Some say the craft brewing renaissance started in the past 10 years. Some say it was the late 1990s. Some say it really started after Jimmy Carter enacted legislation legalizing broader craft brewing in the late 1970s.

Some say it started with Anchor Steam Brewing Company was founded in 1965. They brewed the first “modern American Porter, pale ale, Barleywine, and Wheat Beer.”

John Foyston, over at Oregon Live, has written an article suggesting it was Anchor Steam paved the way for craft beer in America. I don’t know if I’d agree that Anchor Steam started the craft beer renaissance, but we can all agree that Anchor Steam represented a true diversion from the American conception of beer. There are so many factors that paved the way for craft beer to become what it is today.

From the article,

“50 years ago, Fritz changed an entire industry built on mass production by holding steadfast to traditional brewing techniques and a commitment to quality,” says Anchor Brewing CEO and President Keith Greggor. “We wanted to celebrate the birth of the Craft Brewing Revolution, Fritz’s legacy, and introduce a whole new generation of beer lovers to Anchor Steam Beer. Before the terms, ‘craft brewing’ and ‘micro-brewing’ had even been coined, Anchor had already brewed the first modern American Porter, pale ale, Barleywine, and Wheat Beer. It all started with Anchor Steam Beer though. The foundation of the brewery is built on Anchor Steam; it represents the past, present and future of craft beer.”

In 1965, during a meal at the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Francisco, a young Stanford graduate named Fritz Maytag, of the Maytag appliance family, learned that the makers of his favorite beer, Anchor Steam Beer, were soon to close their doors forever. On August 2, 1965, Maytag rushed to buy 51% of the struggling San Francisco craft brewery for just a few thousand dollars, rescuing Anchor from imminent bankruptcy. At only 27 years old, Maytag, alongside a team of dedicated brewers, revived Anchor Brewing by employing traditional brewing methods and enforcing strict sanitization methods, raising the quality of the beer.

The small team perfected Anchor Steam and soon began bottling the flagship brew in 1971 before introducing other iconic Anchor beers like Anchor Porter, Liberty Ale, Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale and Christmas Ale. Years before craft brewing was even a concept, let alone an industry, Anchor Brewing was creating quality, handcrafted beer in a time when mass-produced lagers saturated the marketplace. Fritz inspired other small-scale breweries to do the same, ultimately leading the way for the American Craft Brewing Revolution, which all began with a fateful purchase 50 years ago.

To celebrate this milestone, starting in May, Anchor Steam Beer will boast new packaging depicting a hand-illustrated label by long-time Anchor artist Jim Stitt. Artist Bill Hyde first illustrated the original Anchor label in collaboration with Fritz Maytag. From Anchor Porter to Christmas Ale over the past few decades to Anchor California Lager and Anchor IPA in more recent years, Stitt has created scores of now-iconic Anchor labels. This year, Stitt was given the opportunity to refresh the Anchor Steam artwork by employing vibrant watercolors and detailed illustrations that honor and uphold the classic Anchor Steam label from 1971. Along with the enhanced bottle and neck labels, Anchor Steam bottles will also include fun facts about Anchor’s rich history on the underside of each cap.

Anchor Steam’s roots extend to the California Gold Rush, when primitive conditions and the lack of ice forced lager-beer brewers to improvise and ferment their beer on San Francisco’s rooftops. The chilly, foggy weather naturally cooled the fermenting beer creating steam off the warm open pans. A San Francisco Original and a world classic, Anchor Steam is America’s first craft beer.

Today, Anchor Steam is brewed with pale and caramel two-row barley malt, Northern Brewer whole-cone hops and Anchor’s own lager yeast in a solid copper brewhouse. The beer is then fermented in shallow open-air fermenters and gently carbonated in Anchor’s cellar through an all-natural, traditional process called kräusening. First brewed in 1896, Anchor Steam (4.9% ABV) appeared in bottles in 1971 and displayed the now iconic hand-drawn image of an anchor framed by hops and barley.