It wasn’t all that long ago — less than a decade, in fact — when rye was derided as an inferior whiskey, not to be taken seriously. Those days are long gone. A brief glance behind the bar at many of San Francisco’s finest watering holes reveals a parade of high-priced bottles containing the once-maligned grain spirit. Entering that elevated scene is the newest release of Hotaling’s — a sophisticated rye, aged for 16 years right here in the Bay Area. Get your hands on it while you can, cause it won’t be here for long.
Anchor Spirits was well ahead of the curve when they introduced Old Potrero rye, 20 years ago. In fact, the local brand was at the heart of the craft rye revolution.
“From the very first days of our distilling experiments with 100 percent malted-rye mash, we loved the flavor and aroma of the new spirit,” says Master Distiller Bruce Joseph. In the mid ’90s, he was at the forefront of the brewery’s expansion into the world of distilled liquids. At the time, no one was using copper pot stills to produce rye — a process typically associated with more revered whiskies such as scotch.
Those first releases didn’t spend too much time in the barrel, and the resulting juice offered layers of green, earthy spice. Joseph was prescient enough to lay portions of it down for lengthier aging, some of it staying in storage until this newest release. “This bottling is from whiskey that was distilled in our first few years of making whiskey,” Joseph explains. “It was aged for 16 years in once-used bourbon barrels. It is unfiltered and bottled at 100 proof.” That patient aging lends Hotaling’s sweet and floral elements. Honey, lavander, cinnamon, and vanilla all enter the fray in a sustained finish.
Named after a nondescript alley in the Financial District — once home to an historic barrelhouse, Hotaling’s is held under a tightly guarded allocation. Which means the $165 bottles popping up around town will likely be gone before you even notice they were there. You can either get extremely lucky, or hope to find it on-premise at some of the city’s best bars. Look for it to make an appearance at Pacific Cocktail Haven in lower Nob Hill before year’s end. In the meantime, be sure to check out Anchor Distilling’s rooftop Tasting Room in Potrero Hill. For $35, you can taste thru much of the brand’s eclectic portfolio, including their more procurable ryes (Old Potrero and 18th Century), which helped reshape the entire category.