The 5 Best Bay Area Distilleries and Tours
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Craft distilleries are a dime a dozen these days, particularly in the Bay Area. Every man and his dog seems to be moon shining some boutique, hand made liquor for what ails ya…with such a plethora of choice, how do you find out which of these distilleries are the best places to wet your whistle? There are a few key elements that make a good distillery and a great one to visit, what are they you ask? First and foremost it’s about the product. Do they produce a good a product?
Secondly integrity. With the rise of the craft movement Johnny come lately types came about claiming 12 year old bourbons. If you’ve only been distilling for 3 years you can bet your bottom dollar that, that whiskey, sitting in barrels comes from a mass produced factory in either Lawrenceburg Distiller Indiana or the Jim Beam distillery in Kentucky. Don’t get me wrong the big boys of whiskey production create solid stuff, as a consumer however, if you ask for a handcrafted small batch product and you get In n’ Out you’d be a bit pissed off.
Thirdly, what kind of experience do they offer at the distillery, do they do tastings, tours, give you a foot rub, let you macerate the grains. Based on these categories here are the top five picks for you to explore.
The OG of craft distilleries in the Bay. These guys have been around since 1982 and it shows, their product is consistent and interesting. Boasting extensive gin and vodka selections, interesting whiskeys and eau-di-vies. These guys know their shit. St George offer both tastings ($15) and tours ($20), neither of which is going to break the bank. We recommend going for the tour, as the tasting comes with it!
While technically not the Bay Area, Sonoma County Distilling Co have been doing it right despite their age. While only being on the game since 2010 they are making some damn fine whiskeys that are distinctly Californian. Their flagship Sonoma Rye is made with 100% rye grain, which is unusual for a rye, as it has a very low yield. These guys are doing it all themselves, and unlike many other ‘craft’ ryes on the market it is not trucked in from the aforementioned Indiana Distillery. They offer a tour and tasting every day of the week, and for 20 big ones its an easier way to impress the lady or fella on a romantic getaway to Sonoma. They do not do same-day tours, so get your shit together and book ahead!
Anchor. The Iconic steam beer we all know and love, well these guys jumped on the liquor train back in 1992 and have been producing some top notch products ever since. Their stalwart range the Old Potrero is a unique range of whiskeys from single malts to ryes, this is backed up with the Junipero, a great range of unique pot stilled gin. Anchor offer a tour of the whole facility and tasting for $15. Unfortunately this deal is only offered for the brewery and will leave you booze hounds high and dry. Tour and tasting is an 1.5 hours all up, so its well worth the dough despite the lack of liquor, but its a great way to break up the monotony of booze for a refreshing ale.
Another smaller operation doing it right Spirit Works. Best known for their Sloe Gin, however they have expanded their range to include some barrel aged gins and have a rye whiskey set to be released this year. They have tours and tastings Friday through Sunday at 4pm. You guessed it $20!
N.o 209 Gin is to San Francisco what Jack Daniels is to Tennessee. It is the home town advantage. It’s the guy everyone knows as a local legend and for good reason. This is one of the original new wave, new world gins that came on the market near ten years ago now. The gin itself is very American, gone are the heavy juniper notes, replaced with floral citrus forward qualities. Unfortunately, they do not provide tours however they are coming up to their 10th Anniversary this summer so expect some fun and frivolities from this San Francisco institution to be announced in the coming weeks!