Hippies, Free Love, and The Rise of Craft Beer

How modern IPAs were born out of the summer of love

By Emily Ludolf

The summer of 1967 — often dubbed “The Summer of Love” — was a special moment in time when we believed that love triumphed over everything. That optimistic maxim also fueled the birth of one man’s fevered dream of a world with tasty beer, who in doing so sowed the seeds of the modern craft beer movement. 

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Mass immigration to the Bay Area during the Gold Rush (1848-1855) threw beer-making traditions from all over the world into a common boiling pot. German pilsners and wheat beers were brewed and mixed with their English cousin lagers and ales — the result of these unholy unions gave rise to the the delicious and hearty Bay Area craft beer from the region’s sprouting microbreweries. 

Despite this rich and varied history, Bay Area craft beer languished in obscurity for decades after Prohibition ended in 1933. The beer industry became dominated by a handful of major companies producing carbonated light lagers, sweetened with rice and corn, which became known as American beer. However, like the quirky spirit of the city of San Francisco itself, local brewers did not give up and go away quietly. Instead, they passed on their unique traditions to the next generation.

In 1965 Fritz Maytag a 27 year-old student at Stanford University (and an heir to the Maytag fortune), a fan of locally-brewed Bay Area beers, saw the craft beer tradition in San Francisco dying out. 

One fateful day, while dining at the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Francisco, young Fritz learned that San Francisco’s Anchor Steam Brewery, whose beer was one of Fritz’s chosen favorites (and served at the Factory), was in danger of shutting down.

Almost immediately after hearing this news, the young Fritz took the leap from student to business owner, purchasing fifty-one percent of the Anchor Steam Company, which at the time was a filthy, run-down brewery which had seen a succession of different owners and locations since it’s 1896 incept by German immigrants.

Named for their process of cooling the wort for the beer on the rooftop of the brewery, which created a dense layer of steam, Anchor Steam had fallen on hard times and was a ruin of out-dated equipment and brewing processes. Throwing himself into the science and the methodology of brewing California common beer, Fritz slowly turned the little brewery around, in the process ingratiating himself and his Anchor Beer Steam with what was happening around him in San Francisco — and the country — at that time.

Two years later, during 1967’s infamous Summer of Love the Anchor Brewery found itself at the center of a series of art, music, performance, poetry, lectures, and other creative events called “The Rolling Renaissance.” 

Fritz Maytag and his brother provided the funding for this Underground Art Celebration, which featured such famous Beat poets and artists as Allen Ginsberg and Michael McClure. To spotlight the event, Maytag threw a huge party at Anchor Brewery, then located at 8th street in San Francisco. As things inevitably got out of hand, Maytag started to be fearful that the police would show up as he didn’t have a liquor license, and shouted into the frolicking crowd (from the safety of his office), “It’s my beautiful bubble you’re bursting!” 

Allen Ginsberg’s response was to strip completely naked. 

Despite throwing legendary parties for the alternative crowd, in 1969 Anchor Steam Beer was producing only 800 barrels of beer, and they were not selling well due to issues with sourness, thanks to the dirty brewing conditions. 

In 1971, Maytag fixed up and modernized Anchor brewery, and started once again to bottle and sell Anchor Steam (their label design has gone almost unchanged since then). 

“One thing led to another and when we started bottling,” he says. “We had gone from the last medieval brewery in the world to the most modern small brewery in the world… Mind you, there was no beer in the world more traditional than ours. Pure water, good yeast, malted barley, hops. Period. No additives, no chemicals, no nothing. That was a theme we felt strongly about: To make old-fashioned beer in a pure, simple way.”

Maytag’s contagious enthusiasm not withstanding, he didn’t start experiencing real success until his brewing conditions had improved and he started using a new variety of hops called Cascades hops, grown in the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest. The result of experiments in 1950’s on breeding English Fuggle hops to reduce susceptibility to mildew, the unexpected side benefit was an arguably tastier version of the hops. This newly-dubbed Cascade hops created a beer with an intense, sharp, and fresh flavor, laying down the foundation for what would become West Coast IPAs defining citrus and floral aromas.

In 1971, Maytag purchased the remaining 49% of Anchor Steam Beer Company and expanded his output to create hoppy ales using the new Cascade hops, in doing so, single-handedly creating the new tradition of American IPAs.

Rather than trying to emulate traditional European or American beers, Fritz Maytag decided to buck all the trends and released the winter season Liberty Ale in the early ‘70s. In stark contrast to the ubiquitous macro beers of the day, this IPA scored 40 IBU (International Bitterness Units), compared to the average of 15 IBU found in most American beer. It was so heavily hopped and malty that Maytag famously stated, “most people won’t like our beer.” Eventually, Liberty Ale grew popular because of its champagne style dryness and crisp green apple finish, and it was released year-round. Maytag’s controversial decision proved to be a stroke of genius.

Now 50 years later, even though he no longer owns it, Fritz Maytag’s Anchor Brewery is still in business, and still producing his Liberty Ale from the Summer of Love, along with a range of other modern offerings.

Today, IPAs inspired by his legendary creation have exploded onto the global market, with beer aficionados drinking up the rare fruity and floral aromas of the unique Bay area hops. The free spirit of the Bay Area not only saved craft beer, but also introduced the world to IPAs. If not for their determined nonconformity, we would still be settling for the macro swill of the post-war period. 

Looking back, the young people in the summer of 1967 did have it right: Love (in this case, the love of good craft beer) triumphed over adversity in the end. ABV


SOURCES
• A History of Anchor Steam, www.anchorsteam.com
• “Q & A with Fritz Maytag on taking over Anchor Brewing.” 
www.sfchronicle.com/wine/article/Q-A-Fritz-Maytag-on-taking-over-Anchor-Brewing-6442879.php