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Issue 20 - Alchemy by the Bay

Whisky Magazine Issue 20
December 2001

 

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Alchemy by the Bay

Stuart MacLean Ramsay takes a trip to the US west coast and checks out three very different but equally daring and passionate distillers

It was 1979 and I was on a beer pilgrimage to San Francisco, seeking a pint of Anchor Steam Beer. Along with Yuengling's Porter, it was about the only beer worth drinking in America back then. Strapped for cash, I was travelling from city to city by Greyhound bus and made the youthful mistake of asking bartenders for the beer in the dicey Tenderloin district, home to the bus station. “Never heard of it.” “Huh?” and “Are you from Canada?” were just some of the responses I got during my quest. Meanwhile, in the fancy hotels on Nob Hill, urbane San Franciscans were sipping the elixir that would revolutionize America's beer industry.

Twenty two years on, a pint of Anchor Steam can be enjoyed in most decent drinking establishments in a city that has many. What was missing, perhaps, was a sophisticated dram to relax with, to match and enhance the after dinner night moves of San Francisco. This has been rectified by three Bay Area artisan – or micro – distilleries.

Ever the pioneer, Fritz Maytag, founder of Anchor Brewing, distills and bottles two 100% malted rye whiskies; Jôrg Rupf and Lance Winters, founder and distiller, respectively, of St. George Spirits make a 100% malted barley single malt; and David Classick of Essential Spirits Alambic Distillery produces true European beer schnapps from California pale ales. These distilleries bring innovation and excitement to American spirits, not unlike the West Coast craft brewers of yesteryear.
Fritz Maytag bega...

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