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Anchor Distilling, San Francisco: Crafting a Winner

Anchor beer

Terrific craft beer and tasty distilled spirits—Anchor Distilling offers the best of both worlds.

Don’t bet against San Francisco unless you’re a mayor! The mayors of St. Louis and San Francisco once made a friendly bet on the baseball playoffs where the loser would send the best local beer to the winning city. The good news is San Francisco won division title so did not have to ship the valuable Anchor beer to St. Louis.

San Francisco has been the home of the tasty craft beer of Anchor Distilling since 1896. Recently, Bob Brewer (prefect name), the longtime representative of the brewery, regaled us with the Anchor story while we enjoyed their smooth tasting Liberty Ale.

light refreshing Alchor Brewing Liberty Ale

Anchor Brewing Liberty Ale is exceptionally smooth.

While the beer was smooth, Anchor’s story has a few bumps. One is that the San Francisco fire and earthquake of 1906 destroyed the brewery. Fortunately for beer lovers, the brewery was rebuilt and reopened, only to close again during the prohibition years of 1920-1933.

Our next pour was Anchor Porter. It’s rich taste and hint of chocolate was very pleasing to both of us (a little surprising to me since I’m not usually a fan of porter). However, my wife considers herself a porter connoisseur and she concurred with my high opinion. I appreciated the porter’s unusual lightness.

The Anchor story gets even better. Bob told us that the flood of macro beers in the 1960’s put a big dent on Anchor’s profits and bankruptcy was close. Closing Anchor, the brewer of such great ales, porters, and the famous Anchor Steam, would certainly have made for a sad story. Anchor Steam was first brewed in 1896. The name is derived from the steam that came off the pans of beer during the fermentation process. During the first brewing days, there was no ice available to keep the beer cool, so the pans were hoisted to the rooftops and the nighttime fog off the bay cooled the beer and created the steam.

Of course, all good stories have at least one hero. Fritz Maytag (great-grandson of Frederick Louis Maytag II of washing machine fame) saved Anchor Steam and their great brews by purchasing the company in 1965. His leadership at Anchor has earned him numerous awards and accolades from the business community. He found that encouraging and supporting his competitors helped him keep his brewery small with a focus on quality. Because of Anchor’s high quality of and Fritz’s inspiring leadership, he is often referred to as the father of modern micro brewing.

In 1971, Anchor hired Mark Carpenter as brewmaster. With Mark still brewing up a storm, the rest of the story is a list of award winning craft beer.

Distilled Spirits Too

Kings ginger is a ginger liqueur

King’s Ginger is a ginger liqueur that was designed to improve health. It certainly put a smile on the faces of our reviewers.

In an exciting sub-plot, Anchor has also expanded to become the first brewery with an in-house distillery (and thus, the name Anchor Distillery). They now produce three rye whiskeys, vodka, and gin. The expansion also includes imports of many fine spirits and liqueurs.

Since we couldn’t sample all these spirits in one night, we prioritized. First choice was royalty: The King’s Ginger. The Royal Physician to King Edward VII was well aware of the healing properties of ginger. He commissioned the creation of a ginger liqueur (one of the nicest ways to take your medicine). We sipped this amazing liqueur and our health was vastly improved. Vastly? Well, the delicious taste put smiles on our lips and warmth in our bodies. We have since served this to dinner guests in our home, who were equally astounded and pleased.

My wife tried the Humulus Maximus cocktail, which she immediately renamed the Humongously Maximum Deliciousness. Refreshing, light and slightly tart, the Humulus Maximus is mixed with Hophead Vodka, Luxardo Sour Maraschino liqueur (Italy), the natural cherry flavor from Marasca cherry, lime juice and a dash grapefruit. What a treat! It would be the perfect drink for a sunny day on the patio.

Anchor Brewing Humulus Maximus cocktail

Anchor Distilling Humulus Maximus cocktail was so good the author’s wife renamed it Humongously Maximum Deliciousness.

Way too soon, it was time for the last one for the road. Our bus awaited us, but there was still time for a scientific survey of BenRiach Single Malt Scotch. Imported by Anchor, BenRiach is located in the Spey Valley of Scotland, home to many of Scotland’s great whiskeys. They produce a vast variety of whiskeys. Too bad we didn’t have time to sample very many of them. I chose a 10-year scotch, which was exceedingly smooth. My wife went with a 20-year variety and, as a non-scotch drinker (this was actually her first taste of scotch), thought that the lightness and taste made it the best choice.

The ride home provided plenty of time for debate. One thing we both agreed on: it was a wonderful evening of exploration with Anchor Distilling Company and we’re looking forward to tasting even more. – Michael Fagin, RFT Contributor


Michael Fagin


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Michael Fagin

Michael Fagin is a freelance travel writer who has traveled over the last 10 years across Canada and visited all the major Canadian wine regions. Mike is currently touring the Pacific Northwest enjoying the wine country, dining, and hiking. While he is not writing, Mike is a meteorologist for West Coast Weather, LLC, forecasting weather for the West Coast of the U.S. as well internationally.

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