I sample dozens of spirits, wines, beers and beyond in any given month. If there are tasting events (and there are), then multiply that a few times. Here are the ones that rose above, recommends for everyday sipping (and beyond):
LOCANDA, 557 Valencia Street between 16th & 17th, 415-863-6800
I am sad not to see the talented Brian MacGregor running this bar (he originally built the program). Interim bar manager Eric Alperin launched Locanda’s bar program (the latest restaurant is from the owners of Delfina). As one of LA’s top bartenders (from one of LA’s best bars, The Varnish), he brings his classy precision to their short but rich cocktail menu.
Though there on my first visit, Alperin is already back in LA, and the bar is now being overseen by Michael Sager, formerly of Milk & Honey London. In the meantime, it’s a worthy stop for understated, elegant cocktails (all $10).
Smoke & Spice really lays on the peat from an Islay scotch float, while gin, Carpano Antica and citrus peel compose the drink. Go refreshing with Nona del Diavolo: rye, Strega, ginger, lime and seltzer on the rocks, topped with a cube of candied ginger. I’m ever pleased to see grappa on a cocktail menu. Here it’s in the Agro Uve with peach, lemon, egg and bitters for another refresher.
My second visit entailed La Bella Confusione (bartender’s choice), a classic Eastside, aromatic with fresh cucumber and mint. They mostly seem to focus on the classics in this category (a bartender suggested a Ward 8 and other classics I love but make frequently at home), while their short list of in-house specials is focused and appealing.
TRYBOX Series of NEW MAKE AMERICAN WHISKIES
Thanks to Daniel Hyatt at the Alembic, I sampled Heaven Hill’s latest Trybox Series. Un-aged New Make American whiskies, they produced both a rye and a bourbon (or, rather, the same grain recipe, aka mashbill, as bourbon and rye but clear and un-aged).
I love the cask strength intensity of both, both fiery smoothness layered with flavor, particularly the bourbon mashbill with its nose of sweet corn and clean, cornfield taste. It’s the base for Heaven Hill bourbons like Evan Williams and Elijah Craig. New Make rye is is the same mashbill used to produce Rittenhouse Rye, spicy and fruity simultaneously.
Once again, Heaven Hill does it right.
COLONEL E.H. TAYLOR JR. OLD-FASHIONED SOUR MASH BOURBON
Danny Louie, bartender extraordinaire (also launching an Asian food truck, TomKat), turned me on to the new Colonel E.H. Taylor Bourbon at the Alembic recently. Allocated (in the spirits world, this means few bottles set aside for specific bars and shops on a limited basis due to low production and/or high demand), this is a limited-edition bourbon. If you can get your hands on a bottle, it is delightful.
Bourbon Blog deems it “serious, full flavor”, saying “If a glass of ‘Bold Bourbon Pie’ existed, this could be it.” I’d have to agree: it’s bold, rich, yet surprisingly smooth, redolent of oak, spice and candied apple. Go now to Alembic and order a pour ($14) before it’s gone.
At Taste of Tamales & Tequila By the Bay, I was quite busy judging cocktails over a four hour period. But in between, I made a beeline for tequila tables I was unfamiliar with.
Alquimia is an organic, family-owned tequila that impressed immediately.
Their anejo and blanco secured gold medals in the SF World Spirits Competition, though the entire line is worth trying. Their brand new extra anjeo, as well as their anejo, surprise with a light body but layers of complexity and taste, both unusual anejos. The blanco and reposado are equally clean and bright.