Sep
15
2014

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Photo Source: Ben Krantz

Photo Source: Ben Krantz

St. George Spirits Releases 3 New Spirits

Article by Virginia Miller [ran in Zagat SF on September 3, 2014]

We love our St. George Spirits. From the rock and roll attitude of their tasting room and tours in a WWII hangar housing their Alameda distillery (reservations for tours and tastings here) to their fantastic gins, brandies, whiskies, rum, absinthe, coffee liqueur and eaux de vie, they’ve been one of the great American distilleries since the 1980s. This fall ushers in three new releases, all limited edition and sure to go quickly, hitting local shelves and local bars September-October (the whiskey will be available within the next week or two, the brandy and rum not till mid-Oct.) Whether you’re a rum, whiskey or brandy fan, St. George has you covered.

1) St. George California Reserve Apple Brandy ($60)

15 different varieties of local NorCal apples go into this gorgeous sipping brandy based off a special apple brandy they did exclusively for NYC’s famed fine dining temple Eleven Madison Park a couple years ago. That was unaged and now it is aged. Nothing could be more appropriate for fall.

2) St. George Single Malt, Lot 14 ($80)

St. George continues to turn out wonderful whiskies, year-after-year. This time it’s round 14 — it’s one of our favorites of all their single malt releases. Master distiller Lance Winters started aging some of this whiskey 15 years ago in his early days at St. George and it’s blessed with a lingering elegance and subtle spice.

3) St. George California Reserve Rum ($80)

We’re big fans of St. George’s wonderfully funky California Agricole Rum, done in the French Martinique style of rum (or rhum) — which means made from fresh sugar cane juice instead of molasses, allowing the rum’s grassy, lively properties to shine. Their rum has been aged for 3 years in French oak barrels and the results still exhibit that bold funk with a generous touch of oak.

Where to Buy: K&L, Healthy Spirits, Cask, Plumpjack Noe, Bi-Rite, Jug Shop

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Sep
15
2014

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3 Notable New Piscos

Article by Virginia Miller

One of my most unforgettable international distilling adventures was exploring — and even being part of — pisco production and blending in Peru with Encanto Pisco. I had already loved the spirit for years but fell even more in love after those travels. There are not a slew of pisco releases/imports in a year as there may be with other spirits, but there are some notable ones recently.

PISCO PAYET’s SINGLE VARIETAL TORONTEL ($32.95)

Payet Pisco Torontel Pisco Payet is a lovely import from Perú with an award-winning acholado (pisco blend) and Quebranta pisco from a family that studied production methods in wine (in California and Argentina) and French distilleries in Cognac and Bordeaux, to refine their pisco production.

My favorite of their three piscos, released last fall, is Pisco Payet Torontel, an herbaceous, floral pisco that goes down silky-smooth, showing off the sophisticated qualities of the Torontel grape.

Where to Buy: Beltramo’s, Cask, Blackwell’s Wines & Spirits

PISCO PORTON’s QUEBRANTA & TORONTEL SINGLE VARIETAL PISCOS ($39.99)

Pisco PortonAs the biggest brand in pisco in terms of dollars and influence, Pisco Porton’s acholado (blended pisco) can be found the world over. This fall, they are releasing — for the first time — two single varietal, estate-grown piscos that are the same price as their acholado ($39.99), despite the additional cost of producing Torontel specifically.

Their Quebranta exhibits those Quebranta grape qualities I love: earth and green notes, with hints of chocolate and sweet, spiced pear. The Torontel is elegant: bright and tropical on the nose, smelling of baked fruit in the sun, while its floral, blossom aspects shine to taste.

I recently had the privilege of an hour chatting with master distiller Johnny Schuler over — what else? — pisco, about the 120 people he employees, including mostly female distillers. He notes, “The origins of pisco are purity,” a quality you taste in both of Porton’s clean (but far from bland) new releases.

Where to Buy: Jug Shop, Swirl on Castro, D&M

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Sep
01
2014

Imbiber

Ramen Shop beauties, like this rye and beer cocktail

Ramen Shop beauties, like this rye, cherry and beer cocktail

My Top Drink Articles: August 16-31

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

Cocktails/Spirits

The TOP 5 BEER COCKTAILS to Drink Now, from SF to Oakland and Napa

The NEW COCKTAIL MENU at OAKLAND’s RAMEN SHOP

WINE & COCKTAIL Highlights at THE COMMISSARY in the Presidio

Cider

DEVOTO ORCHARDS CIDER from family-run apple orchards in SEBASTOPOL

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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

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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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