Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco has ceased production. The national news this week of this oldest, longest-running, American craft brewery closing its doors after 127 years has been devastating for a lot of people in the craft brewing world.
For me, it hits very personally too.
As many of you who have visited our taproom know, Second Chapter Brewing is named in part to honor a new chapter in the Kraus family brewing history. My great grandfather Louis Kraus was the majority owner and head brewer of Hastings Brewing Company in Hastings, Nebraska, until local dry ordinances, and ultimately Prohibition, caused his company to fold.
What you may not have heard yet – we had been saving the details of this story – was that his brother was also a brewer. Joseph and Louis Kraus, along with other members of their family, immigrated from Cham, Bavaria, in the late 1880s.
Growing up, I heard many stories about the demise of Louis’ brewery in Hastings. His misfortune in business was compounded by the loss of his wife to tuberculosis when my grandpa and his siblings were still small children. My dad, aunts, uncles, and grandparents told the stories over rounds of pitch, handfuls of peanuts, and a few beverages. Cherished copies of Hastings Brewing Company’s pre-Prohibition Prairie Pride beer label were passed around the kitchen table. Tales were shared of how difficult it was for Louis to adapt to farming in Perkins County. How strong his German accent was.
Occasionally, it was mentioned as a side note that Great Grandpa’s brother was also a brewer in California. My grandpa would occasionally talk about how his dad had apprenticed with his brother in San Francisco. He remembered his dad’s stories of earthquakes and strikes.
When my husband and I were first working to open Second Chapter Brewing here in Ogallala, my cousins shared some of our family brewing memorabilia that they had found when sorting through my uncle's belongings after he passed.
There were brewers' trade books from 1912 and 1915. Letters regarding the fermentation testing. Postcards. News clippings. Brewer's logs that contained my great-grandfather’s notes in German alongside my grandpa’s childhood penmanship practice and doodles. It was touching to imagine my grandpa as a child passing time at his dad’s workbench, especially since our own small children are often at our sides in the brewery today.
These were some very cool treasures.
I carefully thumbed through the brewer’s trade list to the page listing Nebraska brewers. I found Louis’ name and Hastings Brewing Co. There was also a national list of brewers in alphabetical order. Sure enough, just a few lines away from Louis’ entry there was another (spelled “Krauss” in the book) listed as a brewer in California.
How could it be that in all those years of family storytelling, no one mentioned that our great-great-uncle was actually pretty important in his industry? I apparently missed that detail in my recall.
I was already familiar with the basic story of how a young Fritz Maytag had plucked Anchor from bankruptcy in the 1965s and rebuilt the company with a careful eye to its history, bucking the industry trends toward mass-produced light beers. I already knew how coveted the bottles of Anchor Steam were to my West Coast friends when they could find them.
So, it was a complete surprise to me to find, here on the official Anchor Brewing website, stories of how Joseph Kraus and his associates rescued Anchor time and time again from devastating fires, personal tragedies, Prohibition, and more. It seems that he was a central figure in the company legacy and history that Maytag worked so hard to sustain.
How incredible to suddenly learn that my family story and this national story were intertwined.
I almost immediately texted my family and then pre-ordered copies of The Anchor Brewing Story by David Burkhart. Over the last year, I have enjoyed digging into the stories about Joseph, who is cited by Burkhart as perhaps the only brewer in the nation to have owned and operated the same brewery both before and after Prohibition. From our own family archives, we have dug up family photos of his wedding day in 1891, letters from his estate attorney following his death, and even a letter from Fritz Maytag himself to an aunt, dated 1972.
Discovering this family history gives our work even more meaning. We strive to produce excellent beer based on strong traditions; to share great beer and great stories. We hope that Louis and Joseph would be proud of our efforts here in Western Nebraska at Second Chapter Brewing.
Once again, Anchor is faced with bankruptcy and devastation. I know I am not the only one hoping that somehow, someone, will be able to turn the tide and give Anchor Brewing yet another chapter in its storied history.
Until then, we will raise our glasses to these Bavarian Brothers who contributed so much to the brewing world.