Fritz Maytag, the washing machine heir who launched the microbrewery movement, has sold Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco to a pair of Bay Area entrepreneurs who plan to preserve and expand the iconic brand.
No terms were disclosed for the sale of the 70-person Mariposa Street brewery and distillery that traces its roots to the Gold Rush, when local brewers produced a heady elixir known as steam beer.
In 45 years at the helm of Anchor Brewing, Maytag helped spark a revival in the craft of making beer by hand and inspired thousands of entrepreneurs to follow him in creating small, artisanal breweries.
Keith Greggor, 55, and Tony Foglio, 64, two veterans of the spirits industry, say they plan to expand Anchor Brewing's operations and cement its position as a font of artisanal beers and spirits.
"This is something we want to build on for the rest of our careers and pass on to the next generation," said Foglio, who will serve as chairman while Greggor runs the operation.
"Combining Keith and Tony's passion for the Anchor Brewing Co., their industry experience and expertise only means that Anchor will be enjoyed in San Francisco for generations to come," Maytag, who will serve as chairman emeritus, said in a statement.
Maytag, who was traveling Monday after announcing the sale to employees, could not be reached for further comment.
Maytag, 72, who became involved with Anchor Brewing in 1965 when his investment saved the struggling brewery from bankruptcy, inspired many followers including Ken Grossman, who founded the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico in 1980.
"I didn't think at this point he was ready to move on," said Grossman, who recently collaborated with Maytag on a new beer.
"He was a legend for the many small brewers who came after him," said Grossman, who got advice from Maytag when he was starting his own company.
Nico Freccia, co-founder of the 21st Amendment Brewery Cafe in San Francisco, said when Maytag was rebuilding Anchor Brewing in the 1960s and 1970s, mass market brands dominated the market, and there were only about 70 breweries in the country – down from more than 4,000 near the end of the 19th century.
"Now we are back up over 1,500," said Freccia, adding: "Fritz Maytag is revered in the craft beer world. He fathered the whole culture of the movement."
Freccia said "steam beer" was the term applied to San Francisco brews of the Gold Rush era, one reason being that extra yeast was often added to the barrels before they were shipped up the Sacramento River, causing additional carbonation en route and a geyser of foam to gush forth when the kegs were tapped.
Born into the Midwestern family that made its fortune with the washing machine, Maytag came to the Bay Area to study at Stanford University, but dropped out of graduate school in 1965 to become first a partner and later the owner of Anchor Brewing.
"I became enthralled with the process of brewing beer," Maytag told Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler in 2000. "It was pure romance. To see beer made, it was a miracle."
Over the first 15 years, Maytag struggled to raise the quality and consistency of the beer and find consumers willing to buy it at a premium. "I did have a nest egg (from the Maytag inheritance), but I spent it all on the brewery," he told Ostler.
By the 1980s consumers had begin to develop a taste for Maytag's vision of a craft-made beer with a distinctive taste and other breweries followed his lead, including Sierra Nevada, Buffalo Bill's Brewery in Hayward and the New Albion Brewing Co. in Sonoma, which spawned the Mendocino Brewing Co.
In 1993, Maytag founded a distillery that was indicative of the revival of craft-made spirits.
The new owners of Anchor Brewing plan to capitalize on the firm's reputation to expand their footprint in distinctive beers and spirits. Through their Griffin Group investment company, Greggor and Foglio have already acquired Preiss Imports, a 14-person San Diego firm that specializes in fine spirits. They also have a minority interest in BrewDog PLC, a large independent brewery in Scotland, and hope to make that brew locally.
Greggor said the deal to acquire the company came about after he and Foglio purchased Preiss and started talking with Maytag, whom they had met some years earlier, about their plans.
"After 45 years of running the business, I think he felt it was time to let somebody else help lead the way," Greggor said.
Anchor Brewing history
1854 Amid the Gold Rush, German brewer Gottlieb Brekle applies for U.S. citizenship and soon establishes a brewery on Pacific between Larkin and Hyde streets.
1896 Ernst Baruth and son-in-law Otto Schinkel Jr. buy the brewery, above, and name it Anchor.
1906 Anchor Brewery is destroyed by fire in the great earthquake and is relocated to 18th and Hampshire streets.
1920 Prohibition shuts the operation.
1933 Joseph Kraus, one of three men who stepped in to keep the brewery going following the deaths of Baruth and Schinkel in the early 1900s, resumes brewing Anchor Steam Beer at a new location at 13th and Harrison streets.
1934 The brewery burns down and is reopened at 17th and Kansas streets.
1959 The brewery closes, a victim of mass-marketed beers.
1960 Lawrence Steese reopens the brewery at Eighth and Brannan streets.
1965 Fritz Maytag buys 51 percent of the struggling brewery.
1969 Maytag assumes full ownership.
1971 Anchor Steam Beer begins to be bottled.
1979 Anchor Brewing moves to its present location on Mariposa Street on Potrero Hill.
1993 Maytag opens a distillery to make rye whiskey.
2010 Maytag sells to the Griffin Group, run by Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio.
Source: Anchor Brewing Co.