The news that Anchor Brewing Co. was closing its doors and liquidating its assets reverberated throughout the beer community a few weeks ago and continues to be a hot topic among the beer cognoscenti, Bay Area locals, and beer drinkers everywhere. The brewery stopped brewing almost immediately, and finished packaging everything in their tanks, closing both the brewery and the Public Taps on Sunday, July 30, and on Monday, July 31, held one last event for employees, their families and friends of the brewery. Today, August 2, the unique California process for liquidation known as Assignment for the Benefit of the Creditors (ABC) is scheduled to begin. ABC is defined as “a voluntary alternative to formal bankruptcy proceedings that transfers all of the assets from a debtor to a trust for liquidating and distributing its assets.” What happens next is anybody’s guess.
But the death of Steam Beer has happened before, or at least almost, possibly three times if we count those thirteen dry years we call Prohibition and that time in 1965 when Fritz Maytag bought the brewery just as it was about to close yet again. I came across this curious piece written in the San Francisco Examiner on Thursday, June 25, 1959. It was a sort of gossip column called “Bay Land,” and written by Dan Frishman, in which he laments that Anchor Brewery owner Joe Allen is going to close his brewery and retire, being unable to find anyone willing to keep it going.
A few days later, on Monday, June 29, 1959, he commented on the brewery again, telling the sad tale of someone taking a Steam beer sign with him on his world travels, but finding he no longer sees any point in continuing, given that the brewery is closing.
On June 26, the next day, columnist Bill Soberanes, writing in the Petaluma Argus-Courier, appears to take credit for being the first to break the news on Anchor’s closing over Herb Caen, who is usually credited with it.
And here’s the sidebar explaining that history from Dave Burkhart’s wonderful Anchor Brewing Story that was published last year.
Of course, we know (because this is all history) that the brewery did not close, at least for very long, and was instead bought by Lawrence Steese. The earliest mention of that I could find was July 3, 1959 in Bill Sobranes’ Petaluma Argus-Courier column “So They Tell Me.”
And a few days later he added the following in his July 7 column under the heading “This and That.”
I also found this somewhat funny ad in the Oakland Tribune from July 12, 1959. It’s for the Pizza Joynt located on Mission Blvd. near Tennyson in Hayward, California. It’s advertising some of the last of Anchor Steam Beer for sale being tapped on Sunday, July 19.
I don’t know if this was merely a coincidence or was published on purpose after it was announced that Lawrence Steese was buying the Anchor Brewery, but they ran this piece about him in the Marin Independent Journal on July 18, 1959.
Then in September, Dan Frishman again, in his Bay Land column in the San Francisco Examiner mentions that Steese and his partner are looking for a place in the city to put the new Anchor brewery but having a devil of a time.
And after the new year of 1960, Anchor still hadn’t reopened although as this January 25 article from the Marin Independent Journal details that Articles of Incorporation have been filed for the Steam Beer Brewing Co. (Allen’s wife insisted they retain ownership of the name and lease it back to Steese and his partners).
By May 10, 1960, the San Francisco Examiner was reporting that a location had been found for the brewery at 10th and Bryant Streets in the city, but that it would likely be another two months before they reopened the brewery.
In the San Francisco Examiner, in a column by Dick Nolan entitled “The City,” on July 1, 1960, he noted that the Anchor brewery had still not reopened, but that Steese was now shooting for an opening dat e of July 19.
Anyone who’s been around beer for a long time knows that they rarely, if ever, open when expected, because something always goes wrong, often multiple things and it appears the new Anchor Brewery in 1960 was no exception. It appears to have taken until early October for the brewery to reopen, as detailed in this article from the Oakland Tribune on October 16, 1960.
Unfortunately, by 1965, Steese was struggling to keep the brewery afloat and it was about to close for at least the third time in its long history. Happily, Fritz Maytag stepped in at that time and turned it into the proto-craft brewery it was until very recently, when it closed again, hopefully not for the last time.
And while this has nothing to do with this story, I also came across this Examiner article from 1959 about Potrero’s Russian Steam Baths. This is just a portion of a larger article and photo spread, but in it they mention what’s easily the most ridiculous explanation for where the name “Steam beer” originated.