Over at San Francisco’s cocktail-loving UpOut blog, I have a piece about essential Bay Area gins.
Local craft distillers’ gins garner acclaim on the national stage, but we’re lucky enough to appreciate them not just as fine spirits but also as the flavorful glimpses of home. These ten Bay Area gins embody the flora and flavor of the region.
St. George Spirits :: Terroir
You can’t go wrong with any of St. George’s gins, but this one is the distillery’s “ode to the wild beauty of the Golden State” and to the forage-rich wilderness of Mount Tam, in particular. St. George Master Distiller Lance Winters recently told PUNCH “Six years after its release, the fact that it functions so well as an olfactory snapshot of the Northern California coastal landscape still moves me.” Locally sourced bay laurel, fir, coastal sage, and juniper reflect our local mountain terroir while a little toasted coriander evokes the dry, scented chaparral of the southern part of the state. Terroir is California in a bottle.
Oakland Spirits Company :: Automatic Sea Gin
If St. George Terroir is the mountain, this is the sea. Miles of California coastline harbor flavorful seaweed, but only Oakland Spirits Company (OSCO for short) seized upon the idea of adding it to gin. Sustainably foraged nori adds distinct brine to a spirit also flavored with bay leaf, sage, lemongrass, and juniper.
You might have tasted it in the Bigfoot, part of Trick Dog’s recent Mural Project menu. But don’t order it with tonic! Distiller Mike Pierce claims it’s better suited to still cocktails rather than bubbles.
Want to know more about Sea Gin? Check out “5 Secrets About OsCo Automatic Sea Gin.”
Raff Distillerie :: Bummer & Lazarus
Bummer and Lazarus are the stuff of legend: law-exempted, widely beloved, and eulogized by no less a luminary than Mark Twain, these ratkillers ran the streets of 1860s San Francisco. Also, they were dogs. Raff Distillerie’s Bummer & Lazarus Dry Gin honors these notable mutts with an intensely floral take on the London Dry style. Alongside the required juniper, huge violet flavors from orris root leap from the glass alongside coriander, angelica, orange, lemon, cinnamon, and liquorice. Pour a little out for Bummer and Lazarus at their commemorative plaque in the Transamerica Pyramid’s Redwood Grove.
Alley 6 :: Harvest Gin
Gin from Alley 6 Distillery reflects the verdant Healdsburg vineyards around it. It starts with highly perfumed Viognier grapes. Atop that base spirit are tongue-tingling spices and a bouquet of fennel, violet, and orange blossom, making it one of the most floral gins on this list.
It’s delicious sipped on its own, or try it in an Alaska Martini, where Yellow Chartreuse amplifies the gin’s mega fennel notes.
Falcon Spirits Distillery :: Botanica Spiritvs Gin
Falcon Spirits offers two small-batch gins: the neutral grain spirit-based Botanica Spiritvs gin with dominant notes of citrus, bergamot, cardamom, and cucumbers, and the brandy-based Barrel Finished Botanica Spiritvs with hints of juniper, lemon verbena, toasted vanilla, and cinnamon. Despite the gins’ similar names, each gin starts with its own base of grain or grapes and a unique botanical profile to complement the base spirit. Shanna Farrell, author of Bay Area Cocktails: A History of Culture, Community and Craft, uses Botanica Spiritvs in her negroni with Spanish vermouth and a little less than an equal part of St. George Bruto Americano.
Venus Spirits :: Gin Blend No. 1
This seaside Santa Cruz distillery promises “a little bit of ocean air” and you can taste it in their breezy, sun-warmed, organic spirits. Visit the distillery for a tasting sampler and a cocktail, or just pick up a bottle of the wheat-based Gin No. 1 with juniper, lemon, ginger, lavender, and six other secret botanicals for an earthy, spicy sip.
Anchor Distilling :: Junipero
Don’t panic! The recent sale of Anchor Brewing doesn’t affect the company’s distillation division. In fact, Anchor’s CEO Keith Greggor believes spirits have more growth potential than beer and the sale will actually benefit craft spirit fans as Anchor Distilling becomes Hotaling & Co. Celebrate with their tongue-tingling, explosively juniper-y Junipero Gin, which has been crafted in small batches in San Francisco for over 20 years. (No official word on whether the name refers partially to mission founder Junipero Serra. While historically significant, he’s a divisive figure.)
Old World Spirits :: Rusty Blade Gin
Asking bartenders questions is a great way to learn about new spirits, and my first sip of Rusty Blade was the answer to the question “What gins are you excited about lately?” Oak-aging gin brings the classically clear spirit closer to whiskey, America’s darling and our most-imbibed liquor. Our palates love the warm vanilla and toasted spice notes of a rested spirit.
Barrel-aged gins add new depth to typical gin flavors and might also convert that friend who loves whiskey but claims to hate gin.
Distillery No. 209 :: Gin No. 209
Distillery No. 209 considered a juniper-heavy approach to gin and said “nah,” instead choosing to bring warm cardamom and bright citrus to the forefront alongside spicy juniper notes. Named after the federal license number, granted in 1880 to what was then Edge Hill Distillery, No. 209 was revitalized in 1999. In moving from Napa Valley to San Francisco’s Pier 50, they became the only known distiller in the world to have their operations entirely over water. They say the cool air of the Bay helps keep their facilities cool and conducive to aging. No doubt that helps with their reserve gins, barrel-aged in Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, or Cabernet Sauvignon barrels.
Spirit Works Distillery :: Barrel Gin
Sebastopol-based Spirit Works is an honored local name in gin. Their reliable London Dry-style gin offers a unique twist with the introduction of hibiscus to traditional botanicals like juniper, orris, angelica, coriander, and citrus. Try it barrel-aged for toasted vanilla notes.
Spirit Works also offers something unique in the gin world: they barrel-age their sloe gin, which is a traditionally English liqueur made from sloe berries.