A Tour of Anchor Distilling in San Francisco and a Rye Whiskey cocktail! See our great experience!
A lot of folks we know collect things like a t-shirt or a magnet from the places they travel, but what do we come home with? Bottles of delightful spirits of course! One thing we love to do when we travel is find a local distillery, brewery or winery and go for a visit! We recently were out visiting the Napa Valley, and Russian River Valley and after a couple of days in a row wine tasting, we were ready for a change of scenery and with San Fransisco a short jaunt away, we decided to head down to the city and check out a few famous places like Alcatraz and the Embarcadero. One other place we couldn’t miss being cocktail bloggers is Anchor Distilling, a fixture in San Fransisco’s craft spirits scene since 1993 and famous for their Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey and their Junipero Gin.
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Located up on Potrero Hill over looking down downtown San Fransisco and the Bay, Anchor Distilling was started as a side project of Fritz Maytag who was the owner of Anchor Brewing (the brewers of the famous Anchor Steam beer!) who had always had an interest in brewing and distilling unique styles. Fritz had long been a fan of historic styles of spirits and had been thinking about distilling his own rye whiskey in the traditional pot still style.
Rye whiskey has long been considered the original American spirit, with its roots tracing back to the original colonists landing in the Northeast. Original settlers had brought barley along with them which they used to make their beer and whiskey. However, barley was not well suited to the cooler climate, and farmers struggled to grow enough barely to meet the ever growing demands of the colonies for beer and whiskey!
With a shortage of grain for distilling, distilleries turned to rye which flourished in the cool climate and could be easily adapted to whiskey recipes. Pot stills were soon popping up in the colonies and an American original was born! Of course having famous founding fathers like George Washington distilling his own version of rye whiskey adds to the whole American original angle too!
Rye was the popular choice for a whiskey in most places across America until the dark days of Prohibition hit, and after drinking was legalized again, a huge influx of Canadian and Irish whiskey’s flooded the American market and the public’s taste for a smoother, milder flavor changed in favor of the imports. Combine that with the rise of corn whiskey after World War II, and rye whiskey fell out of favor with people turning to more popular bourbons and blended import whiskeys.
By the late 80’s when Fritz Maytag was dreaming about starting his own distilling company, rye whiskey had been relegated to the dusty back shelves of bars where they only occasionally were pulled out for the occasional cocktail that called for it. The craft spirit market was all but nonexistent but Fritz decided that he wanted to focus his distillery on small artisanally crafted spirits done in a traditional way. He and his team exhaustively researched old texts and recipes looking for the secret to making a good rye whiskey, even taking trips to Scotland to learn the secrets of distilling single malt whisky.
Finally in 1993, Fritz and his team had their recipe and process figured out, and they unveiled Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey. Old Potrero is made with 100% malted rye and aged in toasted oak casks rather than the charred oak casks that more modern style whiskies use. The toasted barrels are closer to the style that would have been used back in the colonial days, as heating the barrel staves over an open flame allowed the barrel makers to form the staves into the proper form for a barrel. The use of the toasted barrels allows for a more robust toasted grain flavor and a hint of oak flavor that makes spirit a complex, rich rye whiskey full of fruit and honey flavors that make for a great sipping whiskey and an even better cocktail whiskey (as you might find out with our Earl Grey Manhattan cocktail featured below!)
Soon after unveiling Anchor Distilling’s Old Potrero Whiskey, Fritz and his team turned their attention to gin. Gin is another spirit with lots of history which means that it fit right into Fritz Maytag’s vision that Anchor Distilling would make traditional spirits in a very focused, artisinal way. They again extensively researched recipes and ingredients, and in 1996 came up with the first craft gin produced in the United States since Prohibition, Junipero.
Appropriately named for the main flavoring in gin, juniper berries, Junipero is made with more than a dozen fresh botanicals blended together to create a clean, crisp London Dry style gin. Wonderfully balanced, this even made our friends who came with us on our visit turn to us and say “I could drink this gin straight and I don’t ever drink gin even mixed!”
Visiting the Anchor Distilling tasting room is definitely worth the stop if you are in San Fransisco. We have been to many distillery tasting rooms, and this was one of our favorite experiences in a tasting room ever! Maybe it was the combination of the location (in the Fritz Maytag’s former penthouse atop the tall distillery building) and the little touches like the sourdough crackers and ice water to help cleanse your palette, plus the incredible view of downtown San Fransisco amid the rooftop garden surrounded by the botanicals used in the distillation of Anchor Distilling’s products, but the whole thing just worked!
Our tasting experience allowed us to try Anchor Distilling’s own branded products that are distilled on property, Junipero, Genevieve Genever-style Gin, Anchor Old Tom Gin, Hophead Vodka, Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey, and Old Potrero Single Malt Straight Rye Whiskey along with Luxardo Maraschino Cherries. Each taste of the various spirits was explained the extremely knowledgeable host, with an explanation of how the spirit was distilled and the history behind it. After the tasting, you are encouraged to step out onto the rooftop patio where you can see the million dollar view of downtown San Fransisco!
For our featured cocktail, an Earl Grey Manhattan, we used Anchor Distilling’s Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey as the whiskey in this spin on a classic cocktail.Following the whiskey is a bit of vermouth and added a little earl grey infused simple syrup. a nice combination of boozy and sweet, the earl grey adds a rich undertone of bergamot and black tea which compliments the herbal notes from the vermouth and the peppery warmth of the rye whiskey. This is a nice sipper for a winter’s night or for drinking as a cool bay fog rolls in over the bay!
Go check out our friends at Anchor Distilling and if you happen to be visiting San Fransisco, make your way up to Potrero Hill and visit their tasting room! Cheers!
- 2 oz Anchor Distilling Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey
- .25 sweet vermouth
- .50 Earl Grey simple syrup
- 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 bag Earl Grey Tea
- Add all ingredients into a mixing glass.
- Add ice.
- Stir until chilled.
- Strain into a cocktail coupe!
- Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small sauce pan.
- Remove from heat.
- Add tea bag and allow to steep for 30 minutes.
- Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
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