The low-ABV trend stirs nothing more in me than polite disinterest. Brunchtime day drinking elicits a shrug. Frankly, I thought no spritz could move me. But at Time Out’s Bar Awards Finale at the Chapel in San Francisco, I found the lesson I needed to make me a spritz believer.
Writing about Los Angeles’ Walker Inn has been, since this blog began, both an imperative and an impossibility.
The Koreatown bar’s menus, themes, and approach to cocktails are of history-making importance in West Coast drinking. (As far as this amateur is concerned, they are California’s Aviary. Let more knowledgeable drinkers dispute that.) Writing about the Walker Inn, like drinking there, is obligatory.
But my three visits differed so wildly that I abandoned my unfinished story every time. What I loved about my first time at that unique bar was miles away from what mattered on the third visit.
Recently, Walker Inn staff themselves provided the key to finishing this story. Their “Bar Indepth: The Walker Inn, USA” seminar at Tales of the Cocktail laid out details from architectural design to lab equipment to income. Missing pieces fell into place as they explained the service evolution that allows them to serve more cocktails to the ideal number of drinkers at a pace that shows off their carefully planned menu and exquisite presentation.
In return, I know what the consumer gains and loses in this service evolution.
It turns out that the story I wanted to write — the loving paean to the place that gave me my benchmark for superlative hospitality — is an ode to a place that no longer exists. The Walker Inn still exemplifies theme, scientific creativity, and spectacle like nowhere else west of the Mississippi, and my admiration is largely unchanged.
But I have one critique.
Over the course of one week at Tales of the Cocktail I sampled approximately 100 cocktails/spirits. (Why so few? I was a volunteer as well as an attendee, which meant no drinking for 15 total crucial conference hours.)
Acknowledging that every attendee’s list will differ, here are the cocktails that struck me most deeply:
#1 : Dale DeGroff’s Abeja Limeña
Event: Make It, Eat It, Drink It from the Trade Commission of Peru in Miami
This take on a pisco sour highlights the torontel grape’s aromatic notes against just the right citrus zing. Aromatic pisco (brand unknown, possibly Founding Farmers but I think DeGroff said it was a single-grape pisco), honey syrup, lime, yuzu, and a red shiso garnish. My goal in the next six months (hell, I may be haunted my whole life) is to find the right pisco and the right proportions of other ingredients to recreate this memory.
My flight to Tales of the Cocktail leaves Sunday morning.
I’m pleased to be a part of the Education Fellowship program, which I’m pretty sure is the fanciest euphemism for “volunteer” I’ve ever heard.
This is my first year at Tales. I’m a little overwhelmed. The schedule is almost 80 pages long.
But I’m armed with freshly printed business cards. My seminar tickets will take me places I only dreamed about when I jokingly wrote my way through this piece. And it’s high time I learned how to navigate high-volume all-day cocktail tastings. Restraint, temperance, self-control, abstemiousness: time for a workout.
Check out my trip on Instagram and I’ll see you back here for write-ups.
-D.B. “Coupe Tales of the Cocktail” Couper
Count yourself lucky. I almost wrote “sea-crets.”
Sea Gin uses sustainably foraged nori and sea salt.
Up Mendocino way, OsCo’s nori hunters at Sully Farms roam Californian beaches for a certain type of seaweed. They spread their harvest on the beach to dry in the sun and salty sea air. The resulting seaweed — black, ruffled, and dense — adds distinct brine and rich vegetal notes to a spirit also flavored with bay leaf, sage, lemongrass, and “other stuff.”
OsCo’s gins and brandies are grape-based for a more unctuous mouthfeel. You can practically taste the slick seaweed on your tongue.
Thanks to UpOut for the opportunity to write about agave drinks beyond tequila margaritas. While I love margaritas, San Francisco and the East Bay are doing too many interesting things with sotol, bacanora, and raicilla to ignore.
Here’s some bonus content I couldn’t fit into the UpOut piece: Continue reading
Welcome to my new series: Is It Worth It?
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
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.
My pursuit of themed drink menus is unflinching and unapologetic.
San Francisco’s New Mission Drafthouse cinema serves pretty great cocktails both in the theater and in their attached bar, Bear vs Bull. During a recent showing of 2005’s Pride and Prejudice the following cocktail menu was available: Continue reading
Gin 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.