While Hotaling & Co. might not necessarily be a household name in SF quite yet, rest assured it’s core mission has been around longer than most folks in this town. That’s because Hotaling is what we once knew as Anchor Distilling Company, which was Anchor Brewing’s distilling and spirits-importing side of the business that spun off once Sapporo bought Anchor Brewing in 2017—a package that did not include the spirits operation.
So Anchor Distilling took on the Hotaling & Co. moniker, named after the once-largest whiskey warehouse on the West Coast, located in North Beach. As legend has it, Hotaling & Co. stood strong following the 1906 earthquake and fires in which the surrounding buildings and churches burned down. The modern-day Hotaling has continued to produce untouched recipes of local favorites in Junipero Gin and Old Potrero Whiskey and in November of 2018, it moved into the Pier 50 in Mission Rock that housed the delightful Distillery No. 209.
OK, so you’re caught up to speed now, which is fairly necessary since the last 18 months of a pandemic hasn’t really allowed us to get to know this operation as well as we’d have liked. But perhaps that’s a good thing, because the times they are a-changin’! And in a good way (for once), as Junipero and Old Potrero are now being made at the Pier 50 distillery by not only original master distiller Bruce Joseph, but now with head distiller Arne Hillesland, the long-time brains behind Distillery No. 209’s gin operation. Even the Anchor Distilling still (#2, as it is called) has been moved to the facility to join the much larger “Rosie” still that belonged to No. 209.
Junipero Gin, with it’s London Dry character and crisp, juniper-forward botanical blend (as it’s name would suggest) is made and bottled in Mission Rock and is uniquely San Franciscan. You see, a dozen botanicals are ground prior to its distilling and the finished product is an unfiltered gin, which gives the 98.6 proof spirit a sneaky mouthfeel. These were practices that in the ‘90s were seen as audacious to some, but now have come to define the world-class San Francisco gin.
As Hotaling spreads its wings with the operation, the bottle has a spritely new look to take it into the future. Where the old bottles all had the same shape across all of the spirits in the Anchor-Hotaling portfolio, the new Junipero bottle is a slightly top-heavy bold blue that seems like it’s meant to catch your eye on a shelf, rather than blend in with its surrounding options (Facts only; no shade on the old school.)
For me, the shapes and labels were confusing (especially with the whiskeys), and then the word “Old” in front of “Potrero” on the same shaped bottle as Junipero, also made me think of the gin in this “old world” sense, where in reality, it’s fairly progressive.
“It was time to make Junipero more into a 21st century gin and have that recognized with a splashy new package,” Hillesland says.
But the real charm in all of this is to see both Joseph and Hillesland working together. I’ve long loved Junipero, Old Potrero and No. 209. Truly three of our finest local spirits and the distillers behind them share a similar whimsy necessary for creating lasting spirits. And for any naysayers out there, Hillesland is still contract-distilling 209 gin (which was sold to another company) at Hotaling’s facility. But I digress, because it’s obvious now that the sum is much greater than its parts.
“For many years I worked alone, either I was inventing stuff on my own or desperately seeking around colleagues in the distilling world to find out answers,” Hillesland says. “But now I’m working with other talented distillers. They have different ways of doing things, but I’m able to learn techniques that I wasn’t able to before.”
And Hillesland has been working with Joseph and his team on more than just gin now. Old Potrero Rye, with the distinct vanilla undertones from malted rye being aged in toasted and charred American oak, is as incredible as ever and a new bottle design is in the works for it as well, this fall. But the unwavering vision for American rye whiskey that Fritz Maytag had back when he launched the spirit in 1993 is very much still present and Joseph is still at the helm, right where he was at the start.
A public tasting room isn’t coming yet as the port of SF at Mission Rock is being reshaped, but Hotaling says the plans are in the future. But Junipero and Old Potrero are available at bars, restaurants and liquor purveyors literally everywhere in SF and the Bay Area (check the online finder here.) Beyond that there are some very awesome things on the horizon at Pier 50 and even more to come.
“We’re being tasked with doing all sorts of new product development and that’s really exciting for me,” Hillesland adds. “We’re trying to be as California and Bay Area-centric as we can. People come from around the world to see San Francisco and it has a great cachet.”