Oct
15
2014

Imbiber

Burritt Room + Tavern's Chameleon on the new fall menu

Burritt Room + Tavern’s Chameleon on the new fall menu

My Top Drink Articles: October 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to 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.

Wine

All-day dream cafe, LES CLOS, opens from Saison sommelier Mark Bright, serving impeccable French food & wines

Cocktails

CHARLIE PALMER’s BURRITT ROOM + TAVERN: New Chef’s Table with cocktail pairings

MARLOWE reopens in the former Coco500 space, now with cocktails

ALTA’s new cocktail & food pairing menu, new fall cocktails, house root beer and house made spirits

PATHOS, Berkeley’s Greek dining, wine and cocktail destination

Best Thing We Drank: New Fall Cocktails at BURRITT ROOM + TAVERN

Beer

MONK’s KETTLE REOPENS with sidewalk seating and new draft system

SF CRAFT BEER Festival

Alta's Conquistador on the fall menu

Alta’s Conquistador on the fall menu

FacebookShare
Written by in: Imbiber | Tags: , ,
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)

FacebookShare
Written by in: Imbiber | Tags: , ,
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

FacebookShare
Written by in: Imbiber | Tags: , ,
May
01
2014

Imbiber

LODI’S LIGHTER SIDE: White & Rosè Wines

Article and Photos by Virginia Miller

In the heat-drenched valleys of Lodi, between Sacramento and Stockton, one expects big, jammy red wines and there are those. But there’s also a surprising number of deliciously affordable whites and roses, in a range of varietals, from the dry soils of the region. Thanks to Charles Communications, I’ve enjoyed a number of tastings with Lodi winemakers in recent months. Here are a few my standout whites and roses from these tastings:

Whites

(photo source: acquiescevineyards.com)

(photo source: acquiescevineyards.com)

2012 Estate Crush Albarino ($18): Though a custom crush facility, Estate Crush does produce a small amount of their own wines, including this crisp, lemon-y citrus white, fermented in stainless steel.
- 2011 St. Jorge Verdelho Seco ($18): This dry, tropical white from the Alta Mesa region of Lodi is from a varietal acquired in Winemaker Ron Silva’s family village in the Azore Islands of Portugal.
- 2012 Intuition Field Blend White ($22): Swiss-born Winemaker Markus Niggli takes more than a little inspiration from the fantastic whites of the Germanic countries in his lively, dry blend of 60% Kerner, 20% Riesling, 20% Gewurtzraminer grapes, the wine redolent of white pepper and lemon.
- 2012 Acquiesce Belle Blanc ($24): This soon-to-be-released blend of 60% Grenache Blanc, 30% Roussanne, and 10% Viognier varietals, is lush with pear, subtly floral, with a nice, dry finish.

Rosès

(photo source: onestawines.com)

(photo source: onestawines.com)

2012 Onesta Wines Cinsault Rosè ($18) – Fermented in stainless steel and 20% neutral oak for a touch of lush texture to the otherwise dry wine, this rose is 100% Cinsault grapes made in my favorite rosè style: Provencal. Though not from Provence, the grapes are from Lodi’s oldest vines planted in 1886, produced by a rosé production method, saignée, that involves bleeding off the juice after limited contact with the skins.
2012 McCay Cellars Rosè ($18) – This rosè is a blend of Carignane, Syrah and Grenache grapes, resulting in a dry, strawberry and citrus-laden wine, fermented in stainless steel.
2012 Sorelle Winery “Bella e Rosa” Rosado ($16) – From a winery that tends to make big reds in the Super Tuscan, Italian varietal vein, this blend of Sangiovese and Barbera varietals plays with tart strawberry notes on the crisper side.
2012 Heritage Oak Grenache Rosè ($18): This acidic yet round sipper calls for a summer afternoon and a warm breeze. It’s a blend of 75% Grenache, 12.5% Chardonnay, 12.5% Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

This Rose’ is Carinagnae based with Grenache and Syrah. The Carinagnae vfneyard was planted in 1909 and give this Dry Rose’ a Strawberry, Stone Peach and Red Ruby Grapefruit profile. Well balanced in the palate this Rose’ pairs well with food and is the perfect companion on a summer afternoon. Native fermentation and produced in stainless steel. – See more at: http://www.mccaycellars.com/wines.php#sthash.jVXG5R56.dpuf
This Rose’ is Carinagnae based with Grenache and Syrah. The Carinagnae vfneyard was planted in 1909 and give this Dry Rose’ a Strawberry, Stone Peach and Red Ruby Grapefruit profile. Well balanced in the palate this Rose’ pairs well with food and is the perfect companion on a summer afternoon. Native fermentation and produced in stainless steel. – See more at: http://www.mccaycellars.com/wines.php#sthash.jVXG5R56.dpu produced in stainless steel.
FacebookShare
Written by in: Imbiber | Tags:
Apr
01
2014

Imbiber

“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Anderson Valley from Anderson Valley Brewery grounds (photo: Virginia Miller)

Anderson Valley from Anderson Valley Brewery grounds (photo: Virginia Miller)

WHITE SPRING: Alsace Varietals (and more) from Anderson Valley

Article by Virginia Miller; Photos from winery websites

The further my palate develops, the more I adore white wines in all their wide range of complexities. Ignorantly, in my youthful days, I used to mostly drink reds, missing out on worlds of flavor. Thankfully, I’ve only fallen more in love with countless white varietals over years of incessant tasting. Among my favorite regions for white wine in the world is Alsace, on the northeast corner of France, bordering Germany and Switzerland. Due to this locale, there’s parallels between the wines of Alsace and Germany, another of my favorite white wine countries.

Characteristics of Alsace wines can be floral, aromatic, floral and certainly dry. As with Germany, Riesling and Gewürztraminer are the most common grape varietals of the region, though Pinot Gris follows close behind, with other varietals including Muscat and Pinot Blanc. Though tasting notes are largely arbitrary, I give broad descriptions as I like knowing the general categorizations, like floral vs. mineral, sweet vs. dry.

Angel's Camp

Angel’s Camp

On the heels of Anderson Valley’s Alsace Varietal Festival (held every February), and as I spent time this winter in the rolling hills, farmland and redwood forests of Mendocino County, I’ve been swimming in wines from the region. Here are a few Anderson Valley standouts, plus a few sparkling and reds, plus a few Alsace varietals from other West Coast locales for good measure.

2012 Angels Camp Vin Gris of Pinot Noir ($18) – An unusual, very small production rosé of pinot: only 18 cases this year, but that will increase in 2015. There’s an appealing funkiness to this dry rosé with crisp berry notes. Owner Brian Zalaznick’s story of buying this vineyard after great personal loss inspires his unique wines.

Elke Vineyards – I liked every white I tried from this limited production winery, producing wine from twenty-year-old vines. 2011 Mary Elke Pinot Gris ($16) was fermented in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. The result is bracingly crisp with an undercurrent of ripe fruit. I found it particularly lovely with seafood. A decidedly non-Alsace varietal, 2011 Mary Elke Chardonnay ($19) is another strong white. Fermented in stainless steel, aged in neutral oak, it’s both mineral and acidic, inspired by the French region of Chablis. Elke Vineyards are primarily grape growers, growing for notable wineries, from nearby Mumm Napa and Roederer Estate, down to Au Bon Climat.

Phillips Hill Gewurz

Phillips Hill Gewurz

Phillips Hill 2012 Gewurztraminer, Valley Foothills Vineyard ($20) – Trying a few Phillip Hill whites, the clean tea and apple notes of this stainless steel-fermented wine stood out. Winemaker Toby Hill is an artist who lived and work in both NYC and San Francisco and designs the labels.

2012 Philo Ridge Pinot Gris, Klindt Vineyard ($20) – With a generous acidity (no oak, 0% malolactic fermentation), white grapefruit and bright tropical notes made this one a fine pairing with Asian food and heat.

SPARKLING:

Black Kite

Black Kite Cellars

Mendocino County’s sparkling producers are well known – with great reason. There’s value here from some of the best sparkling wines in the US. Roederer has long been my favorite, but I also love Schramsberg in Calistoga, on the edge of Anderson Valley. In addition, Scharffenberger Non-Vintage Brut Excellence ($20) is a strong value sparkling. I’ve always appreciated their rose brut, but the brut excellence also shines, a blend of 2/3 Chardonnay and 1/3 Pinot Noir grapes, it is made by traditional methode champenoise (bottle-fermented), tasting bready and bright.

AND A COUPLE ANDERSON VALLEY REDS:

On Point

On Point

Knez Winery 2011 Cerise Pinot Noir ($42): With a young, hip-yet-refined aesthetic, Knez wines feel fresh, whether a balanced 2011 Chardonnay, or the floral spice of the Cerise Pinot.

2011 On Point Christinna’s Cuvée Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($36) – The dark, artistic label jumps out first. The wine is almost as moody as the label, redolent of cherry spice, earth and silky tannins.

Black Kite Cellars Pinot Noir – I tasted through four different single vineyard expressions. Being a small vineyard, they are all from the same plot but varying patches of land. I preferred 2011 Kite’s Rest Vineyard ($45) and 2011 Stony Terrace Pinot ($55), the former bright with bing cherry and spice, the latter with a bolder, complex tone of black cherry, wood, mushroom and dark chocolate.

FOR GOOD MEASURE – A FEW OTHER WEST COAST ALSACE VARIETAL WINES:

Anne Amie Dry Riesling

Anne Amie Dry Riesling

2012 Foris Moscato ($14) – Produced in Rogue Valley, Oregon, surrounded by the Siskiyou mountain range, winemaker Bryan Wilson specializes in Alsace varietals. Though muscat can be a little sweet for me, this one strikes a fine balance – and at such a value. Inspired by the moscatos of Italy’s Piedmont region, they’ve been experimenting with moscato since 1976, and the the result is this floral, white peach-evocative, slightly effervescent white wine.

2012 Anne Amie Estate Riesling, Yahill-Carlton District ($20) – This Willamette Valley producer caught my eye with its Old World labels: paintings of 1800’s women that feel pulled from classic literature. The wine’s dry minerality and acidity (thanks to slow fermentation in stainless steel) impart notes of lime, nutmeg and candied lemon. I appreciate their whole line of whites.

2012 Trefethen Dry Riesling ($23) – I was surprised to like this Riesling as much as I did. I typically don’t look to warmer Napa for Rieslings, but this one is balanced with crisp citrus and floral notes of orange blossom and jasmine. It’s a lovely food pairing with sushi and other Asian cuisines.

2012 Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris ($24) – Another Willamette Pinot Gris, this vintage is bright with citrus and floral characteristics, tempered by a hint of green herbaceousness and a clean minerality.

FacebookShare
Written by in: Imbiber | Tags:
Oct
01
2013

Imbiber

Red Rabbit's Krakow Salt Mine

Red Rabbit’s Krakow Salt Mine

DRINKING in SAC TOWN

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Grappling Hook at Hook & Ladder

Grappling Hook at Hook & Ladder

Sac Town, our California Gold Country capital… known for its politics, surrounded by the boundless produce of inland California which us city dwellers richly benefit from. It’s a town I stop to dine in on the way to or from Tahoe but have only stayed the weekend in a couple times, despite its close proximity to San Francisco. A recent revisit meant I trekked to at least eight spots a day, combing the city’s restaurants, bars, coffee houses and more (read about food/dining here; and my slideshow article on Sacramento highlights for PureWow.

While they’ve been a beer town for awhile, the formerly non-existent cocktail scene has grown exponentially the last five years, throwing its 5th Cocktail Week this August. Innovation isn’t the town’s strong suit, compared to what’s long been happening in other cities around the world – the focus is instead on approachable, straightforward drinks using quality spirits. Wine is growing in sophistication with some small producers exhibiting Old World restraint despite inland heat, as at Revolution.

Red Rabbit

Red Rabbit’s Chappelle Cocktail

Getting the worst out of the way, there was an appalling four spots in one weekend (far more than I experience at home or in frequent trips around the world) where service was lackluster to downright bad. In fact, for those I bothered to give a second chance to (something I typically cannot do, particularly when visiting eight places in a day), service only improved when meeting with a manager. A warm welcome, if not knowledgeable, engaged service, should be standard in raved-about places. Given the wealth of amazing spots in Nor Cal, it’s maddening to pay to be treated with indifference, or, as happened at a renowned cocktail bar, to leave a watery, tasteless drink virtually untouched, and not even be asked if everything was ok when I paid for it.

Compared to what we’re surrounded by in San Francisco, Sac might not (at first glance) seem to be making waves. But it’s a town that has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. Though you might see trends (gourmet donuts & hipster, third wave coffee, etc.) that have been established for years in other cities, Sacramento seems to be finding that sweet spot of embracing the bounty surrounding it and expressing it straightforwardly. Food and drink aficionados can find plenty to satiate here, graced with a California heartland freshness.

Wine

REVOLUTION WINES

Revolution Wines - Virginia Miller

St. Rey Celeste

At Revolution – a winery, restaurant and tasting room in the heart of town – Winemaker Craig Haarmeyer graciously tasted me through their wines from the barrel and the bottle. The whites are a balanced pleasure, like a crisp St. Rey Albarino ($22 per bottle) or grassy, floral, whole cluster Sauvignon Blanc ($19), rested in stainless steel. There are also nuanced reds like the Celeste Sacramento County blend ($30) or pepper-berry notes of a blessedly acidic Zinfandel ($26).

Haarmeyer is experimenting with Syrah grapes grown at over 2500 feet above the nearby town of Auburn. He wisely picks early, veering away from overripeness, ensuring elegant balance to his wines (not to mention the value for the quality). I was privileged to sample an experimental dry vermouth, made with rose petals, rosemary, black pepper, gentian, quinine and sage. I immediately began picturing its best gin pairing, imagining it in a martini – I hope it might be a future release.

Beer

TRACK 7 BREWING

Track 7

Track 7

Sac Town’s cult brewery, Track 7 Brewing, recently turned 1 year old, celebrating with a double-hopped version of their popular Panic IPA, a pleasingly bitter, lively release I had on draft at nearby Red Rabbit.

Friends and former home brewers, Geoff Scott and Ryan Graham, run a welcoming garage brewery where you can bring in your own food or eat from a revolving lineup of food trucks (like Chando’s Taqueria, Krush Burger, Orale Mole, Mama Kim Cooks, etc…), fill up growlers, and sample beers.

After sampling eight beers at the brewery, my favorites (besides the passion fruit bitter of the Panic IPA) are a bright and bready Delta King Saison or malty-earthy Soulman Stout. There are countless fantastic breweries in California, and Track 7 is one of them.

Bars

Inviting bar

Inviting bar

RED RABBIT

Besides being the kind of restaurant that serves winning fusion combinations like a pastrami stir-fry ($14.50), The Red Rabbit is a laid back, friendly, all-day watering hole.

Barman/Owner Matt Nurge (one of the cocktail pioneers in the area who helped open The Shady Lady) ensures quality cocktails ($8-9), heavy on classics like a Boulevardier or Chappelle Cocktail (gin, sweet vermouth, lime, falernum, pineapple). Try the signature house cocktail, Krakow Salt Mine, a salty-sweet refresher of Zubrowka vodka, apple cider, lemon, ginger beer, and kosher salt. The vibe is right at Red Rabbit: relaxed without sacrificing quality.

GRANGE

Elegant Long Island Iced Tea

Elegant Long Island Iced Tea

At Grange in the Citizen Hotel, engaging Bar Manager Ryan Seng (also one of the opening crew at Shady Lady) has created a strong cocktail program, and from what I could see, trains staff well based on the gracious service I encountered even when he was not around.

Seng runs a smart house barrel program with three personally-selected barrels of Bols Genever, Herradura Reposado tequila and Woodford Reserve bourbon he selected in their home country/distillery of origin (in fact, I saw his barrel of Bols Genever in the Bols warehouse outside of Amsterdam when I visited this May, ready to be shipped to California).

Tusk

Tusk

My favorite cocktail at Grange is Seng’s blend of all three house barrels into a boozy-elegant (yes, elegant) Long Island Iced Tea. I’ve never liked that sloppy, booze monster of a drink, but this version makes me reconsider. Another standout is the Grange Margarita ($14) made with their Herradura double barrel reposado tequila, house curacao, lime and agave, rimmed with smoked lime sea salt.

Tusk ($10), a savory-sweet blend of Four Roses bourbon, bacon vermouth and absolutely delicious candied bacon, is sweet and gratifyingly robust. Though I’ve seen bacon-infused whiskey many a time over the years around the US, Seng’s version is a crowd-pleaser.  Spectacular Spectacular ($12) is the aperitif of choice, using Hendrick’s Gin and Grange select barrel aged Bols Genever, mixed with plum, lemon and topped with Prosecco, making a dry, pre-dinner refresher.

HOOK & LADDER

Hook & Ladder's special brand branded via iron onto citrus peels

Hook & Ladder’s special brand branded via iron onto citrus peels

Hook & Ladder is a go-to for low key drinks, rotating cocktails on tap, and a solid collection of craft spirits. The bar is run by Chris Tucker, who was one of the pioneering bartenders to usher in Sacramento’s cocktail renaissance (another in the opening crew at The Shady Lady). He’s got other potential projects in the works, but at H&L, he’s the one person in town featuring a hand-cut ice program and an unusual (and smart) designated driver drink section where house ginger beer, honey blueberry lemonade or a strawberry shrub with soda ($3 each) are free for designated drivers.

Pimm's Proper

Pimm’s Proper

Besides local draft beers like Berryessa or Track 7, there’s wines on tap (like Saintsbury Chardonnay) or nearby producers I’ve enjoyed in recent years such as Lee Family Farm Rio Tinto ($9/32). The cocktail menu is straightforward and fun, offering Cheekies (one-ounce social shots), highballs, bucks, and rotating draft cocktails ($8-9) of classics like a Negroni, Bijou, Martinez, all barrel aged in a 6-gallon French oak barrel.

Pimm’s Proper ($8) is a variation on the Pimm’s Cup combining Pimm’s, gin, lemon juice and ginger beer, or there’s a Grappling Hook ($8) showcasing Candolini Grappa Ruta with Punt E Mes sweet vermouth and Luxardo Maraschino liqueur. My favorite cocktail is seemingly simple: Tucker’s La Fresa ($9) mixes Espolon Blanco tequila with a house strawberry shrub. The shrub is all tart, vinegar brightness – as a good shrub should be – restrained strawberry made complex and savory by salt, pepper, coriander.

HOCK FARM CRAFT & PROVISIONS

Hock Farm's playful-chic decor

Hock Farm’s playful-chic decor

New Hock Farm Craft & Provisions, serves farm-fresh food sourced from nearby farms – far from a unique concept (think ubiquitous gourmet deviled eggs, fried green tomato BLTs, etc.), but it’s well-executed and comforting, the menu featuring a map highlighting the wealth of nearby produce and animal sources, county-by-county.

Bottled cocktails &  bacon popcorn

Bottled cocktails & bacon popcorn

What stood out at spacious, well-designed Hock Farm was Bar Manager/Managing Partner Brad Peters’ cocktails. “Bubbled and bottled” cocktails ($9) are straightforward – Aviation gin and house tonic or Papa’s Pilar rum and a house cream soda, effervescent and lively. An Irish banana colada ($10) combines Jameson Irish whiskey infused with banana and Perfect Puree of Napa Valley coconut and pineapple purees. It’s creamy, tropical goodness – with a touch of Irish.

LOWBRAU

LowBrau beer cocktails

LowBrau beer cocktails

Hipster Germanic fare it is, but what sets LowBrau apart from other such artisan sausage and craft beer joints around the country is damn good sausages on pretzel buns, killer sauces (they perfect curry ketchup), and alongside the beers, the addition of elegant cocktails, and an impressive collection of rare herbal liqueurs (Schwartzhog, Killepitsch, Rossbacher) and schnaps/eaux de vie (Schladerer Himbeer Liqueur, Schonauer Apfel, Freihof Marile Apricot brandy) from Austria, Switzerland, Germany.

Cocktails ($9) and beer cocktails ($7) include the likes of the Zimmerman Plan, giving smoky Del Maguey Vida Mezcal a kick of refreshing lime, orange juice, cilantro simple syrup, jalapeno and a fizzy splash of Hefewiezen. There’s also rare beers from Copenhagen or hot US craft beers like Prairie Ales.

ENOTRIA

Cocktails at Enotria

Cocktails at Enotria

Enotria is arguably the most advanced dining menu in Sacramento at the moment with impeccable wine pairings from Tyler Stacy. Cocktails ($12) by Russell Eastman likewise surprise, and are worth a visit to a somewhat generic-looking bar (the white light-draped outdoor patio is preferable). Employing savory and herbaceous elements in his drinks, Eastman avoids the “same old thing” a cocktail geek is used to expecting (i.e. classics), and instead creates cocktails more in line with a Scott Beattie ethos, utilizing produce and showcasing California bounty.

Eastman’s Electric Relaxation combines tequila blanco, Lillet Blanc, mezcal (for a hint of smokiness), lemon and thyme with a vibrant blueberry-white pepper shrub, resulting in a vivacious drink. A Salvador Dali mixes gin, Campari, lemon, lemongrass and sesame – blessedly heavy, almost textural, with the sesame, though I tasted little lemongrass.

Thankfully, one of the Sac’s best restaurants is also a great place to drink.

SPIRITS SELECTION

CORTI BROTHERS

Corti Brothers

Corti Brothers

From the exterior, Corti Brothers looks like the 1940’s-era grocery store it is, a bit dingy and plain in a nondescript area of Sacramento. Besides boasting an old school deli (take a number and expect a bit of wait) churning out hearty sandwiches, Corti surprises with solid beer and wine sections and an unexpectedly dense spirits selection – the best in the area. This is not an elevated liquor store like Cask in San Francisco or Hi-Time in So Cal, but it may be the best grocery store liquor selection I’ve ever seen. There’s an impressive array of small batch spirits, amari from Italy, Eastern European liqueurs and other rarities one would not expect to find in a place like this.

COFFEE

One of 2 Temple Coffee locations visited

One of 2 Temple Coffee locations visited

Find Sac’s best artisan, third wave coffee at Temple, Insight Coffee, or local’s favorite, Chocolate Fish. Insight in particular is obviously hipster and trendy (think artful graffiti, ubiquitous beards and handlebar mustaches, Chemex and Hario v60’s lining the walls) but the coffee is strong at all three coffee houses, providing a robust fix whether you order a cold brew or a pour over.

FacebookShare
Written by in: Imbiber | Tags: , , , ,
Sep
01
2013

Bibliophile

Best Drink Books of 2013

Article by Virginia Miller

Here are some of the best or noteworthy drink books released this year so far, with one (Whiskey Women) out in October 2013.

THE COCKTAIL LAB – Tony Conigliaro ($29.99)

Tony Conigliaro BookLondon’s experimental cocktail genius, Sicilian Tony Conigliaro, blessed drink aficionados with his book, Drinks, last year in the UK, just released this summer in the US under the name, The Cocktail Lab: Unraveling the Mysteries of Flavor and Aroma in Drink, with Recipes. Updated with ounce measurements for an American audience, the artful book captures an intense level of experimentation that has made Conigliaro the Ferran Adria of cocktails, Adria being one of the chefs Conigliaro visited and learned from in his early days of research.

Conigliaro presents approachable recipes and alternatives for those who don’t possess sous vide, Rotavapor or centrifuge equipment he often works with. In fact, The Cocktail Lab is a fascinating read because of Conigliaro’s scientific and culinary research. Whether exploring the oft neglected realm of aroma with peer Audrey Saunders or learning from the great restaurants of the world (like Adria’s El Bulli or England’s The Fat Duck), his level of analysis is meticulous. He pushes the boundaries of what drink can be, delving into flavor, aroma and liquid form in unequaled ways.

He founded one of the most exciting bar menus in the world at 69 Colebrooke Row and later Zetter Townhouse, two of my favorite bars in London. I’ll never forget my visit to Drink Factory, his experimental lab in Pink Floyd’s old recording studio. Just as in a visit to his lab, his book delves into straightforward-yet-complex recipes, like a sweet broiled lemon margarita or a white truffle martini. Conigliaro explores texture and taste, whether working with seaweed in a Dirty Martini by the Sea, or taking on the greatest brunch cocktail, a Ramos Gin Fizz, moving it in new directions with Italian almond milk and maraschino liqueur.

The Cocktail Lab won Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards this July, being the kind of book that inspires just by glancing through it. It also remains a useful compendium of intricate yet approachable (often no more than three ingredients) cocktails.

The DRUNKEN BOTANIST: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks – Amy Stewart ($19.95)

Drunken BotanistA book that has taken cocktail and spirits geeks by storm this year, The Drunken Botanist, is Amy Stewart’s impressive tome to all things herbal and botanical, a detailed walk through history, uses, and engaging stories of plants, fruits and vegetables used to make alcohol.

From apple varietals used for cider to a thorough exploration of gin botanicals, Stewart uncovers plants with a botanist’s eye and a cocktail/spirit lovers’ appreciation. In fact, Stewart succeeds in writing a book more comprehensive than any yet seen on the subject, while keeping a lighthearted tone that offers something for a wide range of readers, from budding bartender to lifelong gardener and herb grower. No wonder it’s a New York Times bestseller.

WHISKEY WOMEN – Fred Minnick ($26.95)

Whiskey WomenFred Minnick’s Whiskey Women attempts what the group Bourbon Women seeks to achieve: “… to take back something they [women] had lost – a lady’s rightful place in whiskey history.”

Going back to the Sumerian women who invented beer, and the Egyptian woman who created the alembic still, Minnick confirms that women have been behind the greatest strides in alcohol – without receiving credit for it. Well-researched stories from hundreds of years back are fascinating tales of innovation, oppression, corruption and pioneering acts initiated by or inflicted on women in the name of alcohol.

Minnick digs into “tough Irish” and “aquavit-women” with respectful attention. There are stories of women-run distilleries like the very successful Mary Jane Blair Distillery, and of female moonshiners and outlaws, distilling since their teens.  No account of alcohol and women could leave out Prohibition, largely aided by the suffrage movement in reaction to rampant poverty, crime and debauchery often traced to alcoholic husbands. Minnick contrasts Temperance Women with a chapter, Women Moonshiners and Bootleggers, a riveting expose of women who kept booze alive during Prohibition. He comes full circle with Repeal Women Saving Whiskey, telling the story of Pauline Sabin, a Prohibition supporter who ended up being a crucial figure in its repeal.

Modern day whisk(e)y is not neglected, with stories of female master blenders (like Rachel Barrie, Helen Mulholland, Angela D’Orazio), executives and business women, or The First Lady of Scotch, Bessie Williamson, a secretary at Laphroaig who saved the distillery from military takeover and was instrumental in ushering in the demand for single malt vs. blends.

Whiskey Women brings praise and acknowledgement where it is due. Coming from a male writer, it speaks even louder, an enjoyable read of thoughtfully-assembled facts and stories illuminating the forgotten women of apothecaries and distilleries past.

AMERICAN WINE: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines & Wineries of the United States – Jancis Robinson & Linda Murphy ($50)

American WineA lovely coffee table book, American Wine explores the US wine revolution of the past few decades. Wineries across the country are grouped by region. In keeping with volume, quality and influence, the book certainly dominates in California, Oregon, and Washington, but covers winemakers from New York’s Finger Lakes to Hawaii.

With over 7,000 American wine producers today (merely 440 in 1970), British writer Jancis Robinson and Sonoma-based Linda Murphy, deftly weave through key moments in US wine history and noteworthy wineries via photos, 54 maps, bios, and stories. Robinson is the writer of The Oxford Companion to Wine and The World Atlas of Wine, while Murphy was the wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times‘ wine website, so one can be assured of an expert exploration of American wine with global perspective.

Photo: anillustratedguidetococktails.com

Photo: anillustratedguidetococktails.com

AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE to COCKTAILS: 50 Classic Cocktail Recipes, Tips and Tales – Orr Shtul, Illustrations by Elizabeth Graeber ($20)

With whimsical artwork and a humorous, conversational tone, An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails ($20) is a fun, almost childlike, little guide to classic cocktail basics.

For the advanced fan, there are few new recipes or discoveries, and yet it’s an enjoyable collection and reminder of cocktail lore for the expert, as it is a useful compilation and introduction for the novice.

The illustrations and playful tone make cocktail history and education in staple recipes a pleasure.

THE CRAFT of GIN – Aaron J. Knoll & David T. Smith ($25)

CraftofGinCoverThe Craft of Gin ($21.25) is a useful overview of all things gin, from digging into typical botanicals used and where they’re sourced around the globe, to tasting notes on many craft gins from the US, UK and beyond.

Knoll and Smith study gin methodically and rigorously, exploring hundreds of gins in their websites, The Gin is In (Knoll) and Summer Fruit Cup (Smith). Besides an overview of gin history, they also interview a number of gin distillers of small, craft brands, and there’s a section on gin’s favorite companion, tonics.

FacebookShare
Written by in: Bibliophile | Tags: ,
Jul
15
2013

The Latest

Deviled eggs and smoked duck popcorn in a wooden Gascon shoe

Deviled eggs and smoked duck popcorn in a wooden Gascon shoe

Transporting New Gascon Wine Bar
from Michelin-Starred Chef

Photos & Article by Virginia Miller

AQUITAINE, Financial District (175 Sutter St. between Lick Place & Kearny St., 415-402-5290)

Pressed tin ceiling glows w/ artful lighting

Pressed tin ceiling glows with artful lighting

We lost San Francisco’s great, historic spirits shop, John Walker & Co. But the former storefront has been reinvented in what could have been just another wine bar. One-month-old newcomer, Aquitaine, is a stand-out wine bar and restaurant, transporting me straight to Europe. Opened by Michelin-starred chef extraordinaire, Laurent Manrique (whose cooking I relished during his days at legendary Aqua), the space is comfortably funky, eclectic, warmed by yellows, woods, and unique light fixtures glowing off a pressed tin ceiling.

g

Magret of duck

Aquitaine serves an impressive wine list of uncommon varietals from Gascony, France’s southwest corner where Manrique hails from. Here I’ve sipped less familiar varietals like dry, white 2011 Bru-Bache Gros Manseng ($12), a stunningly earthy, crisp varietal with a mushroom-y nose. Though the wine list veers French, another acidic beauty is a 2012 Apaltagua Carmenere Rose from Colchagua Valley, Chile, while I’m crazy about a wine from one of my favorite Napa producers of the past few years, Forlorn Hope. 2007 Forlorn Hope Cadets Petit Verdot ($18) is a Gascon-style red made from 100% Petit Verdot grown in Suisun Valley near Sacramento.

Smoked duck popcorn or calamari served in a traditional Gascon wooden shoe

Smoked duck popcorn or calamari served in a traditional Gascon wooden shoe

Transporting interior

Transporting interior

Expecting basic (read: unexciting) charcuterie and cheese/wine bar fare, I should have known better with Manrique involved. The food made quite a statement from Executive Chef Patrick Colson. Grignoter (bites) are available all day, while larger plates and appetizers are available after 5:30pm.

Similar to Dutch wooden shoes, here wood Gascony peasant shoes are lined with paper, acting as serving receptacles for smoked duck popcorn ($5) laced with decadent hunks of duck meat, or tender, herb-redolent calamari: calamars persillades ($13). Both are menu highlights, beautiful with a glass of wine.

IMG_0179

Escouton Landais

As satisfying as Italian polenta or Southern grits, Escouton Landais ($16) is the Gascon version: fine-milled corn flour, rich and creamy with Pyrenees cheese, topped with rosemary and cherry tomatoes. Magret of duck ($28 for two) is an arresting presentation. Roasted on the bone, the duck’s neck elegantly drapes over the plate, graced in savory shallot marmalade. The plate rests dramatically on a bed of twigs piled atop a Gascon rooftop tile. Attention to detail is impressive.

Inviting basement

Inviting basement

Just as touches from the entire Aquitaine region appear (Pyrenees mountains to Gascony), so is Aquitaine’s famed wine region, Bordeaux, acknowledged, particularly in dessert.

h

Iles Flottantes

Traditional Bordeaux canneles are doused in Armagnac Pruneaux creme ($9), while fresh, dark berries float in a Bordeaux wine/vanilla syrup ($7). Though meringue or custard-like desserts don’t typically call to me, my top dessert choice here is Iles Flottantes ($7), essentially a floating island (the definition of iles flottantes) of soft, poached meringue (traditionally made from egg whites, sugar, vanilla extract) in a pool of warm crème anglaise. It’s light yet simultaneously decadent.

Head down to comfy couches in Aquitaine’s glowing basement with a glass of sweet Floc de Gascogne to finish. As with my favorite European cafes and worldwide haunts, this space invites lingering over stimulating conversation with a close friend or lover.

FacebookShare
Written by in: The Latest | Tags: ,

Site Admin | Log out | Theme: Aeros 2.0 by TheBuckmaker.com