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How San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Started the Craft Beer Craze

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A person stands in front of three stainless steel fermentation tanks.
An employee checks the fermentation tanks at Anchor Public Taps in San Francisco on July 14, 2023. After more than 127 years of brewing in San Francisco, Anchor Brewing closed earlier this year. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

View the full episode transcript.

The craft beer market has been booming the last few decades. Last year the number of craft breweries in the U.S. reached an all time high of 9,552. And California is a paradise for craft beer lovers like Bay Curious listener Ricky Tjandra – the state is home to over 950 such brew operations.

When Ricky, who lives in Hayward, first started drinking beer in the early 2000s, he’d buy the basics: Coors, Budweiser, and the like. Then he and his friends started exploring the many different styles that Bay Area breweries were offering.

“We started seeing other beers that weren’t in the supermarket out in bars,” said Ricky. “It got me interested.”

Now, as a craft beer aficionado, Ricky asked Bay Curious to investigate the local lore that this nationwide beer trend got its start in the Bay Area.


“I heard that the Bay Area is one of the first places to produce craft beer before craft beer even became a thing,” he said, “Is that true?”

What’s in a name?

First, you might be wondering what the difference is between a ‘craft’ beer and just any beer.

The official definition is set by the Brewers Association, a national industry trade group for craft brewers. It says the “craft” in brewing comes down to an operation’s ownership and output. A craft brewery can’t be more than 25% owned by a company or investor that is not also a craft brewery. And the annual output of the brewery can’t be more than six million barrels of bee r– a considerable amount. A barrel is 31 gallons of beer, and six million of them is enough to fill 380 Olympic sized swimming pools.

There’s another, less official standard for what defines a craft beer; one that’s more about quality and character. How is it made? What kind of creative process did the brewer go through when developing it? Does it utilize new, perhaps experimental ingredients or flavors?

Retired Anchor Brewing Historian, Dave Burkhart, has his own definition:

“A craft beer is a distinctive, aesthetically pleasing alcoholic beverage made from malted grain whose taste, aroma, quality and consistency reflect the skill, integrity and creative imagination of its brewer.”

Dave is the author of The Anchor Brewing Story, which tells the complete history of the Anchor Brewing Company — where he worked for 31 years — from the Gold Rush all the way to the present day. Dave began working at the brewery in 1991, and over the years did a number of jobs, including acting as tour guide and helping to design many of Anchor’s beautiful labels.

Anchor Brewing has been in the news this year, because after 127 years of brewing beer in San Francisco, the institution shut its doors at the end of July. Prior to its closure, Anchor Brewing had been purchased by Japanese brewer, Sapporo, in 2017. Former union workers of the Bay Area brewery hope to raise money to buy it back, but no deals have so far been made and the building currently sits empty.

Two people talk as they look through boxes of Anchor merchandise in a warehouse-type space.
Shari Walker and Marshall Stine gathered Anchor beer and merchandise in the final days before it closed. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Innovation at Anchor Brewing is widely considered to be the catalyst to the modern craft beer movement. So the short answer to Ricky’s question is: Yes, American craft beer really did take off in San Francisco. But it took quite a while to get there.

Steamy beginnings

During the Gold Rush thirsty miners created a huge demand for beer. So beer making operations were popping up all over the place. The brewery that would become Anchor Brewing was first opened as Golden City Brewery in 1871 on Pacific Avenue, between Larkin and Hyde in Nob Hill. In 1896, that location was purchased by Ernst Baruth and his son-in-law, Otto Schenkel Jr., who changed the name to Anchor Brewing.

As part of the deal, new owners Baruth and Schenkel also got the recipe to the only beer that the brewery had been making. This beer would come to be known as Anchor Steam, and it’s the style that would keep the company afloat for decades to come.

What is a “steam” beer?

The term “steam beer” is now trademarked by Anchor Brewing, but a similar style of beer can be found under the name California Common.

Dave says there’s no one clear answer where the name comes from, but there are a few potential origins for the term. The most popular theory relates to its Gold Rush-era method of manufacture.

The first steps of beer making require steeping the malt in heating water, removing it, then boiling that mixture. The wort, as it’s called at that point, then needs to be cooled down before the yeast is added. Yeast is a living organism and if it gets too hot, it will die. The cooling process needs to happen fairly quickly to prevent bacteria from growing in the mixture.

Back when beer was being brewed in San Francisco in the 19th century, refrigeration was not available, and this process was a lot harder.

“So what they did was, they pumped it up to the rooftop of the brewery, which was enclosed on all four sides by Louvered windows and had a slanted roof, so condensation wouldn’t drip right back into the beer,” said Dave.

Here’s where the “steam” came in: The hot mixture, not alcoholic yet, would sit in large shallow pans while the cold San Francisco air flowed around them, creating a cloud of steam that drifted out from the windows on the roof.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, boy, they must be making steam beer up there,’” said Dave, about how the name may have been coined.

For a very long time, that was the only kind of beer Anchor Brewing made.

Then along came Fritz

By 1965, after changing hands several times, and relocating to the corner of De Haro and Mariposa Streets in Potrero Hill, Anchor Brewing was in a bad financial situation. At the time, the company was run by a man named Lawrence Steese who, despite his best efforts, was having difficulty maintaining the quality of the beer.

Much of the equipment was very old. In fact, the brewery did not have refrigeration and still used the same 1890s-era rooftop cooling method. Sanitation issues meant that bacteria growth sometimes ruined the beer. Local bartenders were reporting that kegs arrived spoiled. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Then came Fritz Maytag.

The Maytag name may be familiar. Fritz’s grandfather founded the Maytag Corporation, the household appliance manufacturer best known for their washing machines. Fritz’s father also founded Maytag Dairy Farms, known for making a distinctive blue cheese.

In 1965, Fritz Maytag was a 28-year-old entrepreneur who’d attended Stanford University and lived in San Francisco. When he heard from a local bartender that a legacy business like Anchor Brewing was about to close, he decided to help. He bought a 51% stake in the company for $5,100 (just under $50K in today’s money) and loaned his co-owner additional cash to keep the business afloat.

At the time, Fritz had no beer making know-how. He kept Lawrence Steese on for the first several years as brewmaster while he learned the trade and converted what he termed ‘America’s most medieval brewery’ into a modern marvel. Fritz switched to cooling the brew with refrigeration, and improved sanitation with stainless steel fermentation tanks.

“He saw it as a challenge,” said Dave, who counts Fritz Maytag as a close friend.

“Eventually in 1969, he bought out Steese and and ended up being 100% owner, although it took him ten years to turn a profit at the brewery,” he added.

A black and white photo of a white bearded man wearing a white button down and a tie. He is seated in front of beer paraphernalia.
Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing in 1978. (Photo by Gary Fong/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

In 1971, Anchor began bottling their Steam beer, which had previously only been available locally and on tap. That same year they introduced their first new beer – Anchor Porter. In 1975 they introduced three more: Liberty Ale, Old Foghorn Barleywine and the seasonal Anchor Christmas Ale. Soon all five beers were being bottled.

None of these beer styles were brand new – variations of them have been brewed in Europe for hundreds of years. But Dave says they were novel in the American commercial beer market at the time, which consisted mainly of watered down versions of lager.

“Sad to say, virtually all of the beer in America, as anybody who was drinking beer back then will tell you, was all fizzy, light, yellow, bubbly, bland, tasteless, characterless,” Dave said, “And that was one of the beauties of what Fritz was doing. It was what he called a radically traditional idea. It was radical to make a traditional beer in those days.”

With the availability of bottled Anchor beer being sold to a wider market, people started to take notice of their robust and creative brews, and their renewed success. Soon, visitors were flocking to the brewery to see how it was done. something that Fritz Maytag welcomed. Dave says Fritz was happy to give anyone a tour, and promote the idea that would come to be known as craft brewing.

A legacy of creativity and openness

From there the craft beer industry began to blossom as inspired homebrewers in California, and nationwide made their beers commercial.

“A couple of those guys were Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi from what became Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Jack McAuliffe of New Albion came to the brewery,” said Dave.

The short lived New Albion Brewing Company opened in 1978, and was the first modern microbrewery to open in the U.S. since prohibition. Though New Albion closed in 1982, many other breweries inspired by Anchor have survived and thrived.

“Two of the marvelous success stories in California beer that were both inspired by Anchor are Sierra Nevada and Russian River,” said Dave. (full disclosure: Sierra Nevada Brewing is a sponsor of Bay Curious)

Russian River makes the very popular Pliny the Elder imperial IPA. They’re known for their hoppy beers, and Vinnie Cilurzo, who runs the brewery with his wife Natalie in Windsor, California, is actually credited with inventing the beer style known as a double IPA while running his first brewery, Blind Pig.

Vinnie cites Anchor Brewing and Sierra Nevada as being early inspirations for the hop-forward beers that are the hallmark of his brewery.

“Anchor Liberty and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale were two, like, formidable beers that … still are in my DNA,” said Vinnie.

A sense of camaraderie and respect seems to exist among the craft brewing industry. Vinnie Cilurzo mentioned how proud he was to have a sign from the original New Albion brewery hanging in his brewpub pub in Santa Rosa, and that Stone Brewing had credited him by name on their bottles when they released their version of a double IPA.

Historian Dave Burkhart told me that following the closure of Anchor Brewing, all current and former staff were invited to a party in Petaluma by the employees of Lagunitas Brewing Company to celebrate the life of the company.

It could be that along with a philosophy of creative experimentation, Fritz Maytag’s ‘open source’ style of welcoming brewers to Anchor also set a standard— where rather than cutthroat competition, brewers cheer on each other’s creations, because each is doing something unique.

<h2 id=”episode-transcript”>Episode Transcript</h2>

Amanda Font: Beer…Humans love it, Americans love it, Californians love it. Whether you’re cracking open a cold one at Dolores Park, clinking pint glasses with your buds at a local brewery, or paying way too much for refreshments at a Giants game… When there’s good times to be had, many Californians choose: BEER. 

Amanda Font speaking fast, mimicking a beer commercial: Side effects of beer may include thinking you’re stronger than you really are, excessive burping, and ordering nachos. Please drink responsibly, and only if you’re 21 or over. 

Olivia Allen-Price: Hey everyone. This is Bay Curious, the show that answers your questions about the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m Olivia Allen-Price. And I want to kick off this week’s episode by playing you one of my favorite sounds …

beer pouring sound

Olivia Allen-Price: That’s a fresh pint of beer being poured. That kinda dampened foamy sound is just … mm! … so good. Especially when you hear it in one of the Bay Area’s many fine drinking establishments.

Ricky Tjandra: There’s this place called Buffalo Bill’s in Hayward, and I’ve been going there since a little after college, like 2000.  

Olivia Allen-Price: Bay Curious listener Ricky Tjandra enjoys having a pint with friends. In particular, he enjoys local craft beers. 

Ricky Tjandra: At first I liked the IPAs and they started to be a little too heavy for me. So now I’ve been in more into Pilsners and Kölsch, and yeah, I think Kölsch has been my go to beer lately. 

Olivia Allen-Price: Ricky says when he first started enjoying beer in the early 2000s, he’d drink the basics.

Ricky Tjandra: Like Budweiser, Coors Light. 

Olivia Allen-Price: But then some of his friends started brewing their own beer, and getting more curious about different styles. And as their tastes changed, they began trying the wide variety of brews sold in markets around the Bay Area that were produced here– Something that at the time, he hadn’t really seen outside of California. Now, as a craft beer aficionado, he wonders.

theme music 

Ricky Tjandra: So I heard that the Bay Area is one of the first places to produce craft beer before craft beer even became a thing. Is that true? And if so, how did it start? 

Olivia Allen-Price: This week on Bay Curious … we explore how the Bay Area became the epicenter for the modern craft beer explosion. And we’ll go inside a successful brewery. That’s all just ahead. Stick around.

Sponsor break

Olivia Allen-Price: We’ve got producer Amanda Font here today to answer Ricky’s question about how craft beer got its start. But first, Amanda, what exactly makes something a “craft beer” versus just a regular beer?

Amanda Font: Well, there’s sort of two answers. First there’s the official industry definition. According to the Brewers Association, which is a trade group for craft brewers, it comes down to ownership and output. Your brewery can’t be more than 25% owned or controlled by a company that is NOT a craft brewery. And your annual output must be less than 6 million barrels of beer. 

Olivia Allen-Price: OK. Can you give us some context. How much, really, is 6 million barrels? 

Amanda Font: A barrel is 31 gallons. So 6 million of them could fill 380 Olympic sized swimming pools. Which is a LOT. For perspective, Bay Curious sponsor Sierra Nevada is one of the largest craft breweries, with a nationwide distribution, and their annual output is only about 1.2 million barrels. 

Olivia Allen-Price: So what’s the other thing? 

Amanda Font: The second sort of signifier of a craft brewer isn’t official, it’s more about the characteristics of the beer itself. How is it made? What kind of creative process  did the brewer go through when developing it? Does it utilize new, maybe experimental ingredients or flavors? Like you kind of know a craft beer when you taste it. 

Olivia Allen-Price: Yeah, totally. I am a lot like our question asker Ricky. In my twenties I drank a lot of Bud Light, PBR, Natty Boh (shoutout Baltimore). All kinds of light lagers that taste pretty similar. The first time I had a craft brew, it blew my mind. So much flavor! Now I’m always on the lookout for new brews to try and we have so many options here.

Amanda Font:  Definitely! California has more craft breweries than any other state – around 957. 

Olivia Allen-Price: So… to answer Ricky’s question… Is it true that that idea of ‘craft brewing’ started in the Bay Area? 

Amanda Font: It is true! It’s widely accepted that modern American craft brewing started right here in San Francisco at Anchor Brewing. 

Dave Burkhart:  We had people coming to the brewery from all over the world, from all kinds of backgrounds. Just beer lovers, beer aficionados, brewers, people that were interested in starting a brewery, whether they were entrepreneurs or home brewers. It was absolutely just abuzz,

Amanda Font: I talked to Dave Burkhart.

Dave Burkhart: My title is Anchor Brewery historian Emeritus, which has nothing to do with merit and simply means that I retired.

Amanda Font: Dave worked at Anchor Brewing for 31 years starting in 1991. He did a lot of different jobs. Everything from being on the design team for their beautiful labels, to doing lab work and being a tour guide. 

Dave Burkhart: Tour guide was a great job and everybody did it because it was a great way to learn about the brewery. 

Amanda Font: While working as a tour guide people would ask him history questions that he didn’t know the answers to, so he’d ask other people in the company and they also weren’t sure. 

Dave Burkhart: Here I was working at a San Francisco institution that had been around forever, and nobody really knew all that much about the history. So I began delving into it on my own.  

Amanda Font: The result is his book, The Anchor Brewing Story.

Dave Burkhart:…which tells the Complete History of Anchor Brewing Company from the Gold Rush all the way to the present day. 

Amanda Font: Now, you may have seen Anchor Brewing in the news this year because after 127 years of brewing beer in San Francisco, the company ceased operations and shut its doors at the end of July. It’s not necessarily gone forever…there are efforts underway to raise money to help the former union workers at Anchor buy the brewery and reopen it. But currently the property is for sale for $40 million dollars. 

What is for certain, is that Anchor’s influence as the center of the modern craft beer movement can’t be underestimated. But it took a long time to get there. 

The story starts just after the gold rush. The brewery that would become Anchor was first opened as Golden City Brewery in 1871 on Pacific Avenue, between Larkin and Hyde in Nob Hill. 

Dave Burkhart: In 1896, Ernst Baruth and his son in law, Otto Schenkel Jr, bought the brewery and changed the name to Anchor. 

Amanda Font: 1896 is what Anchor claims as their official establishment year. As part of the deal, the new owners also got the recipe for one and only beer that the brewery had been making– what would come to be known as Anchor Steam– the iconic beer that kept this business open for many decades to come… 

Dave Burkhart: The question that I’ve probably been asked more times than any in 31 and a half years that I worked at the brewery was why is it called steam beer? And I’d like to say that there’s one answer and there’s one easy answer. 

Amanda Font: There are a few potential reasons, but Here’s what is probably the most popular theory behind the name… During the Goldrush there were a lot of thirsty miners, and a huge demand for beer, particularly lager. The term lager comes from a German word that means to stock or store…

Dave Burkhart: And typically lager beer in those lands is made and then stored or lagered either in a cellar or an alpine cave on almost always on ice or in a very cool temperature for a number of months. And that’s where it develops its clean, crisp flavors. Well, guess what? Ice and water refrigeration were not available in California during the gold rush. So the Brewers had to figure out a way to make the best lager they could make under those primitive conditions and without ice. 

Amanda Font: The first steps of beer making require steeping your malt in heating water, and boiling that mixture. Then you need to cool it down before adding the yeast because yeast is a living organism, and if it’s too hot, it’ll die. And that’s the magic ingredient that makes your beer alcoholic. But you need to cool it quickly to prevent bacteria growth. 

Dave Burkhart: So what they did was they pumped it up to the rooftop of the brewery, which was enclosed on all four sides by Louvered windows and had a slanted roof, so condensation wouldn’t drip right back into the beer. 

Amanda Font: The hot mixture would sit in these big shallow pans, so cool air could flow around them.

Dave Burkhart: And guess what? When Hot Wort, which is what beer is called before you add yeast to it, met cold air of San Francisco, you get something that looks like steam wafting from those louvered windows. And so somebody said, “Well, boy, they must be making steam beer up there.” 

Amanda Font: The term “Steam Beer” was later trademarked by Anchor, but you can find a similar style of beer sold under the name California Common. And for a long time that’s the only kind of beer Anchor Brewing made. 

Let’s jump ahead to 1965… Anchor Brewing has changed hands several times and is now owned by a guy named Lawrence Steese. And it is not doing very well. They’re making 2 beers–sort of… that classic Steam and something that at least looks like a Porter… 

Dave Burkhart: It wasn’t called Porter, it was just called steam light and steam dark. And all they did was literally add caramel coloring to the keg as they were filling the keg. It wasn’t even in the brew. There was no dark malt. There was no nothing. It looked like Porter, but it tasted. If you close your eyes, guess what it was exactly… exactly the same. 

Amanda Font: The quality of the beer they’re churning out is very inconsistent, due to sanitation issues, like bacteria growth. Local bars are reporting that kegs arrive spoiled. And Anchor Brewing is in deep financial trouble, on the verge of bankruptcy. Then along comes… Fritz Maytag.  

Dave Burkhart: Absolutely one of the brightest people I know. Sharp as a tack. 

Amanda Font: If the name Maytag sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve seen it on your washing machine. Fritz is grandson of the founder of the Maytag Corporation. Or it could be that you’ve had Maytag Blue Cheese, because Fritz’s father started Maytag Dairy Farms. Talk about a family with a diverse business portfolio…  

Amanda Font: In 1965, Fritz Maytag was a 28-year-old entrepreneur, looking to branch out in yet another direction from his family’s enterprises. He’d attended Stanford, and lived in the Bay Area, and when he heard from a local bartender that a legacy business like Anchor was close to shutting its doors, he decided he had to help. 

Dave Burkhart: And so he bought 51% stake in the brewery for $5,100 dollars…

Amanda Font: A little under 50 grand in today’s money. 

Dave Burkhart: And then loaned promptly had to loan Lawrence Stice about $9,000. Fritz was charmed by the brewery, but also realized that in addition to being America’s smallest brewery at the time, It was also the most medieval brewery, as Fritz liked to call it. 

Amanda Font: For one thing, the brewery was still using that same method of cooling the wort on the roof of the building that they had been back in the 1890s. They didn’t even have refrigeration. 

Dave Burkhart: It had a refrigerator where you could leave your lunch, you know, But that was about it. This is this was in 1965, for gosh sakes. 

Amanda Font: Fritz set about taking this “medieval” brewery and modernizing it, starting with refrigeration and stainless steel tanks, which are much easier to keep clean. The funny thing is, before buying a majority stake in Anchor, Fritz didn’t actually know anything about beer. 

Dave Burkhart: as he started to work there and see the problems with the beer he saw it as a challenge and saw it as something that he really loved and taught himself all about brewing. And eventually in 1969, he bought out Steese and and ended up being 100% owner,, although it took him ten years to turn a profit at the brewery. 

Amanda Font: For the majority of the company’s history Anchor beer had only been available locally on tap. But In 1971, they began bottling Anchor Steam – and branching out, style-wise. The first new brew – a Porter… A real one, this time…

Dave Burkhart: an all malt porter made with a black patent or dark malt, as well as the caramel malt and pale malt. That was in 1972 and we began bottling it in 1974. 

Amanda Font: In 1975 they introduced three more beers… Anchor Liberty Ale, Old Foghorn Barleywine and the seasonal Anchor Christmas Ale, which started a tradition where each year the recipe and the label on the bottle are just a little different. And each of Anchor’s now 5 different beers was unique in character… 

Dave Burkhart: They all looked different. They all tasted different. They all smelled different. They all had different labels, but they all felt like they came from Anchor.

Amanda Font: Experimenting with different styles is a hallmark of craft breweries now, but at the time it was unusual, because in the 1970s… American beer was pretty homogenous. 

Dave Burkhart: Sad to say, virtually all of the beer in America, as anybody knows who was drinking, drinking beer back then will tell you, it was all fizzy lite, 

Medley of 70s beer commercials

Dave Burkhart: yellow, bubbly, bland, tasteless, characterless.  

Medley of 70s beer commercials

Amanda Font: It’s not that any of the styles Anchor was brewing were brand new, they just weren’t commonly available in the U.S. at that time. 

Dave Burkhart: And that was one of the beauties of what Fritz was doing. It was what he called a radically traditional idea. It was radical to make a traditional beer in those days.

Amanda Font: Selling their beer in bottles allowed Anchor to reach a wider market, and people outside the Bay Area started to take notice of these robust, more artfully brewed beers. Some started flocking to the brewery to see how it all worked … because they wanted to do it too. 

Dave Burkhart: Fritz was open source before the words open source and was happy to give everybody that came a tour, tell them all about our beer and, you know, promote the idea of what ultimately became known as craft beer.  

Amanda Font: Dave says the term ‘craft beer’ was just taking off around the time he started working at Anchor in 1991. Before that people referred to it as microbrewing. Anchor was doing a lot of experimentation with different hops and malts, and that, combined with their modern techniques and the fact that they were seeing renewed success, inspired a lot of new businesses…  

Dave Burkhart: A couple of those guys were Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi from what became Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Jack McAuliffe of New Albion came to the brewery. Everybody wanted to make that pilgrimage, and why not, to see how it was done because the brewery was… it was small, but it was successful. 

Amanda Font: And the craft beer scene started to take off and evolve… for example, there’s the story about a young couple from Southern California…Natalie and her boyfriend Vinnie.

Natalie Cilurzo: I asked him what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Like, what do you want to be when you grow up that everybody asks you at that age? And he said, I want to own my own brewery. And I Said how do you know this? You’re not even old enough to buy beer. And he said, I just do. 

Amanda Font: Natalie brought Vinnie to see the Anchor Brewing tour for his 21st birthday in 1991. Dave gave the tour.

Dave Burkhart: Fritz was there that day. I won’t claim to have been inspirational. But Fritz was certainly inspirational. The tour left a big impression on Vinnee … and on Dave too.

Dave Burkhart: But he wrote me a thank you note, and I saved it for some reason. I just got this weird sense about him like “Maybe I should just save this note.” 

Amanda Font: 30 years later… Vinnee comes back for a 2nd tour, this time at the invitation of Anchor Brewing. Because Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo now run Russian River Brewing, makers of the popular Pliny the Elder imperial IPA. 

Vinnie Cilurzo: Dave whips out this piece of paper and it’s a handwritten letter just thanking him for the visit and whatnot. And I was, I was blown away that Dave still had that.

Amanda Font: So you can think of Anchor Brewing as sort of a parent or grandparent of many of the well-known craft breweries around today. Vinnie credits Anchor as an early inspiration. 

Vinnie Cilurzo: Anchor Liberty and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale were two, like, formidable beers that were in my– still are in my DNA.

Amanda Font: And he’s leveraged that inspiration to great success… Here’s a perfect example. Before taking over Russian River, Vinnie opened his first brewery, called Blind Pig, in his hometown of Temecula California. He was young, and just starting out, so he had to buy his brewing equipment second hand. It was a little old, some of it was plastic, and it was kind of cobbled together. He was worried it might affect the taste of his beer. 

Vinnie Cilurzo: So I just thought, Well, what if we take our IPA recipe and double all the hops and then raise the malt a little bit? So then we get a little higher alcohol content in a way, almost like kind of hide the flavors because we couldn’t afford to fail on the first brew. Granted, if it would have been contaminated, we would have dumped it. 

Amanda Font: But it wasn’t, and when they released the beer, it was good. So the next year they released another Double IPA… That’s right, Vinnie is credited with inventing that extra strong, extra hoppy style known as double IPA.  

The spirit of innovation among local craft breweries has accelerated in recent decades. New hop varieties are coming out all the time – giving brewers flavors to experiment with that Fritz Maytag could only dream of back in the 60s.

Vinnie Cilurzo: I just dry hopped a beer today with a hop that is a– it’s a number, NZ-109, and we’re the second brewery in the world, I’ve been told, to use this hop. And so here we’re experimenting with this new hop variety. 

Amanda Font: Vinnie and his now wife Natalie showed me how it’s done at their state of the art brewery in Windsor California, about 10 miles north of Santa Rosa. 

sounds of brewing facility

Vinnie Cilurzo giving a tour: So this is what the hops looked like before they went into the hop back. 

Natalie Cilurzo: If you think of like in cooking, you know, the hops would be like your herbs and spices and so you’d have your base recipe that you can then make the same best base recipe for several different beers. But you can you can dramatically alter them by just different hop varieties that you use. 

Amanda Font: The day I visited they were brewing a big batch of their happy hops IPA. As we walked through the brewery, we came across a couple large tubs of spent hops, still warm from being in the brew.. 

Sound of tour: So this is this could be Amarillo. It couldn’t stone fruit. Yeah, it could be a….Smell that you’re going to love this smell.

Amanda Font: The still slightly damp hops smell amazing– a little piney, citrusy, with a note of freshly mown hay.

Amanda Font: I was struck by just how passionate the people who work in craft beer really are. And how that enthusiasm translates into really good beer. I also got the sense that a lot of these breweries feel a camaraderie with each other…

Dave Burkhart: Lagunitas invited all employees and former employees of Anchor Brewing to an anchor appreciation party.

Vinnie Cilurzo: When Stone Brewing in Escondido had their second anniversary, they made a double IPA and they actually gave me credit on their on their label, which was pretty cool of Greg and Steve to do that. 

Amanda Font: It could be that along with a philosophy of creative experimentation, Fritz Maytag’s “open source” style of welcoming brewers to Anchor also set a standard… where rather than cutthroat competition, brewers respect and cheer on each other’s creations, because they’re all doing something unique.  

But the craft beer industry is facing some challenges right now. The pandemic hit everyone hard, and tastes change over time… alcoholic seltzers seem to be the hot thing right now. Plus, the market is a little saturated, and increasing costs can mean that breweries that were once considered ‘craft’ now don’t technically qualify because they’ve had to turn to larger business partners. 

Before it closed, Anchor was sold to Sapporo in 2017, making it no longer a craft brewery. Petaluma-based Lagunitas, another brewery popular for its creative beers, doesn’t technically qualify anymore. Heiniken bought a 50% stake in the company in 2015. But maybe rigid qualifications like that don’t fully reflect what’s at the heart of an industry based on creativity… 

Vinnie Cilurzo: I define craft brewing as quality, quality driven. And and at the end of the day, I’m actually not sure anymore if it matters who owns you or whatnot. 

Amanda Font: Historian Dave Burkhart summed it up nicely too… 

Dave Burkhart: A craft beer is a distinctive, aesthetically pleasing alcoholic beverage made from malted grain whose taste, aroma, quality and consistency reflect the skill, integrity and creative imagination of its brewer.  

Amanda Font: As a fellow beer lover, I’ll drink to that. 

sound of cheers

Olivia Allen-Price: That was Bay Curious producer Amanda Font. Big thanks to Ricky Tjandra for sending in that question. 

It’s a new month and that means… there’s a new voting round up at BayCurious.org. Head over to cast your vote for what question you think we should answer next. It only takes a few seconds! Also, there’s a new monthly trivia contest question … hang on at the end of this episode for a chance to win.

Bay Curious is made in San Francisco at member-supported KQED. Our show is produced by Amanda Font, Christopher Beale and me, Olivia Allen-Price. Additional support from Jen Chien, Katie Sprenger, Cesar Saldana, Maha Sanad, Holly Kernan and the whole KEQD Family. 


Have a good one, everybody!

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