Classification: Straight Rye
Company: Hotaling & Co.
Distillery: Hotaling & Co.
Release Date: Ongoing
Age: 6 Years
Mashbill: 100% Malted Rye
MSRP: $65 (2023)
Fritz Maytag, who is credited as one of the first pioneers of the modern craft beer movement, purchased the 109 year old Anchor Brewing in 1965 as it was about to go out of business. Maytag, the great-grandson of Maytag Corporation founder Frederick Louis Maytag I, brought in innovative ideas and grew the company's production facilities, maxing out production by the 1990s. He feared he would have to take on investors and therefore increase in size, as he was known to believe that size often came at the cost of quality. As a result, he pivoted to distilling and established Anchor Distilling Company in 1993. Long before the bourbon boom and spirits revival in the decades to come, it’s thought that Maytag focused his newly minted distillery on malting via a traditional copper pot still as single malt Scotches continued to be popular during that time.
In 2010, Maytag sold the company to The Griffin Group, the former Skyy Vodka executives Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio. Anchor Brewing and Anchor Distilling Company merged into one company soon after and became known as Anchor Brewers & Distillers, LLC.
Anchor Distilling Company once again became an independent company after Japan’s Sapporo Holdings acquired the Anchor Brewing portion of the company in 2017, once again separating the two. Anchor Distilling Company changed its name to Hotaling & Co. after losing trademark rights to the ‘Anchor’ name to Sapporo after the deal.
Hotaling & Co takes its name from spirits dealer AP Hotaling, who was one of the largest liquor wholesalers in the West Coast during the late 1800s. He made headlines in 1906 when his whiskey warehouse survived the San Francisco earthquake. Beyond Old Potrero whiskey, Hotaling & Co.’s portfolio includes Junipero Gin, and imports spirits such as Nikka and Hine Cognac, along with 400 other spirits brands from around the world. Hotaling & Co. rebranded Old Pertrero in 2022 and now features two ongoing releases: a 6 year old Single Malt Rye and a barrel proof Single Barrel Reserve.
A mingling of sweet rye spice, light spearmint, and a mature pine scent create a unique and unexpected opening to the sip. Easy to inhale yet not without hints of punchiness, the aroma mixed with additional scents of light butterscotch and golden raisins works really well. Though it features familiar scents found in many rye whiskeys, the combination of malting and pot distilling creates an extraordinary aroma that can be sweet and smooth one minute, then rough around the edges the next. The aroma keeps you guessing as its different scents ebb and flow, yet this exchange is unexpectedly satisfying.
You’re confronted with a surprisingly mellow and sweet tasting rye at first sip. Though you soon realize layers of rye spice are strung throughout the sip. This makes for a devilish sip at times as you are tasting something sweet one moment before morphing into something much spicier the next. Though the flavors of pine, light lemon, and cantaloupe remain constant, going from sweet to spicy and back again so wildly makes for a thoroughly entertaining sip. The palate never moves beyond moderate complexity, but thanks to a buttery smooth mouthfeel and sweet rye grain flavor, helps it stand out from the majority of ryes on the market.
The blend of sweet and spicy rye notes from the palate quickly drops away during the finish. In its vacuum, the whiskey struggles to have the same impact. After a short crescendo of rye spice, a mildly dry and light musty pine note remains. White grapes, chardonnay, mixed nuts, and light milk chocolate notes are the finish’s main redeeming qualities and complement the palate nicely. This short to medium length finish ends on a fleeting and lackluster dry pine note that is unfortunate given what the nose and palate set up.
Malting rye isn’t as rare as it once was. As companies look to offer slight tweaks to tried and true practices, malting has quickly gained popularity with distillers, though it still remains to be seen if that same excitement is shared by consumers in the same way. As a way to branch out from malting first and secondary grains in a mashbill, a few companies have taken it a step further and reduced their mashbill to a single 100% malted grain.
There are quite a few small craft distillers doing this, Oppidan, 291 Colorado Whiskey, Barber Lee, Helsinki Whiskey among others, but the most well known is New Riff. Now a permanent expression, New Riff’s Malted Rye also features a 6 year old age statement like Old Potrero, but is distilled using a column beer still versus copper pot still.
Malted rye features a wealth of different flavor and textural differences compared to a traditional rye. Many will note its overall smoothness and refined flavor profile. While typical rye flavor characteristics are still present, they are deemphasized, sometimes appearing as more complex and subtle. With Hotaling & Co. adding in a traditional copper still to the equation, this produces yet another layer of uniqueness to their whiskey. In a way, this pot still along with their extensive malting experience has created a whiskey that tastes distinctly their own. While rye spice, pine, lemon, white grape, and chardonnay aren’t unique on their own for a rye whiskey, the way Hotaling & Co. tweaks and combines them makes for whiskey more unfamiliar than familiar.
When a whiskey is the result of an uncommon and hands-on labor intensive process, a high price tag is typically to be expected. Adding on a 6 year age statement, which I didn’t expect to see given the company’s history with 4 year age statements, I further expected the price near $100. Surprisingly, Old Potrero Single Malt Rye is offered at a respectable $65. That price is in line with what New Riff offers, which has become a popular and rapidly growing distillery and often prices their whiskey at affordable rates. Given how low-key Old Potrero has been in the market over the past 30 years, I expected a higher price given their boutique nature. Hotaling & Co. seems to be well aware of the market and hungry to carve out a piece of it for themselves with their unique tasting rye whiskey.
A 100% malted rye mashbill combined with Hotaling & Co.’s style of whiskey making combines to create a whiskey that plays outside of the traditional rye whiskey box.
I’ve often referred to Old Potrero whiskeys as hidden gems. Their distribution outside of the west coast is weak, and their marketing follows suit. Given the recent renaming of the company and rebranding of Old Potrero whiskeys, they seem to have renewed vigor. As someone who thoroughly enjoys the company’s whiskey despite some shortcomings, I’m curious if more people will be willing to give them a try. Their whiskeys taste unique, and while they don’t venture too deep into polarizing territory, they will challenge some. Using a pot still combined with their particular way of making whiskey has a certain amount of special sauce that seems to get overlooked by most whiskey drinkers. If you’re a fan of traditional ryes, interested in how malting rye is a reinterpretation of just what a rye can taste like, Old Potrero will have a lot to offer.