Sep
01
2014

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5 New Under-the-Radar Spirits to Try

Article by Virginia Miller

Many spirits cross my desk or are tasted at countless bars or distilleries I visit in any given month… here are 5 international spirits — from gin to mezcal, Scotch to rye whiskey — that have stood out in recent months.

CALEDONIA SPIRITS’ BARR HILL GIN ($35)

Barr HillThomas Hardie (a distiller I was privileged to meet recently on his trek out West) runs a farm in Vermont where he produces Barr Hill Gin and Vodka, made from local organic honey and grains, both recently gaining distribution in California. Growing up as a lifelong farmer, Hardie has been beekeeping with his family since he was 12 and started doing so commercially by age 20. His raw honey is exquisite and is the fermented base — with corn grain — for his products. Rather than sweetness, the honey imparts a subtle freshness to both products, the creamy-grassy gin is happily juniper-forward.

They are working on beer-distilled whiskies to be released over the coming months: the 1st release is 5 months aged corn whiskey made of 80% corn, 20% rye and barley. I also hope to try Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat, essentially an Old Tom-style gin distilled with juniper and honey.

Where to Buy: At K&L and Wine Warehouse

HIGHLAND PARK’s DARK ORIGINS ($79.99)

HP Dark OriginsOut this fall, one of my all-time favorite Scotch houses, Highland Park (the 18 year is the quintessential Highland Scotch) is just releasing Dark Origins, a non-chill filtered single malt (ABV 46.8%) that ups the sherry cask quotient compared to the classic Highland Park 12 year Scotch. All that sherry wood means spice and chocolate notes, but I also appreciate its nuanced nutty, softly smoky aspects.

MARCA NEGRA MEZCAL ($64.95 – $139.95)

Marca Negra Mezcals are distilled in the mountains of Oaxaca, near the village of San Luis del Rio, with a horse pulling a stone wheel to crush the roasted agave plants pre-fermentation. This is a process I was privileged to see in my journeys around Oaxaca (along with witnessing ancient clay pot distillation first hand, an almost dead art in most spirit categories).

Marca Negra MezcalThough I wish I could visit Marca Negra’s distillers directly, I’ve enjoyed tasting 4 of their mezcal releases (there’s 5 total in California, with the 5th an Arroqueno varietal), from a semi-sweet, floral and white pepper-inflected Ensamble Mezcal Marca Negra, to the herbaceous, sweet and smoky Dobadán Mezcal Marca Negra (both $139.95).

But my favorites are the elegant Tobalá Mezcal Marca Negra ($139.95), with its vegetal, tropical notes undergirded by smoke (only 1250 bottles), and the smoky, woody spice of the dry Espadín Mezcal Marca Negra ($64.95), both Double Gold and Gold medal winners (respectively) in the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. They are both beauties and welcome new mezcal options.

GLENGLASSAUGH ($64.99-$79.99)

Anchor Distilling recently began importing Glenglassaugh Scotch from a Speyside distillery dating back to 1875, bought in 2013 by Billy Walker and BenRiach Whisky Company. They just imported 5 single malts, including a 30 ($500) and 40 year ($3000) Scotch, from barrels ranging from 1963-1986.

On the more affordable end, three releases cover a range of Scotch tastes: Revival ($64.99, 46% ABV) is the first single malt from the reborn Glenglassaugh, aged in red wine, bourbon and Oloroso sherry barrels, the softest, sweetest and roundest of the three. Evolution ($79.99, 50% ABV), matured in first-fill George Dickel Tennessee whiskey barrels, and Torfa ($74.99, 50% ABV), the Norse word for peat, both exhibit a progressive peatiness, Evolution being soft with smoke and spice and the Torfa surprisingly peaty for a Speyside whisky.

Where to Buy: D&M

LOCK, STOCK & BARREL 13 Year STRAIGHT RYE WHISKEY ($140)

Lock Stock RyeOut longer than the other spirits listed here, Lock, Stock & Barrel Rye is expensive, no question. Though I’ve heard some rumors of it being a blend of pre-existing whiskies, the story behind it is that is Pennsylvania distilled from Pacific Northwest rye grain (100%) modeled after the historic styles of rye during the American Revolutionary War when it was our country’s drink of choice.

Robert Cooper (who founded St. Germain) created this 13 year-aged rye. While it is a soft one, each sip grows on you. There is minimal spice compared to some bracing ryes, notes of honeyed oak and salted caramel, but what surprises me is rosy, pink apple notes that impart a soft freshness to the rye. If you want spice and robustness, this isn’t your rye, but I appreciate its unique slant and place in the category.

Where to Buy: At D&M for $119.99

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Aug
15
2014

Imbiber

Urchin Bistrot Cocktail-Virginia Miller

Cocktails at Urchin Bistrot in the Mission

My Top Drink Articles: August 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for the Bay Area here and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily.

Cocktails/Spirits

– First Look: What to Drink at the new URCHIN BISTROT in the Mission
- WHITECHAPEL: Martin Cate’s (of Smuggler’s Cove) New Gin Temple
– Trendspotting: FRENCH SPIRITS-CENTRIC BAR PROGRAMS
– 5 Best Things I Drank at EAT DRINK SF

Wine

3 Killer WINES TO DRINK NOW on Bay Area Menus

Beer

Take a Beer Break at BARREL HEAD BREWHOUSE

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Aug
01
2014

Imbiber

Erik Adkins cocktails at South at SFJAZZ - the new Mexican restaurant from Charles Phan

Erik Adkins cocktails at South at SFJAZZ – the new Mexican restaurant from Charles Phan

My Top Drink Articles: July 15-31

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for the Bay Area here and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily.

Cocktails

San Francisco wins at TALES OF THE COCKTAIL

ERIK ADKINS’ cocktails at CHARLES PHAN new Mexican restaurant/bar, SOUTH

Full bar and cocktail menu at NEW, EXPANDED OUTERLANDS by Ocean Beach

Pam Bushling’s garden-fresh cocktails in SONOMA (Healdsburg) at romantic MADRONA MANOR

Wine & cocktail recommends (French-centric) at Corey Lee’s new MONSIEUR BENJAMIN

A fantastic Lavender Flip and more at brand new SHAKEWELL in OAKLAND

Destination Oakland: cocktails at seafood haven, alaMar

Wine

New CADET wine + beer bar in NAPA

BARREL ROOM ROCKRIDGE’s wine classes study Spanish and Portuguese wines

Beer

ABBOTS CELLAR sells rare beers from its (and Monk’s Kettle) cellars

Books

3 NEW BOOKS (2 of them cocktail books from drink experts in NY and Portland)

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Jul
15
2014

Imbiber

Alembic's Heir Apparent, one of my 7 top summer cocktails

Alembic’s Heir Apparent, one of my 7 top summer cocktails

My Top Drink Articles: July 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for the Bay Area here and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily.

Cocktails

The 7 BEST SUMMER COCKTAILS in the Bay Area

The 10 HOTTEST BARS in SF Right Now

ABV: Elevated COCKTAILS & BAR FOOD from cocktail gurus and a Southern chef

8 FAVORITE COCKTAILS on WINGTIP‘s New Summer Menu

BLACKBIRD’s 5th Anniversary unique vertical barrel aged cocktails menu

4 UNIQUE STRAWBERRY COCKTAILS for Summer

First Taste at Parisian-influenced HAWTHORN LOUNGE with “Guilty Pleasure” 70s & 80s cocktails from ALEMBIC’s ETHAN TERRY

Wine

CHARLIE TROTTER Inspires New PARALLEL 37 (at the Ritz-Carlton) Dinners

LA TOQUE Makes Truffle Dinners a Summer Affair

OUTSIDE LANDS Summer Pairing Series from NAPA to SF

Beer

OUTSIDE LANDS Summer Pairing Series from NAPA to SF

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Jul
01
2014

Imbiber

Cafe Brulot flamed in the glass at Tosca Cafe

Cafe Brulot flamed in the glass at Tosca Cafe by bar manager Isaac Shumway

My Top Drink Articles: June 15-30

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for the Bay Area here and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily.

Cocktails

Real deal, New Orleans-style CAFE BRULOT – flamed tableside! – now on 2 notable SF cocktail menus

8 reasons to revisit LOCAL KITCHEN & WINE MERCHANT in SoMa – Victoria D’Amato-Moran’s new cocktail menu

URBAN PUTT GETS BOOZE – and what to eat one month in at the quirky mini-golf restaurant/bar

If Savannah (or other quirky, historic Southern town) met a California Gold Country Western town, it might feel a lot like PORT COSTA, home to one of the country’s best dive bars and a cosmopolitan restaurant and cocktail bar

NICO ADDS NEW ROSE PAIRING and LOW PROOF COCKTAIL menus with these dishes

The BEST COCKTAILS in LOS GATOS – and some of the best in the South Bay

Silky crudo, standout salads and Carlos Yturria’s cocktails at LURE + TILL in PALO ALTO

Wine

Chef JOSH SKENES on SAISON’s New $498 Test Kitchen Dinners and Winemaker Dinner Series

NICO ADDS NEW ROSE PAIRING and LOW PROOF COCKTAIL menus with these dishes

Wine tasting room in a submarine training vessel DEBUTS ON TREASURE ISLAND

New PIATTINI ADDS A SLICE OF VENICE to Mission St.

3 new LOCAL WINE COUNTRY GUIDES

Beer

The 8 BEST BEER GARDENS in the Bay Area

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Jun
15
2014

Imbiber

Creative Asian-influenced cocktails from Danny Louie at brand new Chino in the Mission

Creative Asian-influenced cocktails from Danny Louie at brand new Chino in the Mission

My Top Drink Recommends: June 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for the Bay Area here and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily.

As I have been for over a decade, I’m on the ground daily looking for early standouts at each new opening, while sharing underrated places and dishes you’ve seen me write about here at The Perfect Spot for years, and, of course, plenty of drink coverage (cocktails, wine, spirits, beer).

Spirits

4 NEW LOCAL SPIRITS from a rye and New Orleans-influenced coffee liqueur, to a California aperitif and a sloe gin

Cocktails

The 5 BEST MARGARITAS in San Francisco

6 early favorite cocktails from Bar Manager Danny Louie at CHINO

5 classic NEGRONIS to seek out in San Francisco

FIRST LOOK at THE INTERVAL at the Long Now Salon, complete with robot behind the bar and a Drinking Around the World menu (among 8 mini cocktail menus from Bar Manager Jennifer Colliau)

What to eat & drink at the new Paris-meets-NY chic hotel bar, THE EUROPEAN

NEGRONI WEEK Highlights

Coffee

Unsung Heroes: GRAFFEO COFFEE since 1935

Tea

Check out the new SAMOVAR: you’ve never had tea like this

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Jun
15
2014

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St. George's NOLA Coffee Liqueur (photo: Virginia Miller)

St. George’s NOLA Coffee Liqueur (photo: Virginia Miller)

6 New West Coast Spirits

Article by Virginia Miller; photos from brand websites except where noted

[Taken from my ZAGAT article on 4 New Local Spirits to Try, I have also added two additional recommended spirits, another one from California, and one from Oregon]:

In the scheme of quality spirits, each of these is fantastic. Even better, they’re all made locally from Sonoma to Mountain View. After all, we live in the region that pioneered the craft distilling movement back in the early ’80s at Germain-Robin (home of the first Cognac-quality brandies in the U.S.), St. George Spirits (where Jorg Rupf introduced European-style eaux de vie to the U.S.) and Anchor Distilling in SF (Where Fritz Maytag pioneered craft beer in the 60’s, then moved on to whiskies, genever and Junipero gin). In this rich tradition, come four new spirits, all released recently, utilizing local ingredients and talent.

1) Sonoma County Distilling Sonoma Rye Whiskey $62

Sonoma Rye1512 Spirits recently changed its name to Sonoma Country Distilling Company in tandem with Owner/Distiller Adam Spiegel’s expansion to a much larger Rohnert Park facility. What this means for you? More whiskey. Sonoma Rye Whiskey is the brand’s flagship whiskey made from 100% rye grain, ensuring robust spice and white pepper notes balanced by sweet caramel and oak. We appreciate the grain-to-glass processes and single-minded whiskey focus. Don’t miss their 2nd Chance Wheat Whiskey and West of Kentucky Bourbon either.
How to Drink It: Whiskey lovers are going to want to drink this neat or on the rocks. But the rye also makes a lovely Sazerac or Old Fashioned.
Where to Drink: They do it right in a cocktail at Alembic
Where to Buy: In SF at D&M, The Jug Shop, Healthy Spirits; at Ledgers in Berkeley

2) St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur ($33)

In March, venerable distilling pioneer St. George Spirits, released NOLA Coffee Liqueur. The liqueur starts local with cold-brewed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee beans roasted by Jewel Box Coffee Roasters, an up-and-comer in Oakland. St. George distiller Dave Smith cold-brews the coffee with their vodka base, adds distilled French chicory root, Madagascar vanilla and organic cane sugar. It’s like fresh, bracing, cold-brewed coffee – beautiful served neat, on ice, with cream. The liqueur is earthy and rich, with a whisper of sweet vanilla, and New Orleans spirit from the chicory.
How to Drink It: Sipping this spirit over ice transports us straight back to the hot, sultry streets of NOLA where we down chicory iced coffee as if it were water. It’s nearly as thirst-quenching but with a decided kick.
Where to Drink: The Lexington House in Los Gatos shows off the liqueur in this beautiful cocktail, Coffee & Cigarettes
Where to Buy: Order through K&L, Cask, or purchase directly at the distillery in Alameda

3) JARDESCA California Aperitiva $30

JardescaJust released a little over two weeks ago, this Sonoma-grown and blended apertif was created by SF bartender/Cantina owner, Duggan McDonnell, who is also behind Encanto Pisco. As with Encanto, JARDESCA is balanced and elegant, made with California grapes and 10 locally-grown herbs/botanicals. While you can consider it in the family of a lovely dry vermouth or European aperitif wines like Lillet, this is a unique, dry, crisp but also slightly sweet and floral, fortified white wine, evoking hints of peppermint and orange blossom.
How to Drink It: While you can certainly make lovely, light cocktails with it, we love it solo, served over ice.
Where to Drink: Absinthe, Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak, Clock Bar and the new Chubby Noodle Marina is featuring a JARDESCA infusion during its first month
Where to Buy: K&L, Little Vine in North Beach

4) Spirit Works Sloe Gin $38

SpiritWorks Sloe GinFrom husband/wife distilling team, Timo and Ashby Marshall, comes Spirit Works Distillery, opened last year in Sebastopol’s cool, forward-thinking The Barlow complex. They’re crafting gin, vodka, wheat and rye whiskies, but it’s their sloe gin that immediately began making waves. A berry-infused gin made from rosy sloe berries (in the plum family), traditional English sloe gins are often cloying, sweet and medicinal. But this is the best sloe gin we’ve tasted. And many others agree: Pay attention to how many local bars you’ll see stocking it. Made from wild sloe berries foraged in Timo’s native UK, the Marshall’s sloe gin maintains a bright berry sweetness balanced by dry, fresh acidity.
How to Drink It: It shines with tonic or in classic cocktails like a Sloe Gin Fizz
Where to Drink: Two Sisters Bar and Books in Hayes Valley, the new Zazu in The Barlow in Sebastopol
Where to Buy: D&M, Liquid Experience in Upper Haight

5) MARGERUM AMARO ($50)

Margerum AmaroMargerum Amaro is ideally timed for the amaro craze of recent years. California Central Coast (Buellton, to be specific) winemaker, Doug Margerum, developed a love for amari in trips to Italy and wanted to craft his own. With a Sangiovese base, its herbs and spices include parsley, sage, thyme, marjoram, lemon verbena, rosemary, dried orange peels, and local oak, for a fascinating sipper also lovely in cocktails, as Saison proved at their bar this winter.

6) CALISAYA ($30)

CalisayaFlorence, Italy, native, Andrea Loreto, lives in Eugene, Oregon, where he makes Calisaya liqueur, a sweet and subtly bitter liqueur. Bitter orange, gentle spice, floral, earthy and woody notes, and subtle bitterness from cinchona bark result in a pleasing entrant in the American amaro category.

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Jun
01
2014

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Sampling beers during Strong Beer Month at Magnolia Pub in San Francisco

Sampling beers during Strong Beer Month at Magnolia Pub in San Francisco

5 NorCal Beers You Should Try

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

SANTE ADAIRIUS’ SAISON BERNICE, Capitola

Sante Adarius' cask

Sante Adarius’ cask

Sante Adairius is Santa Cruz’ beloved beer haven since it opened in May 2012. Run by gracious Sante Adairius co-owners Tim Clifford and Adair Paterno, they not only make some the best beers in the area, but among the more exciting to come along in the massive beer world of California in the last couple years.

When I visited back in January, the place was mobbed on a Sunday afternoon, though at the end of deserted-looking street bordering the freeway. While I enjoyed the like of their Vanilla Joe made with local Verve Coffee, it’s their Saison Bernice (6.5% ABV), named after Tim’s mom’s middle name, that made the strongest impression, with its classic Belgian profile and lively nature. 

MAGNOLIA’S PROMISED LAND IMPERIAL IPA, San Francisco

Promised Land Imperial IPA’s 10.5% ABV, long, grapefruit-bitter finish was a standout during Strong Beer Month in February at Magnolia Pub. Thankfully, it’s still on the menu so we can continue to enjoy this bright, boozy beer.

RUHSTALLER’S GILT EDGE CALIFORNIA GOLDEN LAGER, Sacramento

Weekend crowds at Sante Adairus

Weekend crowds at Sante Adairus

Ruhstaller Beer uses almost all local, organic hops, grown at 2000 ft. elevation in volcanic soil near Mount Konocti. They’ll inform you that pre-Prohibition, Sacramento was once the world’s greatest hops growing region.

Their understated beers keep winning awards, particularly the refreshing Gilt Edge California Golden Lager. Best of all, they give a percentage of their sales to Pride Industries towards jobs for disabled and mentally handicapped.

PALO ALTO BREWING COMPANY’S COOL BEANZ COFFEE PORTER, Palo Alto

Palo Alto Brewing Company‘s Kasim Syed was brewing in San Jose, serving his beers only at Palo Alto’s Rose and Crown Pub, but demand grew and now his beers are all over the Bay Area. Cool Beanz Coffee Porter is a nutty-chocolate laden standout made with beloved cult SF coffee, Philz.

KNEE DEEP BREWING CO.’s HOPTOLOGIST DOUBLE IPA, Lincoln

Yes, it’s hoppy. In all the right ways. Knee Deep Brewing, located in the town of Lincoln between Sacramento and Auburn, creates award-winning, uber-hopped beers, thanks to Founder/Brewmaster Jeremy Warren, that keep the sometimes maligned category from being merely a gimmick. He crafts drinkable, flavor-intense beers, particularly Hoptologist Double IPA and Simtra Triple IPA.

Cheese platter with beer at Magnolia Pub

Cheese platter with beer at Magnolia Pub

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