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.
…Watermelon Rose Raise my rent and take off all your clothes With trench coats, magazines, a bottle full of rum…
If I don’t commemorate it, I will forget. That’s how infrequently I create new cocktails.
The Watermelon Rose is a simple rum sour with some infusions in the mix. I don’t like watermelon, see, and when one arrived in my CSA I just looked balefully at it for a few weeks until the 11th hour. Compost or consume? I decided to drink it.
Threw cubed watermelon into a mix of rum (mostly Kirkland with enough Smith & Cross to make it funky).
While it steeped I decided to use up some dried cranberries in muffins. For more tender fruit, I soaked them for a day in Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao (80%) and Luxardo Maraschino (20%). This left me with a sweet fruit liqueur.
Gomme syrup adds mouthfeel, orgeat adds flavor. Add fresh citrus and baby, you got a sour going.
After days of puttering around the house chanting “watermelon rum” in my best Tom Waits growl, I actually looked up the lyrics I thought I was singing. Bother! He doesn’t sing “watermelon rum,” he sings “Watermelon Rose” and “bottle full of rum.” And so my drink found its name.
2 oz. watermelon infused rum
.75 oz fresh lime (lemon is pretty good, too)
.25 oz orgeat (I like Small Hands)
.25 oz gum syrup (again, Small Hands is perfect)
.25 oz cranberry-infused curacao and maraschino mix
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.
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. Continue reading →
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.
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.