Spirits of the season
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Even the carousing readers of BARtab know that there's no place like home for the holidays. Which means well-stocked home bars, and well-versed home bartenders, are essential for the season.
Whether you're dropping in to friends' parties and can't imagine showing up empty-handed, or you're stocking up for your own home adventures in mixology, our last-minute gift list will surely add to your holiday "Cheers!"
Liquid locavores will appreciate something distilled right here in the Bay Area, and there's no better source than Alameda's own St. George's Distillery, located in a former airplane hangar on the grounds of Alameda's one-time navy yard. Among the boutique distillery's most giftable offerings is its set of three distinct gins in a boxed set of 200ml bottles. The Dry Rye gin has a strong hint of caraway seed and a heavy juniper presence. The Botanivore is smooth enough to drink straight.
And the Terroir, meant to evoke Mount Tamalpais with its incorporation of Douglas fir, bay laurel, and sage, tastes pretty much like a wet Christmas tree (Garnish with an angel or star).
St. George also makes a barrel-aged rum and a coffee liqueur that make great hot toddy bases for chilly evenings around the fireplace.
You can find St. George liquors at retailers throughout the Bay Area, but why not gift a trip to the source itself. St. George offers highly entertaining tours and tastings Wednesdays through Sundays. The $20 admission also gets you a tasting of six different libations; tasting only is $15. (2601 Monarch St. Alameda, www.stgeorgespirits.com).
While California law forbids the sampling of more than a half dozen spirits a day, we won't call the fuzz if, after slaying St. George, you head next door to the Hangar 1 Distillery for a few bonus sips of vodka. For the drinker who has everything, inquire about tracking down a bottle of the now rare special edition Hangar 1 Fog Point, which incorporates water from fog captured at Sutro Tower, near Ocean Beach, and in the Berkeley Hills. (2505 Monarch St., Alameda. www.hangarone.com)
Over the past few months, San Francisco bars have served as the launching pad for Lo-Fi Aperitifs, a new line of vermouths and amaro made with fortified California wines, available at local retailers.
A novel alternative to a bottle of bubbly, these sophisticated, limited production tipples can be sipped on their ownâ€"straight artisanal vermouth is a typical prelude to dinner at Parisian partiesâ€" or used in cocktails.
Local cocktail consultant Claire Sprouse of the Tin Room Drink Community (www.tinroofdrinkcommunity.com) develops recipes for Lo-Fi and offered up a great winter warmer:
2 oz Lof-Fi Gentian Amaro
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Garnish with a cinnamon stick
If you've got a gift recipient keen on concocting cocktails of their own, consider a gift certificate for a class at the California Academy of Bartending and Mixology (415-861-1000. www.bartendingsf.com) While the school is a proven training ground for professionals, it also offers a Fundamentals course appropriate for serious hobbyists and hosts with the most. The hands-on Saturday afternoon sessions offer key background on creating balanced drinks, so participants are inspired to craft their own rather than simply follow existing recipes.
With a little learning your friend might enter the pantheon of pourers featured in a terrific new book from Berkeley's 10 Speed Press: A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World by Robert Simonson, is a lively, surprising read that draws on interviews with hundreds of mixologists around the country, weaving its way from the heyday of T.G.I. Friday's to the reopening of the Rainbow Room and beyond. There are plenty of San Francisco stories here, including kudos to Rickhouse, Bourbon & Branch, and other drinkeries of note.
Another new booze book provides an ideal way to disappoint someone who was hoping you'd spring for Hamilton tickets. Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History by Steven Grasse mixes tavern-worthy quotes from the founding fathers, a history of early American drinking, and over 50 authentic recipes. Mix him up a batch of Cock Ale and all will be forgiven.
By New Year's weekend, you'll likely be ready to get out of the house and do some serious gift returning. If you're headed to one of our favorite shopping hubs, why not drink as a respite from retail?
In the heart of Hayes Valley, don't miss chef Adam Hubbell's decidedly non-Virgin Mary, the Brunchpad Bloody, Saturdays and Sundays at The Lunchpad. A strong contender for the city's best bloody (See also: Zeitgeist, Zuni, and NoPa), it comes with a swizzle strip of habanero-candied bacon and a thick slice of Hubbell's crisp, slightly mouth-puckering homemade pickle. (581 Hayes Street. www.thelunchpadsf.com).
And at new favorite hot spot Finn Town in the Castro (2251 Market Street. www.finntown.com), star barkeep Asheton Lemay is mixing up this newfangled Old Fashioned favorite:
Finn Town Old FashionedÂ
1 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon
1 oz H by Hine Cognac
1 bar spoon of hopped IPA syrup (1.5:1 mix of a strong IPA Beer and sugar cooked until thickened and syrupy)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Orange bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and add ice. Stir and strain into a mason jar. Garnish with brandied cherries or orange peel.
Enjoy your holiday libations, in moderation, of course.