Fritz Maytag: The Jim Brown of Beverages
There are a number of alcohol makers who match two sport stars like Bo Jackson (football and baseball) and Dave DeBusschere (basketball and baseball) for their ability to star in two different arenas. Then there is Fritz Maytag. He has not only competed in the three adult beverage categories, he has performed at the highest levels in beer, wine and spirits.
To compare Maytag to an athlete, you really need to look at someone like Jim Brown. Brown, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was also an All-American lacrosse player at Syracuse University, lettered in track and is still among the top 100 scorers of all-time at the school–in basketball.
Fritz Maytag rescued the failing Anchor Steam Brewery in San Francisco in 1965, and with that act became one of the founding fathers of the American craft brewing movement. Anchor Steam, Liberty Ale, Anchor Porter, Old Foghorn Barleywine and Our Christmas Ale are iconic brands. But Maytag does more than just brew great beer.
In 1968, Maytag started a Napa Valley vineyard, selling grapes to wineries. It was not until 2000 that the company opened a winery in Spring Mountain under the York Creek Vineyards label. Maytag completed the trifecta in 1993, when Anchor quietly began distilling, releasing a whiskey in 1996 and a gin in 1998.
“The brewery was taking 190 percent of my time, so I kept the vineyard going and just sold the grapes,” Maytag explains. That changed when he decided to launch the York Creek label. “For six weeks during the fall when we in the middle of the harvest, I’m focused 100 percent on the winery. After that my attention shifts back to the brewery and then it shifts to the distillery.”
“We always assumed we would be distilling at some point. We kept our project absolutely secret. We were surprised more people hadn’t jumped into distilling,” Maytag says.
After just nine seasons in the National Football League, Jim Brown left pro football with the rushing record for a film career. One wonders when Hollywood might call Maytag.