The Craft Spirits Carnival returns to San Francisco June 9th and 10th. This year the annual celebration of the distilled and aged will take over City View – Metreon. As we prepare our livers for this deliciously boozy event we thought we’d dust off an article we previously wrote for the now defunct UpOut.com. This post featuring some of the highlights of Craft Spirits Carnival 2017 should give you a good sense of what to expect this year.
The annual Craft Spirits Carnival provides fans of craft spirits an opportunity to taste rare and unusual spirits from up and down the California coast.
The event sells two-day passes which might not be a bad idea. This isn’t a beer or wine fest where the ABV rarely breaks 10 percent. This is a delicious high alcohol content booze event where if you try to sample everything in one day you’ll probably end up being carried out by your friends.
Of course, if you can only attend one day the simplest strategy is to skip big brands. Yes, they might have something special behind the well-branded and well-staffed booth, but you’re going to find the most interesting products when you prioritize the smaller brands. Also, if someone hands you a full-sized cocktail, you can taste and dump. Don’t feel guilty about not finishing. At least, that was my strategy when I walked in and found myself faced with four long aisles of spirits. Below is what still stood out while slumped over a seat heading home on BART Sunday night.
Somewhere in the Pacific, there’s a container ship traveling from Australia carrying a handful of cases of Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin. After arriving at the Port of Oakland the bottles in those cases will quickly be distributed to liquor stores. My guess is those bottles won’t be on shelves for more than a day. This gin is truly something special. It’s a sloe gin for people who don’t care for the sugary sweetness commonly associated with sloe gins. The tannins of the wine bring forth a slightly peppery, warm flavor while the juniper of the gin hangs out in back quietly whispering “Yep, I’m still here. Hi there.” Incredibly well-balanced with at least three layers of flavors transitioning through the swallow. This was the champion of the Craft Spirits Carnival.
And while on the gin train I’d be remiss to not mention Alley 6’s Harvest Gin. The standout botanical in this gin is the wild fennel blossom which was harvested in Sonoma. While fennel typically says “licorice” that isn’t what you’ll find in this gin. Instead what comes up on the palate is a pleasant floral bouquet. Perfect for sipping on ice or in a G&T, but would be right at home in a Shaddock or Last Word cocktail.
We’re overdue for a “preferred spirits” palate shift in the United States. Could it be back toward the star of the 80s, vodka? If so, it’ll most likely be led by the recent resurgence of the Moscow Mule on cocktail menus and the folks at Young & Yonder are ahead of the curve. Best known for their clean and bright Armont Vodka, the spirit maker also produces a lime version of the vodka. Conveniently, they made this lime vodka for the singular purpose of going into Moscow Mules they were planning to serve at a private party. During the development process would occasionally give samples out in the tasting room and visitors started asking for bottles. Voila! Thanks to demand what was once made for a select few is now available to be a welcome addition in your liquor cabinet. This isn’t an Absolut or Smirnoff flavored lime vodka. What you’ll taste is fresh and sweet with just enough tartness.
Lo-Fi Aperitifs are quickly becoming the go-to vermouths for bartenders all over the Bay Area. The vermouths are designed specifically to compliment the modern cocktail culture and it won’t be a surprise if Lo-Fi starts replacing Dolin and Martini & Rossi on bar shelves. Sure, it helps that Lo-Fi is backed by Napa’s wine powerhouse E&J Gallo, but these products speak for themselves.
San Francisco, California
A growing number of distillers are putting hops in whiskey, but Seven Stills is making whiskey using the mash of craft beer. This marriage has been centuries in the making. Seven Stills currently has two projects based around the beer whiskey: Seven Stills Series where they produced beer whiskey for each San Francisco hill and the Collaboration Series where they use the beer of a local brewer to produce the whiskey. Most recent collaborators include Berkeley’s Fieldworks on the Sea Farmer IPA Whiskey and San Diego’s Belching Beaver on the Peanut Butter Milk Stout.
Los Angeles, California
You could practically run an entire bar exclusively on what LA’s Greenbar is putting out. Everything in the below picture was delectable, but two of the standouts are the Fruitlab Ginger and the Grand Poppy Amaro. Both spirits play games with your tongue. The latter, distilled with the California poppy, starts off with sweet earthy notes before finishing softly with a bouquet of jasmine and rose. The former is less complicated but will wake up any sleepy tongue with a well-balanced swirl of ginger heat.
While Northern California seems to be cornering the Cali spirits market on clever whiskeys and gins (based solely on my experience at Craft Spirits Carnival), Southern California is owning it when it comes to amari and fruit-based liqueurs (see Greenbar above). Second case in point, Amaro Angeleno. Friends, I’m not kidding, once you pour this in your mouth you’ll be transported to an orange grove.
Modesto’s DoGood Distillery is running the table when it comes to smoking whiskey. This statement is probably going to upset someone, but the Peat Smoked Whiskey is a solid substitute for a deeply peaty Islay Scotch. In addition to the peat, fans of drinking campfires will find fireside comfort in both the Cherry Wood Smoked and the Beachwood Smoked.
San Francisco, California
I’m ending with Mosswood because I wanted to bookend this list with the two top finds at Craft Spirits Carnival. Everything in the middle is an absolute delight and should be checked out, but the Bloody Shiraz Gin from Four Pillars and the Espresso Aged Whiskey from Mosswood were the stars of the ball.
Mosswood selects whiskey from other distillers, brings them back to their distillery, blend to taste, and age in one of five different types of barrel. Each barrel imparts a unique flavor to the whiskey which is noted by the colored smudges on the label. Green equals espresso barrel aged and, while all of the whiskeys are delicious, this one is definitely the fan favorite. The website says the casks “implore subtle nuances” but that wasn’t the case with the batch that ended up in the bottle. The espresso is forward and wants to snuggle up with you while whispering sweet life-affirming messages in your ear.