In my latest feature at Blackboard Eats where I cover dining and drink, here is my latest feature on 6 of the top brewery and distillery tours in the Bay Area:
Going back to the great Anchor Brewing in SF in the 1960s and distilling groundbreakers, St. George Spirits, Germain-Robin and Charbay in the early 1980s, the Bay Area has pioneered craft beer and spirits in the US, just as they changed the wine world completely decades ago. But with dozens of breweries and distilleries sprouting up all over Northern California alongside longtimers, the vast majority offer tasting rooms but no tours, given the intimate nature of their production facility or a space not conducive to visitors. Here are 6 distilleries and breweries that actually offer tours and tastings, all while schooling you on drink production. Drink local!
St. George Spirits, East Bay
The one, the only. Since Jorg Rupf pioneered St. George in 1982 (and trained a lot of our now great American distillers), distillers Lance Winters and Dave Smith have gone on to confirm its status as not only the ultimate California/Bay Area distillery, but one of the best distilleries in the world. The first to launch an absinthe in 2007 when the US ban was lifted, St. George has produced everything from innovative gins and whiskies to pitch-perfect, Old World-style brandies (dry fruit brandies to Calvados-esque apple brandy). Set in a WWII airplane hangar on the island of Alameda gazing out at the San Francisco skyline — not to mention the most fun staff around — a tour here ($20 with tasting of 6 spirits or $15 for the tasting only, all by reservation) is truly an experience.
Seven Stills Brewery & Distillery, SF
Why choose one when you can have both? Seven Stills is both brewery and distillery in one Bayview garage — also with an Outer Sunset taproom and a soon-to-open whiskey bar on Nob Hill, a groundbreaking move for a craft distillery. At the original combination brewery, distillery and tap room, owners Tim Obert and Clint Potter distill whiskeys from craft beers they brew themselves, experimenting with a wide range of brews alongside their most popular whiskies/beers. Also hosting live music, DJ and comedy nights, their tours and tastings ($23 with 5 spirits tastes) offer the chance to taste beer and the whiskey it’s made from.
Anchor Brewing, SF
The legend, the groundbreaker. While the original brewery opened in 1896, it reopened in the 1960s as Stanford grad Fritz Maytag bought 51% of the historic SF brewery to save it from bankruptcy. He soon began bottling Anchor Steam Beer and the “craft brewing” renaissance was officially kicked off. Leading countless tours since moving into their Potrero Hill location in 1979, Anchor still offers tours daily ($25 for 1.5 hour tour with beer tastings) but they are by reservation only up to three months in advance since they book up fast. The recent addition of Anchor Public Taps provides chance for beers and bites whether or not you have a tour ticket.
Neighborhood: Potrero Hill
Griffo Distillery, Sonoma County
Opened by husband/wife duo Michael and Jenny Griffo, Griffo Distillery is a family-run distillery using California-grown ingredients in lovingly-produced gins and whiskies. The distillery is conveniently located in Petaluma for easy access on road trips north. The family welcome extends to drop-in tours Thursdays at 5pm and 12:30pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays ($20 including tasting flight). Bonus: cocktails made to order in the tasting room bar and the ease of being able to bring in outside food.
Drake’s Brewing, East Bay
Founded by Roger Lind and John Martin, Drake’s has been a pioneering East Bay brewery in industrial San Leandro since 1989. Putting their name on the beer map with draft-only, English-style ales, in 2008, Martin and business partner Roy Kirkorian took over the brewery, evolving to West Coast style ales and greater distribution throughout California. With offerings like their “Bends & Brews Yoga Class” ($10), the guided tour of their twin brew houses and cellar is totally free… you just have to reserve ahead, capped out at 10 people per 30-60 minute time slot, keeping the tours ideally intimate.
Neighborhood: San Leandro
Spirit Works, Sonoma County
Housed in Sebastopol’s industrial-cool The Barlow complex, Spirit Works opened in 2013 from husband and wife team, Timo and Ashby Marshall, producing grain-to-glass spirits from whiskies to gin and vodka. Their game-changing sloe gin pulls on Timo’s heritage in southwest England where his family refined their sloe gin recipe for decades. Ashby is a female distiller who eventually brought on another talented woman, Lauren Patz, as head distiller. With the tasting room offering 6 tastes for $18, distillery tours are $20 and run Fridays through Sundays at 5pm, exploring their process from grain sources to barrel aging, finishing (of course) with a tasting.