Following Anchor's lead, other Californians began brewing their own specialty beers. In 1976, Jack McAuliffe founded the New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma, the state's first start-up microbrewery. Paul Camusi and Ken Grossman, two Southern Californians, opened the Chico-based Sierra Nevada Brewery in 1979, using a bottle filler bought cheap from Anchor. Three years later, the California Legislature changed a Prohibition-era law to allow beer to be brewed in a restaurant setting. Brew pubs quickly sprang up, fueling demand for more specialty beers.
Sierra Nevada is currently California's and the nation's largest true craft brewer, producing 156,000 barrels in 1994, compared to Anchor's 102,000 barrels. (Samuel Adams and Pete's Wicked Ale produce even more beer, 700,000 and 182,000 barrels respectively, but their beer is made by outside contract brewers. Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors combined to produce a staggering 153 million barrels that year.)
Even Maytag is a bit startled that the little guys are giving the big boys such a run for their money.
"When I first started, I said if I'm right, there will be dozens of little breweries someday," Maytag says. "And everybody laughed. But even I'm surprised there are hundreds, not dozens, of little breweries."
Craft brews are still a drop in the beer barrel, with about 2% of national beer sales. But their steady dribble of market share is unnerving to the major brewers, whose sales have remained flat or declined the past five years while microbrewers have grown 50% annually. The Big Boys are fighting back, either by buying into existing craft breweries (Anheuser-Busch now owns 25% of Redhook and Miller has a chunk of Shipyard, Celis and Leinenkugel breweries), by making all-malt craft-style beers of their own (such as Anheuser-Busch's Elk Mountain and soon-to-be-released line of "American Originals"), or by making "stealth crafts," cereal adjunct beers packaged to look like craft beers (such as Red Dog, made by Miller under the nom-de-beer of Plank Road Brewery). "What we're seeing is a permanent realignment of the brewing industry," says Jack Erickson, author of "California Brewin' " and other books on the microbrew industry.
Even though Anchor has more competition than ever, Maytag doesn't worry about being left behind as other craft brewers pass him in volume. Nor is he considering selling out to a major brewery, which he could do with a phone call. "We're at a nice size now," he says. "I hope we grow a little bit more. But I've never wanted to get a lot bigger."
Maytag's stubborn independence is part of what makes Anchor Steam a distinctively California product. Like most of the pioneers, he didn't come to California to duplicate what the Big Boys had already done. He wanted to reinvent the craft of brewing beer in much the same way people come to California to reinvent themselves for generations.