Once upon a time, wineries only made wine; breweries, beer; and distilleries, spirits, but nowadays more companies are crossing over boundaries and you can’t tell the players apart without a scorecard.
While distilling has been practiced casually by breweries in Europe for decades, it wasn’t until Fritz Maytag, then the head of Anchor Brewing in san Francisco, launched Anchor Distilling in 1993 that the U.S. pursued the crossover with serious commercial aim. Anchor’s Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey, now one of three distinctive rye-based whiskeys bearing the Potrero name, propelled the trend, and in less than a decade, numerous craft breweries across the country launched small scale distilling companies.
In an effort to innovate, Oregon’s Rogue Ales established its Rogue Spirits division in 2003 by opening a distillery in Portland, then, three years later, another in Newport, Oregon. Early products included three rums––one light, one dark and one flavored with their home state’s signature hazelnut. They have since expanded to feature such unusual offerings as a Pink Spruce Gin, aged in Pinot Noir barrels, and an Oregon Single Malt Whiskey, distilled from barley grown on the company’s farm.
Following in Rogue’s footsteps, New Holland began distilling on the shores of Lake Michigan in 2005, starting with a single gin and a handful of brandies before graduating to whiskeys, rums, vodkas and a reformulated gin. They also produce a unique spirit, Hatter Royale, which is distilled from barley and steeped with hops. More recently, they have introduced a series of “Brewer’s Whiskeys,” distilled from a blend of rye and barley and aged in small, charred American oak barrels.
Just as it made sense for breweries to use their raw materials in distilling, so did the concept appeal to certain American wineries. Huber’s Orchard and Winery in Borden, Indiana, turns its grapes into brandy at the Huber Starlight Distillery. Germain-Robin, though not a winery, uses its position in the heart of California’s Mendocino County to source grapes of high quality for its award-winning brandies.
Californian wineries have also proved astute in expanding the scope of their fermentations to include beer. The famous Russian River Brewing Company, which was originally founded on the Korbel Estate in nearby Guerneville, has successfully crossed over. Helmed by Vinnie Cilurzo, who took the Russian River branding with him when Korbel lost interest in beer, RRBC is considered by many to be one of the true jewels of American craft beer.
Even Europe has grown more inclined to take the crossover concept seriously. In Tuscany, Fattoria di Magliano and Birrificio Brùton have turned to craft beer. Meanwhile, in Scotland, William Grant & Sons’ interest in producing an ale cask-aged whisky led to the creation of Innis & Gunn Oak-Aged Beer, along with several special release offshoots, like the limited-edition Spiced Rum Finish beer.