By Darren Atkins
Fritz Maytag of San Francisco based Anchor Brewing and Distilling Company (www.anchorbrewing.com), known as one of the founding fathers of US whiskey as we know it, has been at whiskey making since 1993;though he’s been in the brewing business since 1965 when he bought the company (originally known as the Anchor Brewery Company). The head of this firm that’s been brewing beer without stopping since its doors opened in 1896 had a lot to say about his spirits when he hosted a special tasting of his various whiskies at The Manhattan Cocktail Classic (www.manhattancocktailclassic.com). Maytag’s Anchor Distillery is known for making very small batches of spirits of many different variations and his whiskeys have won many awards since 2004.
It was some of these award-winning spirits he brought to Manhattan; 3 whiskeys and 2 gins including the Old Potero Straight Rye Whiskey. One of the first things Maytag talked about was his rye whiskey and why he came to produce it. He explains, “Back in the early 70’s when I was involved with the brewery, I would read everything about beverages, and one of the things I read was that Rye Whiskey was the first American Whiskey.”
Maytag follows a traditional American method of making rye whiskey – making a mash out of the rye grain and then fermenting the mash before the mash goes into the still and is distilled. He ages his rye whiskey in new wood barrels they char by heating of the inside of barrels, until it bursts into flames. The level of char they create imparts a unique flavor to the whiskey. Maytag recalls one early charring session, “We were standing around looking at this thing and all of a sudden it exploded like a tank of gasoline and the flame shot at least 30 feet into the air. We were horrified and thrilled at the same time” As a contrast the Old Potero 18th Century Single Malt Whiskey, the next Maytag had his audience taste, is aged also in handmade oak barrels which are lightly toasted. Maytag’s final whiskey he shared was the Old Potero’s Single Malt Hotaling’s Whiskey which narrowly escaped the 1906 San Francisco earthquake after-fires where millions of dollars of inflammable materials were destroyed. Fortunately the whiskey was preserved in pristine condition.
Maytag turned the discussion from whiskey to gin; specifically his Genevieve Gin, which is a relatively new venture for Anchor Distillery. This Genever-style gin is made from a mash of rye, wheat and barley and re-distilled in a pot distillation with Juniper berries and other botanicals. Before allowing everyone to taste his new entry into the gin category Maytag jokes, “Actually I’m a bit reluctant to let you try this, after those other beautiful whiskeys, to let you try this weird gin; in fact people ask me all the time why do you recommend drinking it? I always tell them, we don’t recommend drinking it we just recommend talking about it.” But why talk about something you may not want to drink? The Geneva Gin is, as Maytag says, “its rough stuff, chances are you won’t like it but now we have the cocktail revolution, it’s great in a cocktail. When many of the earliest cocktail recipes called for gin, they meant Geneva Gin”.
The final tasting Maytag offered up at this seminar was his Junipero gin which was a Double Gold Winner at the San Francisco Spirits Competition.
Maytag takes the brewery and distillery equally very seriously, but still maintains his roots as a brewer. He concludes, “We are a brewery that has taken the position on distilling as more of a serious novelty, we don’t want to mix the two. Although, the distillery project really has been our second coming, we were pioneers in brewing. Though lately it’s gotten hard to be a good brewer; that’s why we started making rye whiskey, as an opportunity to go back to where we were.”