By Dan Sanchez | Jun 18, 2017
San Francisco, California
Although Anchor Distilling officially launched in 1993, the process from which the company began its manufacturing traditions stem from the legacy of Anchor Brewing, founded in 1871.
"The infancy of the distilling side of Anchor Brewing actually began when Fritz Maytag purchased the company back in 1965," says Carr. "Along with beer, Fritz was intrigued about whiskey -- in how it was made and consumed. He did a lot of research and found that rye whiskey was not being produced in the old, traditional ways. His interest was to recreate something historically correct and began building a small distillery within the Anchor Brewing facility."
When it started making spirits in 1993, Anchor Distilling was the only manufacturer of rye whiskey in the U.S. utilizing pot distilling, which also led the team of distillers to try their hand at gin.
The experiment has been a big success: This division of the company has won more than 17 awards for its spirits, which include the aforementioned Junipero gin and three varierties of Old Potrero whiskey, including the original rye.
"For the first 15 years, before the trade was selling these types of products, consumers didn't fully understand full-bodied, full-flavor products," says Carr. "In 2010, under new ownership, Anchor Distilling Company was formed, a full-service distilling, importing, sales-and-marketing company."
At the time the U.S. economy was slow, and Anchor Distilling utilized its recognizable brand to catalyze growth. "Once the economy came out of its doldrums, bars started popping up everywhere," says Carr. "We discovered that consumers were interested in more of an experience, and so we looked to bartenders to showcase our products. As an importer and producer, we were at the initial stages of the craft category. Using the name helped as we were an established brand."
With more cocktail mixologists educating people on the full-bodied flavors of craft whiskey and gin, Anchor Distilling came into its own. "Today, we've come a long way within our industry and the trade," says Carr. "Anchor Distilling Company has become a well-known business and recognized as a standalone company."
While resources for distribution of distilled spirits is difficult within the craft sector of the market, Anchor Distilling is using education to increase its brand reach. "One of the things we realized early on is that it's difficult to build a brand in the U.S. with limited resources," says Carr. "Local producers are challenged to utilize their limited resources and take their brand to the rest of the country. Anchor imports from all over the world, so we have salespeople across the country with a larger portfolio and greater resources to expand than smaller distillers. If you put our whole portfolio together, it's a sizable company."
Anchor Distilling is also utilizing education to showcase its products and the company's unique manufacturing methods. "We have a marketing platform called educational drinking," says Carr. The platform includes story telling about the company's history and traditional distilling methods through podcast interviews. These podcast episodes showcase suppliers, bartenders, and industry professionals who talk about the craft distilling sector as well as Anchor's products. "We're building a category that didn't exist," says Carr. "When you start within the craft sector, you start with a lot of little brands that don't have a large voice. Beer, wine -- it is all the same. It's small and we try to take a leadership role in it."
Challenges: "California passed a law allowing for distilleries to sample and sell direct to consumers on-site," says Carr. "This law was created to help small craft distilleries but excludes small distilleries that have affiliations with larger companies. Because of our import business, Anchor Distillery can taste on site, but is not allowed to sell product directly to consumers." Despite the challenges, Anchor Distilling opened its visitor's center and tasting room on top of the Anchor Brewery and Distillery and conduct educational seminars.
Opportunities: "Because we represent some of the most quality premium products in the world, there's a real sense of pride that comes with working at Anchor Distilling," says Carr. "And we will continue to work with our suppliers to introduce innovative products to the U.S. market. Additionally, we've starting to innovate within our own distillery this year, so keep an eye out for new products from Anchor Distillery soon!"
Needs: "We need to continue with our educational platform," says Carr. "It's our goal to educate people on the world of spirits. Education is our approach to raise the tide and rise with it. We're always looking for ways to multiply the storytelling of our brands without simply paying for advertisements." Some of the company's podcasts have turned into short films such as Way of the Cocktail, delving into Japanese whiskey culture, and Pisco Punch, about Peru's connection to San Francisco during the Barbary Coast days.