Maytag sells Anchor Brewing Company to the Griffin Group

Update 3: Hopefully this will be the final update. Fritz Maytag and owner-to-be Keith Greggor went on KQED this morning to answer a few questions regarding the deal. Some of what I wrote about below is confirmed in the interview. It’s my hope the critics will just let sleeping dogs lie. It’s no use accusing someone of something when nothing’s been done in some sort of “Craft Beer Minority Report”.

Update 2: Jay Brooks, of the Brookston Beer Bulletin, has lunch with Keith Greggor, new Anchor owner. Learn a little more about Greggor’s history, experience and plans for Anchor.

Update: Novato man, new co-owner of Anchor Brewing, relfects on deal and beer industry. New article from the Contra Costa times sheds light on who the Griffin Group is, what their plans are for Anchor and the speed of information.

Despite the global reach of the craft beer world, it is a relatively small community of brewers, aficionados, media and fans. A pebble, in the form of a tweet from @beerandnosh, resulted in a virtual tsumani of “whaaaat?” that seemed to overwhelm the craft beer community. “New blog post: Anchor Brewing Sold” it said. After the initial shock wore off, reactions have varied from awe to anger.

To be perfectly blunt: what’s the big deal?

The general sentiment seems to be that “groups”/”corporation” are faceless, evil entities intent on destroying the world, ruin “mom and pop” businesses, commodifying all in sight, and who answer only to greedy, money-grubbing shareholders. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but not all corporations are evil. I readily admit that there are many well-documented examples of corporations who operate unethically but I am also willing to bet there are just as many “Mom and Pop” stores that aren’t much kinder or fair to their employees either. Oh, and those “greedy, money-grubbing shareholders”? Take a good look in the mirror; chances are good that you’re one of them. Do you have a 401k? You’re a shareholder. A Roth IRA? Yep, shareholder.

Our country and its citizens seems to have a strong dislike to change; unless of course we’ve given our consent. Even in the instances where we have, we still fight against change, sometimes tooth and nail. I find this mindset ironic, especially in a country built upon progressive ideals and values; where innovation and entrepreneurship in the face of opportunity, are often the precursors of change.

Change is inevitable. Fritz Maytag is 72 years old and has been in the craft brewing business since 1965; he probably just wanted a change of lifestyle. He has a beautiful vineyard (York Creek) in Napa I’m sure he’d like to spend more time at and a true, family run dairy (Maytag Dairy Farms) that he can focus on. Unlike Sierra Nevada patriarch Ken Grossman, who’s son Brian is now a brewer at Sierra Nevada, there is no heir apparent for Anchor Brewing; no F.L. Maytag IV to follow in his father’s footsteps and take over the reins of the company. Actually, if my brief time interviewing Fritz Maytag provided me with any insight to the man whatsoever, I think he’d actually frown upon giving his son the company and would make him work for it; that or make his mark in a different industry.

In fact, there’s a lot of things I learned about Fritz during my interview with him. Fritz is a traditionalist, he is a big believer in carrying on tradition and respecting history. He is also a deliberate man; someone who does his “homework” before doing anything or making a decision. Fritz has forgotten more about beer and the beer business that I may even learn.

That being said, Fritz’ decision to sell Anchor Brewing to the enigmatic Griffin Group should be seen as an endorsement upon their character and intention. The purchase of Anchor Brewing was not some “hostile takeover” but a willing transaction between two parties that may have been months, if not years, in the making. Despite all the “doom and gloom” people may be experiencing, the Griffin Group may be a good thing for Anchor.

The Griffin Group, led (or composed solely of, no one’s really sure) by Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio, cut their teeth on the Skyy Vodka brand bringing it up from obscurity to global prominence. They are also have a majority stake in Priess Imports (most of their products are distilled spirits) and a minority stake with the infamous Brew Dog Brewery.

The Priess Imports connection is significant in that it may help to expand awareness and reach of the Anchor line of distilled spirits (whiskey and gin). Most importantly, the acquisition of Anchor Brewing now gives Brew Dog a stronger toehold in the U.S. Market. In addition to being exposed to the lines of distribution Anchor beers are privy to, there is the possibility of Brew Dog beers being brewed at the Anchor facility. Theoretically, this could bring the prices of those beers down slightly as well as ensure a fresher product. Whether or not extreme beers such as Tactical Nuclear Penguin or Sink the Bismarck! will be produced locally remains to be seen but the thought intrigues me.

We didn’t see this coming. Not by any measure and I think that is what is making this news particularly difficult for many people. I was at the Anchor Brewing/Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Dinner a few weeks ago and there was nothing in Fritz’ attitude, demeanor or speech that night to give any indication that something was up. Would not want to play poker against this guy. This doesn’t surprise me in any way as I think Fritz tends to play things close to his vest.

Greggor and Foglio have been saying all the right things in the press release and limited interviews they’ve done to date. They fully intend on keeping Anchor Brewing a San Francisco institution as well as uphold the traditions put forth by Fritz Maytag. It would be in their best interests to do so. Make no mistake, the craft beer world will have their collective eyes on them and any slip up will be broadcast at the speed of tweet. That being said, Greggor and Foglio should be given the benefit of the doubt. While they may have yet to earn the trust of the craft beer world, they have earned Fritz’ and that should count for something.

Additional Reading:

Fritz Maytag Sells Anchor Brewing Company (SF Chronicle via SF Gate)

The Griffin Group Acquires Anchor Brewing Company and Establishes Anchor Brewers and Distillers, LLC (press release via Beer Advocate)

Skyy Vodka Team Acquires Anchor Brewing (www.inc.com)

Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio back Brew Dog (www.brewdog.com)

Skyy Spirits, LLC (via www.answer.com)

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6 Responses to Maytag sells Anchor Brewing Company to the Griffin Group

  1. I think you’re missing the heart of people’s concern. It’s not that a corporation will now own Anchor, not specifically. What scares people is that these guys run numerous brands. Can they give Anchor the attention and care that Fritz gave Anchor? If the opportunity to sacrifice quality for an increase in profit were to come along, would they be as loyal to Anchor as Fritz was?

    Fritz was a steward of the Anchor brand, a protector. While he’s handed the reigns to another entity, how vigilant will they be? If there’s a slip in quality that Fritz would have been on top of, will they not be concerned as long as profits are up? Will they not be concerned because they just aren’t Fritz?

    Basically they’ve said all the right things in their press release, but we won’t know what this means for 4-5 years.

  2. Derrick says:

    Craft beer seems to be entering its second generation when you consider in the last month, craft beer icons Anderson Valley and Anchor were sold mainly so their owners could enjoy their retirements. Sorry, Anchor (or Anderson Valley for that matter) putting out something hype-driven like Tactical Nuclear Peguin, which seems more about buzz-marketing than actually brewing beer someone would actually want to drink is not something I’m looking forward to.

  3. Joey says:

    Amen and ditto! Very well written.

  4. I suppose time will tell. I’m guessing Maytag thought carefully about what would happen to Anchor into consideration when negotiating the sale. Perhaps there are clauses that protect that which makes Anchor what it is.

  5. Peter says:

    I don’t think I’m missing the point at all and I think you’re making a mountain out of a mole hill. Fritz is not leaving the company entirely, Griffin Group is keeping him on as “Chairman Emeritus”. So while his imprint may not be felt on the day-to-day operations of Anchor, he will still carry an influential voice. At the end of the day, Anchor is Fritz’ baby/brand and who he decideds to steward it is frankly, none of our concern. The true test of the new ownership group is keeping Anchor relevant 4-5 years down the line.

  6. Brian says:

    Change is inevitable. Anchor will evolve. It will not stay the same. If the quality of the beer suffers, it will be an opportunity for another upstart to come in and fill the void.

    Head’s up high, look forward and don’t lament the past. Celebrate it.

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