Is it worth it?: CUESA cocktails

Welcome to my new series: Is It Worth It?

The San Francisco Bay Area is f*#%ing expensive.  The U.S.’s most expensive rental market accordingly supports exorbitant fees for cocktail events, classes, and other entertainment.

Weighing cost against value is therefore as common as ordering a drink for the frugal cocktail enthusiast.

While I cannot personally investigate all options ($100 intro-level classes are out of my purview, for example) I am pleased to share my assessment of assorted classes and events.

Our inaugural event is one of my very favorites and its next iteration is coming up next week. Continue reading

Learn on, thirsty minds

March’s atypical concentration of cocktail classes has let up slightly, but April has brought its own set of interesting options for alcoholic education in the Bay Area.

WorkshopSF has two upcoming (and irreverent) booze classes:

  • Whiskey Picks Not Whiskey Dicks: Pickling With Beer And Booze $60
  • Hooch 101: Let’s Have A TIKI! $60 (I’ve learned under Gillian Fitzgerald before. her classes are approachable, no-nonsense, and often have a dance-off segment. An easy tiki recipe from that class has become a household favorite. This class would be a fascinating complement to a Smugglers Cove education, since I suspect Gillian is teaching from a standpoint of accessibility, affordability, and deliciousness as opposed to a stringent adherence to two-pricey-rums-and-three-fresh-juices perspective.)

The Beverage Academy keeps on teachin’ on with $95-$100 classes on 101 mixology, Scotch whisky, and American whiskey.

The Burrit Room + Tavern is launching a Sunday Spirits series. The inaugural event focuses on whiskey and costs $35.

Alchemy Bottle Shop has an Intro to Sherry class for $35 coming up on April 27.

Whitechapel, the innovative gin bar beloved of this blog, is kicking up the instructional component of its ambitious Polk Street Irregulars club, partner to Smugglers Cove’s Rumbustion Society, with PSI Sunday School starting May 30 for $30. This is the first of several classes, each covering a segment of the PSI drinking list.

 

Taste-testing tonics

tonics2Gin is my spirit of choice. I am therefore thrown into the proximity of many tonics. My go-to tonics are Fever-tree‘s Mediterranean or Elderflower tonics but I’m always looking for new flavors. Recently I did a taste test with some new tonics available at my local Emporium of Alcoholic Wonders (a.k.a. Berkeley’s Ledger Liquors).

Indi Strawberry tonic paired with Wollersheim’s Garden Gate Gin. The sodalike, quinine-light tonic offers strong fresh strawberry flavors (thankfully not a hint of artificial flavor), so I thought the fruit and herbs of the gin would play well with the strawberry. It was a summery combination but some heavy botanical in the combination didn’t quite suit.

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Beetlejuice and vegan cocktails

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing

-Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”

Yeats was not talking about bug-based food dyes but let us stretch the metaphor, loving Yeats as we do.

After a teenage stint at veganism (a fine diet, if you have the time and money to spend pursuing it) I came of legal drinking age with a mind unruffled by ethical concerns where my alcohol was concerned.

But the world (and the Bay Area in particular) is full of cocktail enthusiasts with varying dietary and ethical requirements. Early in my California residency I bellied up to a bar where I was warned that my milk stout had lactic acid in it and I should choose another tap if I had lactose issues. That sort of statement made in Wisconsin would get you kicked over the border into Illinois.

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2017 James Beard Award finalists

It’s a week of announcements! Hard on the heels of Tales of the Cocktail’s agenda reveal comes the list of 2017 James Beard Award finalists, which includes these notable local cocktail bars and bartenders:

Outstanding Bar Program

  • Bar Agricole
    (Bar Agricole helped drive ethical cocktail sourcing. You can’t get a Campari drink at the bar, but you can get an amaro made from known ingredients that could be tracked from harvest to bottle.)

Book Award: Beverage Category

  • Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, Martin Cate with Rebecca Cate
    (I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t take the award. It’s a beautiful tome, a friendly look at a niche category, and the photography of over-the-top decorated tiki drinks grabs the attention more than your average cocktail book. My copy is, of course, signed by Martin and Rebecca.)

Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional

  • Lance Winters, St. George Spirits, Alameda, CA
    (St. George is a font of local excellence and sass. Their Terroir is my ne plus ultra of gin.)

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Five non-industry people who will dig 2017 TOTC seminars

TOTClogoTales of the Cocktail has announced 2017’s seminars. As per usual it’s a superlative lineup of industry changes, enlightenment, and rollicking good fun.

I couldn’t help but notice major crossover appeal. Here are five non-hospitality-industry people who would get plenty out of the TOTC lineup.

History buffs

The schedule offers plenty of deep dives into our drinking past:

  • The Original Whiskey Writer: Alfred Barnard – Noah Rothbaum
  • We the People: Cocktails in the Colonies – Brian Maxwell
  • Great Hoaxes in Cocktail History – Robert Simonson (Simonson knows a thing or two about the topic.)
  • Sailor’s Joy: 400 years of Drinking at Sea – David Wondrich
  • From the Medicine Cabinet to the Liquor Cabinet – Noah Rothbaum
  • A Journey Into the World of Vintage Spirits – Edgar Harden

Librarians and academics

Get your sexy research on (and your cotton gloves):

  • Finding Classic Cocktails in the Dusty Archives – Philip Greene

Trekkies

We’re Next Generation devotees around these parts but there’s room for even  NuTrek under our umbrella:

  • Drink Well, Live Long and Prosper? – Claire Smith-Warner

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The once and future cocktail class

The problem with mixology classes aimed at civilians is the proliferation of Cocktail 101-level information. Fortunately, the demand for ongoing education and the area’s niche expertise appear to be forcing the evolution of local classes. Options are definitely improving for scholarly cocktail enthusiasts.

Plan your cocktail education with these upcoming opportunities:

Make Your Own Bitters workshop at the Oaktown Spice Shop
Oakland, March 14, $30
Coupe Tales expects to be in attendance. Oaktown Spice Shop has long been cocktail friendly; they offer a kit to make your own tonic syrup.

20150517_150319
Foraged Cocktails Workshop from ForageSF, May 2015

Artisan Foraged Cocktails Class from ForageSF
Oakland, March 19th, April 2nd and April 16th, $75
I have attended one of these before and very much enjoyed the lecture on my own local ecosystem and incorporating wild flavors into my cocktails. I went home with locally-driven, handcrafted bitters that I still use to this day.

Cocktail class series at Two Sisters Bar & Books
Hayes Valley, SF, March 13 (gin), April 3 (springtime mixology), May 1 (tequila and mezcal), $85
Two Sisters doesn’t wear its bookish charm skin-deep (unlike Novela): it walks the walk with a regular book club. While my experience with Two Sisters tells me its cocktail classes will be thoughtful deep-dives, which hopefully helps justify the steep price tag.

Of note is that Two Sisters has announced it is closing this summer. These classes are the last ones you’ll be able to attend there. Continue reading

The worm in the mezcal, the ant in the gin

In a throwback to college benders and unwise drinking choices, I was recently reminded that some mezcals still include a worm in the bottle. The spirit renaissance has lifted mezcal into such rarified company that it’s a blast to read this 1999 Straight Dope column about “tequila worms” and remember the disdain in which it used to be held.

Apart from some unwise choices in college, the majority of my experience with be-wormed bottles is from Poltergeist.

Horror movies to an impressionable child are damn near documentaries, so rest assured I steered clear of mezcal worms, cemeteries in the rain, cabins in the woods, and closed-for-the-winter hotels most of my life.

Which is why it’s terribly exciting that a new generation of coming-of age drinkers might be traumatized by gin ants!
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