 398 Kansas Street, by 1st Street.
Here, I’ll let Anchor Brewery’s website take up the story from The Era of Mass Production.
Kraus and Allen valiantly and lovingly kept Anchor afloat until Kraus’s death in 1952. By late 1959, America’s—even San Francisco’s—new-found “taste” for mass-produced, heavily marketed lighter beers had taken its toll on Anchor’s already declining sales. In July of that year, at the age of 71, Joe Allen shut Anchor down for what would, thankfully, be a brief period.
Again, Anchor Brewing picks up the story, Surviving Another Challenge from 1960.
Lawrence Steese bought and re-opened Anchor in 1960 at yet another nearby location, retaining Joe Allen to carry Anchor’s craft brewing tradition forward. But one of Anchor’s oldest accounts, the Crystal Palace Market had already closed its doors. And Steese had an increasingly difficult time convincing loyal Bay Area establishments to continue serving Anchor Steam. By 1965, Steese—like Allen six years before—was ready to shut Anchor down.
The next year, 1961, the brewery moved to 541 8th Street, where it remained until 1977. Of course, in 1965, another owner invested in the brewery, eventually buying out the remaining partners. That, you probably already know, was Fritz Maytag. There’s not much I could find on Allen’s life before and after he worked at, and then owned, the Anchor Brewery, not even the year of his death. If anyone has any more information, please leave a comment below or contact me directly.
Today is not the birthday of Anthony Durkin (1831-January 15, 1868), but instead the day he died in 1868. Before the mid-1800s, record-keeping was spotty at best and only the well-heeled and royal consistently kept birth records. Durkin was born in Ireland, in County Mayo. He made his way to San Francisco, California as a young man, in the 1850s.
Durbin at 25, in 1857.
There’s not too much I could find about him, apart from this overview, from Brewery Gems.
In 1860, he established A. Durkin & Company, at 608-610 Mission St., for the purposes of brewing ale and porter. His two partners in the company were Charles M. Armstrong, a 35 year old Irish immigrant, and a German immigrant, Louis Luhden. In naming the brewery Anthony simply referenced its location, thus the Mission Street Brewery.
In their history of the Hibernia Brewery, there’s also this:
The first serious incident occurred on June 16th, 1861. The following account was reported by the Daily Alta California:
“A beautiful child, aged seven years, daughter of George Coffee, Boiler Inspector, fell into a vat of boiling beer in the Mission Street Brewery, last evening. A young man named Thomas Kennedy attempted to rescue the child and he also fell in. John McCabe, the cooper of the establishment, was severely scalded in his efforts to get them out. The child died almost immediately. Kennedy was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital. He will probably die.”
In spite of this tragic accident the business experienced steady growth and in 1863, in addition to its ale and porter, the brewery began producing lager beer. This wasn’t lager in the traditional sense, but a lager peculiar to the San Francisco area called steam beer. It was made without refrigeration but with a bottom fermenting yeast. Another steam beer producer, and major competitor, was a company that also took their name from their location, the Broadway Brewery.
In 1864, Anthony severely injured his left arm, leaving him partially disabled, but he didn’t quit brewing. Then in July of 1865, all that changed. The following is a newspaper account from the July 4th edition of the Daily Alta California:
“Anthony Durkin, the brewer who was disabled about a year since, by falling under a street car which fractured his left arm so that it was found necessary to perform the operation of excision of the elbow joint, met with another unfortunate accident while running to the fire with Engine Company No. 2, on Sunday morning. He tripped and fell while holding by the rope, and his arm, which had become in a measure useful again, went under the wheel of the engine, which crushed it into a shapeless mass, making what is termed by surgeons a ‘compound comminuted fracture’ of the worse description. Dr. Murphy, who is attending upon Mr. Durkin, has little hope of being able to avoid a full amputation this time.”
As a consequence of the accident, Anthony sold his interest in the brewery to his partner, the month after the incident.
Today is actually the day that Matthew Nunan passed away, January 7, 1916, and was born in 1834, or possibly 1836, or maybe even 1828, but the exact date or even month is unknown. There are even some sources that give his date of death as January 13. He was born in Limerick, Ireland, and emigrated to the U.S. when he was fourteen, settling in California in 1855. Lured there by dreams of striking it rich in the goldmines, he soon tried of mining, and first opened a grocery store in San Francisco, but eventually bought the Mission Street Brewery. When they moved the brewery and built a larger one, they renamed it the Hibernia Brewery. Matthew Nunan also served two terms as Sheriff of San Francisco, 1876-1877 and 1878-1879.
Gary Flynn has a more thorough Biography of Matthew J. Numan at her terrific Brewery Gems website. He also has a lengthy history of the Mission Street Brewery (1860-1867) and [its] successor The Hibernia Brewery (1867-1920).
Today is the birthday of Aron Deorsey, brewmaster at the Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant in San Francisco, along with the Park Chalet and the Lake Chalet in Oakland. I got to know Aron much better a few years back when we roomed together attending Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp for SF Beer Week. He’s been making great beer at the beachside brewpub for a number of years now, and is great fun to hang out with. Join me in wishing Aron a very happy birthday.
Today is the 57th birthday of Ron Silberstein, the founder, and original brewer, of Thirsty Bear Brewing in San Francisco. I’ve known Ron for a number of years but got to know him better working on SF Beer Week the first few years when we working to get it going. We also spent a weekend together at Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp, which was an awesome experience for everybody who attended. Join me in wishing Ron a very happy birthday.
Fritz Maytag, who bought the failing Anchor Brewery in 1965 and turned it into a model for the microbrewery revolution, celebrates his 80th birthday today. It’s no stretch to call Fritz the father of craft beer, he introduced so many innovations that are common today and influenced countless brewers working today. A few years ago, Maytag sold Anchor Brewery and Distillery to Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio of the Griffin Group, but continues to make his York Creek wine and consult with Anchor as Chairman Emeritus. I was happy to see him again earlier this year when I was invited to introduce him to receive an award from the Northern California Brewers Guild in Sacramento. Join me in wishing Fritz a very happy birthday.
Fritz with the organizers of SF Beer Week at our inaugural opening event at Anchor in 2009.