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Acme, The Once and Future Beer

January 2, 2011

While cleaning out my garage (read: shifting around boxes that I haven’t opened in 10 years and three moves), I came across this rather awesome bottle cap jammed in a truss:

While the font seemed relative fresh, it had a cork and foil liner, so I figured it was not that new.

I did a little historical digging (big surprise, I know) and it looks like my bottle cap dates from the mid to late 1930s, right after Prohibition ended.

(Note to historical hunters — bottle caps are called “crowns”.  You’d think Bert would have taught us this important fact. (And sorry if you’re going all Ernie on this post.))

Acme was a transplant brewery from Seattle. Not many breweries made it through the 1906 earthquake and fire, and millions of dollars of beer were shipped from Seattle and bottled here. Within a year, the Olympia brewery converted the bottling plant into a full brewery, and Acme was born. (Brewery Gems has lots on Acme Brewing in SF from the first half of the 20th century.)

(April 11, 1907, via SFPL’s Chronicle archive)

Acme was located at the foot of Telegraph hill, on 1401 Sansome (between Greenwich & Lombard).

In the 1920s, Several breweries merged to form the California Brewing Association (including several in the Mission)  but only Sansome St and the National Brewery at Fulton and Webster were kept open. (Sansome St was sold off in 1929). They survived Prohibition by making Acme Light “near beer” with 0.5% alcohol (along with vinegar and syrup) but ramped back up after the 1933 Repeal.

Side note: Acme sure had it going on when it came to fonts. Some 1933 shots:

(1933, Repeal, via North Coast Brewing)

(1933, delivery truck, via SFPL)

Acme started advertising “real” beer before Prohibition officially ended and got a significant leg up on the competition. It served them well in the beginning:

via Brewery Gems:

After Repeal Acme Breweries built a new bottling plant adjacent to the old National site at Fulton & Webster. The new plant was described by architects and designers as “one of the worlds most beautiful industrial buildings.”

The Fulton plant had a rather nice view of City Hall (via North Coast Brewing)

Alas, Acme’s streamlined plant wasn’t built until 1941, so my 30s-era bottle cap came from more humble origins on Webster between Fulton and Grove.

After the war, Acme Brewing struggled to compete against the national breweries but didn’t make it.  The SF plant was sold in 1954 to an East Coast company attempting to go national, but the site was closed in 1958, and our sleek building was torn down in 1968 (SFPL):

The Acme brand survived however, and has popped up as a contract beer every decade for the past 40 years.  Today, Fort Bragg’s North Coast Brewing (e.g. Red Seal, Brother Thelonius) owns the rights and makes an Acme IPA and Pale Ale (which I am certain taste far better than what was once under my 75 year old bottle cap).

They also have an Acme museum. Hooray! Drink Acme, the once and future beer!

I am going to thoroughly confuse future owners of my house by jamming new Acme bottle caps beside the old one in that same truss.

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. January 2, 2011 8:19 pm

    Stunning research. Hope you were sipping something tasty like Figgy-Fizz while hard at work. Amazing building indeed!

    Thanks.

  2. January 2, 2011 11:16 pm

    Ah, I can smell the malty steam cooling into the foggy Potrero Hill night from here…

    Funny thing is that Anchor (Steam, Liberty and the Porter) is about the same price HERE IN GUAM than at Safeway in Diamond Heights. And at least a buck cheaper than in any liquor store. It’s about the only deal on island, but hey they have their priorities straight, right?

  3. January 3, 2011 12:56 am

    Yay! Man, that Acme brewery building really was gorgeous.

  4. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
    January 3, 2011 10:51 am

    Yeah, I ran across the pictures of their Art Deco bldg a few months back when I was wandering around the SFPL photo archives. God, what a beautiful building, and what a tremendous loss to the city that it was demolished.

    The 1960s and 70s were NOT a good time to be an architectural gem in San Francisco.

  5. loquatomatic permalink
    January 3, 2011 11:06 pm

    great research!

  6. Yours Truly permalink
    January 4, 2011 11:56 am

    This is really interesting. Thanks for sharing all of your research! Might have to print that “Happy Days are here again” photo.

  7. January 7, 2011 7:48 pm

    what do you know about the 1933-1960 los angeles acme brewery?

    • January 10, 2011 12:09 am

      Not a whole lot, unfortunately. The Sanborn maps for LA for that area weren’t updated after 1920.

      There is a picture of the LA plant over here.

    • March 9, 2011 1:31 am

      The LA Acme brewery was sold in 1954 to the Liebman Brewing Co. of NYC along with the SF brewery. Liebman’s brand was Rheingold — one of the top brews in New York and they were trying to expand to the West Coast. They even did their “Miss Rheingold” contest for the West. Didn’t work — by 1958, they gave up and the LA brewery was sold to Hamm’s, which brewed there into the 1970’s.

  8. Jonathan Lammers permalink
    January 10, 2011 3:52 pm

    The Streamline Acme Brewery was designed by William Gladstone Merchant, who among numerous other buildings, designed the Sailor’s Union of the Pacific Building on Rincon Hill, the Pacific House at the World’s Fair held on Treasure Island (otherwise known as the Golden Gate International Exhibition, and the supremely austere PG&E substation located at Mission and 8th Street in SOMA. It’s fairly easy to see the same design impulse for all of them.

    • January 10, 2011 7:04 pm

      Some glorious stuff there! Thanks for those links… And the Sailor’s Union was where Maritime Hall was, correct? What a gorgeous building inside and out. I can’t believe they let us have concerts there in the 90s! (When you were allowed to smoke inside, too!)

    • Patrick King, Architect permalink
      July 9, 2016 2:12 pm

      I’m currently performing an evaluation of the buildings which were constructed at the site following the 1968 demolition. The lower portion of the main building was left in place and serves as the foundation podium for the three-story buildings above. William Gladstone Merchant has never been accorded the prominence he deserves. The Streamline Moderne architectural style was never taken seriously. The current buildings are significant as they were designed by Joseph Esherick with landscaping by Lawrence Halprin.

  9. January 12, 2011 7:50 am

    Now I know what kind of beer Wily E. Coyote drank while nursing his wounds.

    Great post. I wish I could say that cleaning my garage inspires such dogged research, but in fact it generally just causes me to sneeze a lot.

  10. Daniel permalink
    January 13, 2011 7:58 am

    My first read on Burrito Justice, after stumbling across it at SF Public Press. Freakin gold baby!

  11. January 20, 2011 2:10 pm

    Wow. You are the king/queen/whatever of research. I bow to your highness. Seriously, great bit of research, there.

    • January 20, 2011 7:51 pm

      Thanks! Voyage of historical discovery are great fun.

  12. Doug Raney permalink
    June 8, 2016 11:06 am

    Great research! C.E. Hansen from National Brewery was my Great Uncle. I appreciate the info.! Please let me know if you find anything more about ACME or National Brewery. Thank you!

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