Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A trip to Anchor Brewery

Besides the Golden Gate Bridge, nothing is more iconic to me in San Francisco than Anchor Brewing. Dating back to the ‘49er era of the great gold rush in Northern California, Anchor has been relentlessly brewing beer for more than a century. Not too shabby for a joint that has been almost bankrupt, burnt down, shut down by Prohibition, shaken from constant earthquakes and even suffered a few untimely deaths that left the ship unmanned for a spell. Thankfully, they stuck it out to brew another day and quench our thirst.
I recently had an opportunity to spend a couple of hours on a perfect summer day in the “City by the Bay” to take a lesson from the ones who have given me an image of what San Francisco beer is and where it came from. Housed in an old coffee roastery from the thirties, Anchor was finally able to put down their own roots in 1971. Throughout its rich history, Anchor has had as many as 6 locations across the amazing city of San Francisco. Now located in the Old Potrero District, this one and only brewery and tasting room makes itself at home in an urban setting with an inspiring view of the city.
Before we made our way into the brewery, we spotted a vintage delivery truck parked out front and paused for one of many fantastic photo ops. As we entered, we were greeted with a smile and quickly directed up the stairs for our tour and tasting. We felt like we were stepping back in time. We passed the last known working payphone in existence randomly perched on a landing, but it wouldn’t be until we were headed out – post afternoon sipping suds – that the payphone photo sesh went down. Three floors up through wooden framed windows, we spied the heart and soul of Anchor. Famous for their copper pot stills, it’s not surprising that the space was left open to show the wonders of brewing’s historic beginnings. Staying true to their craft, they are still used today – some traditions are just worth keeping. Stepping into the tasting room we bellied up to the commanding mahogany bar. It felt as if we were standing there chatting with the good old boys about how relieved we all are that Prohibition was repealed.
We were lucky to have Jeremiah as our tour guide-slash-bartender for the day to talk shop and learn all there is to know about what’s on tap. The wood paneled walls, (if only they could talk!), are lined with the history of American brewing. Signage and vintage artwork from breweries across the nation keep our eyes busy as our palates are treated to all of Anchor’s current offerings!
One of our favorites and easily, their most famous brew to date, Anchor’s “California Common” which was trademarked “Steam Beer” and has been produced at Anchor since 1896. The recipe creates a highly effervescent, drinkable beer with great crisp flavor that isn’t too hoppy or high in alcohol. The term “steam” is a result of means turning into a method. Back in the day, without refrigeration, these guys had to get creative. How could they cool the hot mixture of grains and water that are boiled down into a soupy liquid of extracted sugars called “wort?” They decided to pump the boiling hot wort onto the roof tops into long, shallow bins that resemble a cake pan. It was the only way to chill the eventual beer using something they had plenty of…the cool San Francisco night air.
Today this process is done indoors in a pigeon and seagull free environment. They still use the same long, shallow bins. If I didn’t know better, once fermentation begins, I would think they were making the world’s largest angel food cake. Our stroll through a maze of hallways and staircases allowed us to see the “hop” room, bottling line, keg room and pallets on top of palates of Anchor beer stacked 3 stories tall. We even managed to sneak a peek at Anchors venture in the art of catching a buzz with distilled spirits, the still used to pump out three whiskeys and two varieties of gin! These guys have got it figured out and are more than happy to share a little slice of their heaven. A good time was had by all, and we learned a lil’ somethin’ to boot! Thanks to the Anchor team for their gracious hospitality. Just another day and just another reason why the city by the bay has made its way into our hearts to stay!
Cheers for beers,
Brandon Macer
Wine Bar Manager

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Cult Whisk(e)y Phenomenon

If you were to look up “cult wine,” you would find the likes of Screaming Eagle, Domaine de la RomanĂ©e-Conti, Vega Sicilia, Penfolds Grange and many more. What these world-renowned icons have in common is that they have each built a reputation for being ephemeral and produce very little of their product, so demand far exceeds the supply. Having been in the wine business for almost 20 years now, we’d like to say we know a thing or two about those kinds of goods. We’ve recently seen this phenomenon reach beyond wine and into another liquid arena, whisky. Dedicated whisky enthusiasts are on a quest like Indiana Jones to the ends of the earth for micro production, special-bottling, and long lost Holy Grail spirits. Everyday we receive inquiries for whiskys such as Pappy Van Winkle, A.H. Hirsch, Port Ellen, Ardbeg Committee, and Octomore to name a few. More and more often these highly-coveted gems have earned a name for quality well above the status quo and are becoming more and more rare. Like junkies, we’re chasing the dragon for that magical unicorn that we’ve only heard of in whispers. Every so often we strike gold, however, more often than not we find the well is dry, which only makes us thirst for more.

As the taste for Whisk(e)y grows ever more popular, broaching all kinds of cultural divides, it’s following grows. And, as purveyors of great stuff, we’ve become acquainted with the major players (movers and shakers as it were) of the spirits world. In addition to our constant search for rarity, pedigree and certainty, we’re always looking for (and tasting) what’s coming next from the veritable “Who’s Who” of cult producers and who has the “next best thing” that will be all the rage and damn near impossible to get in a few months. Simply put, you’d have a better chance of being hit by lightning than finding this stuff in your local store, let alone in your friend’s stash… but no worries, we’ve got you covered. Check in with your Wine Scout to see what’s hot right now and make sure you are on “the list” for these rare treats, because once we get them, they’re already gone.

To view our full lineup of spirits, please visit our website.

Stefan Matulich
Sales Director/Spirits Buyer

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Gemstone Vineyards

What’s the latest report from your local Napa connection? Well, not to rub it in, but life here is pretty frickin’ amazing. Sunshine, mid 70s to 80s, no rain in sight. This is how we remember summer; we’re right on track and it is shaping up to be a great vintage (fingers crossed). Vibrant green vineyards flank the valley’s arteries and each drive along them seems more picturesque than the previous. You can almost witness the vine tendrils unfurling ever skyward grasping at the sunshine. At this point the grapes can’t be much bigger than peas. Yet, these hard little pellets hold so much potential – in a few months they will become the juice of this vintage. As a winemaker told me recently, “The steady ramping up of heat has made things easier; the vines really seem happy this year.”

Nowhere is this sense of Mother Nature’s bounty been more evident than on a recent trip to Gemstone Vineyards. Molly Roberts and Elizabeth Vianello welcomed our small group on a recent cloudless morning. As we pulled off of Silverado Trail and into their gravel road we beheld workers busily tending the immaculate micro-block vineyards. Gemstone is a compelling reason to believe in the equation: vineyard quality = quality wine.

Going in, we knew a few things about the place. We’ve had the joy of pouring the ’09 Gemstone Estate Red Wine by the glass at our Wine Bar of late so we knew to expect quality but we had no idea just how far they were willing to go to achieve it. Molly and Elizabeth enlightened us; first, they drop quite a bit of green fruit so that the vines can concentrate on a few good clusters. Then at harvest time they “cherry pick” the best clusters which means that sometimes there’s what may appear to be plenty of crop still on the vine after they’re done. The recent year’s dearth of high quality grapes has squeezed the market tighter than a 10 foot boa constrictor and this revelation too, took our breath away. As a side note to all of you would-be winemakers – don’t even bother asking, that second crop is not for the taking. They’re just that serious about what they do.

To that end they’ve revamped their label design to better fit the wine inside; modern, clean and multi-faceted. Just like their space, the wines are inviting and plush. They’ve got a firm grasp of what we love to call “luxury goods with a blue jeans style.” Needless to say; it was hard to leave (shoot, it was hard not to drink every drop in sight).

--Katy Long
Content Manager