Plan an agave-soaked celebration without a single drop of tequila
(Originally published on UpOut SF May 2, 2017. I’ve previously shared bonus information and additional recommendations right this way.)
Did you know that San Francisco is instrumental in defending agave sustainability so future generations can enjoy the plentiful agave beverages we enjoy today? For a city whose drinking history is soaked in pisco, whiskey, and beer, San Francisco certainly claims above-average agave expertise.
If you’re interested in breaking tequila traditions without sacrificing agave indulgence, our list honors cocktails made with mezcal, sotol, bacanora, and raicilla.
Go for the Coco Puff-infused Breakfast Negroni decorated with orange peel stars and birds; stay for the Chi Wa Wa cocktail with Por Siempre sotol, La Gitana Manzanilla sherry, Plantation Pineapple Rum, lemon, honey, and housemade “spicy monk mix.”
In the mood for a sotol taste test showdown? El Jolgorio Sotol is on the spirits list.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.)
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.
Nestled in my checked luggage, a bottle of Sacred’s London Dry survived the return voyage to California where it now holds a place of honor among my bottles. American markets don’t offer the London Dry so cocktails made from it are few and far between in my home.
Therefore, Sacred’s event at renowned gin palace Whitechapel required a pilgrimage.