The best brewery and distillery tours around the Bay Area

By Virginia Miller

Going back to the great Anchor Brewing 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 states, just as they changed the wine world completely decades before. But although dozens of breweries and distilleries have sprouted up all over Northern California alongside the longtimers, the vast majority offer tasting rooms but no tours, whether due to the intimate nature of their production facility or having a space not conducive to visitors. Here are six distilleries and breweries that actually offer tours and tastings, all while schooling you on drink production. Drink local!

Anchor Public Taps (photo: Erin Conger)

Anchor Brewing, SF
The legend, the groundbreaker. While the original brewery was opened in 1896, Stanford grad Fritz Maytag bought 51 percent of the historic SF brewery to save it from bankruptcy in 1965. He soon began bottling Anchor Steam Beer and the “craft brewing” renaissance was officially kicked off. Leading countless tours since Anchor began brewing in their Potrero Hill location in 1979, they still offer tours daily ($25 for a 1.5 hour tour with beer tastings) and weekends often sell out in advance, so be sure to plan ahead. The recent addition of Anchor Public Taps provides an opportunity for beers and bites whether you have a tour ticket or not.
Neighborhood: Potrero Hill MAP

Spirit Works, Sonoma County
Housed in Sebastopol’s industrial-cool The Barlow complex, Spirit Works was opened in 2013 by husband-and-wife team Timo and Ashby Marshall, and produces grain-to-glass spirits from whiskeys 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. A distiller herself, Ashby eventually brought on another talented woman, Lauren Patz, as head distiller. With the tasting room offering six tastes for $18, distillery tours are $20 and run Fridays through Sundays at 5 p.m., exploring their process from grain sources to barrel aging, finishing (of course) with a tasting.
Neighborhood: Sebastopol MAP

St. George Spirits (photo: Ben Krantz)

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 U.S. 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—and not to mention boasting the most fun staff around—a tour here ($20 with tasting of six spirits or $15 for the tasting only, all by reservation) is truly an experience.
Neighborhood: Alameda MAP

Griffo Distillery, Sonoma County
Opened by husband-wife duo Michael and Jenny Griffo, Griffo Distillery is a family-run distillery that uses California-grown ingredients in their lovingly produced gins and whiskeys. The distillery is conveniently located in Petaluma for easy access on road trips north. The family welcome extends to drop-in tours Thursdays at 5 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. 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. Please note: the distillery will be changing their tour hours beginning May 3, so be sure to check before scheduling.
Neighborhood: Petaluma MAP

Drake’s Brewing, East Bay
Drake’s has been a pioneering East Bay brewery in industrial San Leandro since 1989. Having put their name on the beer map with draft-only English-style ales, in 2008 John Martin and business partner Roy Kirkorian took over the brewery, evolving to West Coast style beers 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 entirely free, though you’ll have to reserve ahead, since it caps out at 10 people per 30 to 60 minute time slot, keeping the tours ideally intimate.
Neighborhood: San Leandro MAP

Seven Stills Brewery & Distillery

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 whiskeys and beers. Also hosting live music and DJ and comedy nights, their tours and tastings ($23 with five spirits tastes) offer the chance to taste beer and the whiskey it’s made from.
Neighborhood: Bayview MAP

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