Summer spirits: Libations for lovely longer days and nights

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Wednesday June 6, 2018
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As we head into summer, the Bay Area Reporter has ordered up a round of fresh libations. Whether you're looking for a new haunt, a new drink of choice, a wine country escape, or intellectual rationale for an impending hangover, we've sourced a miscellany of potable pleasures for your enjoyment.

Bars on our radar

Look beyond SoMa, the Mission and the city's other expected cocktail zones to find two stylish new watering holes that deserve high spots on your summer to-booze list.

Blow the minds of your out-of-town visitors, by following a traditional tourist dinner in Chinatown with a climb up the tucked away staircase at 644 Broadway to Cold Drinks, the drop-dead gorgeous cocktail bar from George Chen, above his China Live retail and restaurant emporium.

Behind a non-descript doorway marked only by crudely drawn bats is a sexy chrome and leather hideaway staffed by tuxedo-jacketed bartenders serving remarkably thoughtful and well-balanced cocktails in heavy, cut-crystal glassware.

Adding to the air of the unexpected is the fact that, while mix drinks of all sorts are available, the specialty cocktails here are all made with Scotch whiskies drawn from a collection of nearly 100.
The Old Fashioned Breakfast is built around Speyburn that's been infused with green onion-it's a savory cocktail the likes of which you've never experienced before. On the sweet (but not-too-sweet) side, the Black & Red finds Johnny Walker Black splashing around with chocolate stout and Campari.

If you'd prefer spooky psychedelia to Shanghai chic, check out Nokturnal at 708 Polk Street. A perfect post-show option for folks whose revelry has been kickstarted at the Bill Graham Auditorium or Regency Ballroom, the bar features an illuminated, touch-sensitive bar that allows you to create colorful star showers and futuristic floral patterns beneath your drinks. Textured black iridescent wallpaper adds to the overall goth-in-space atmosphere, fueled by cocktails with names like Chupacabra and Nosferatu. Hello darkness, my old fiend.

A perfect summer spirit-for San Francisco
At last there's a good excuse to drink yourself into a fog. Or, more accurately, to drink a fog into yourself. Let's explain.

After a trial run in 2016, Alameda's own Hangar One Vodka has just released a limited edition bottling of Fog Point, a premium offering distilled from bits of Karl's anatomy that have been captured by giant fog catchers installed at a number of area locations.

The Bay Area Reporter recently accompanied Chris Fogliatti-a research volunteer for non-profit FogQuest-to the base of Sutro Tower to examine one of these strangely beautiful contraptions: a framed metal filament net specially designed to trap airborne water vapor and funnel the re-condensed liquid into collection bladders.

Back in Alameda, chief distiller Casey Shoemaker blends the fog-sourced water with a vodka base distilled from another local resource-Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier. The result is a slightly floral spirit with virtually no sharpness. Its easy to imagine that the soft edges of a fog bank have been translated into this unexpectedly smooth mouthfeel.

It's also easy to imagine that this is an elaborate marketing gimmick. So what!? It's genius. Fog Point makes a perfect Bay Area gift and cocktail party conversation starter. And to boot, all profits from Fog Point sales are being donated to FogQuest's global efforts to develop fog-capture techniques to provide sustainable water solutions.
Fog Point can be sampled at Hangar 1's Alameda headquarters or ordered online.

In the pink at Kendall-Jackson
We saw the end of May, so break out the ros�.
Raise a glass of Kendall-Jackson's 2017 Vintner's Reserve Ros� to the continuing recovery of Sonoma County. With just a tincture of pink, it's a pleasingly pale vintage with a refreshing citric bite. Evocative of slightly under-ripe strawberries, it has light green vegetal notes that keep sweetness in check.

It will taste all the more delicious when enjoyed amidst the vineyards as part of Kendall-Jackson's monthly farm-to-table Saturday night dinner series, served al fresco at long communal tables in the estate gardens throughout the North Bay's warm weather months.

Each evening pairs a half dozen or more wines with dishes that spotlight ingredients from local farmers and purveyors, who will be on hand to chat about their Northern California specialties.

On June 9, Costarella Seafoods and Marin French Cheese are featured, followed by Snake River Farms' American Waygu beef and Kurubuta pork (July 14), Liberty Duck and Dry Creek Peach and Produce (August 11), Ward Ranch Beef and Bleating Heart Cheese (September 8) and Devil's Gulch Ranch meats and Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese (October 13)
More information and full menus at

A succulent new drinker's curriculum
One of our local winemakers' great marketing gambits is appealing to the intellect as well as the palate. Blending science, history and propaganda, they inform the public about fruit varietals, regional appellations and production techniques. The result is that, in addition to growing grapes, they cultivate self-styled connoisseurs who savor each pour with their minds as well as their palates.

Now, Mexican spirits are getting into the game and San Francisco, with its familiarity with the wine world and Mexican-American population is a key U.S. market.

"Many consumers and even some industry professionals aren't aware there is a whole world of agave spirits outside of tequila," says Micah McFarlane, a former music executive and co-founder of Revel Spirits with Hector Ruiz, the Mexican-born owner of four critically acclaimed Minneapolis-area restaurants. "They each have their own distinct qualities and characteristics."

You've likely sampled tequila and mezcal, but are you familiar with sotol, bacanora or raicilla?

Grown in different government-designated and regulated regions, produced with particular species of agave and related succulents, and distilled after pit-roasting, above-ground baking, high-pressure steaming or a combination of techniques, they offer educated palates a nuanced range of flavor and finish.

McFarlane and Ruiz were recently in town to promote the newest appellation of agave spirits, avila, made from the same blue agave as tequila, but exclusively in Ruiz' tiny home state of Morelos, where the soil is more alkaline than in designated tequila regions. Avilas are also made from a combination of pit-smoked and pressure-cooked plants, for a unique blend of smoothness and smokiness.

"Getting people to appreciate the differences between the spirits and the brands of each is definitely a challenge," admits McFarlane, "but that's part of what's so interesting about working in this category. We can really bring some much-needed positive attention and appreciation to these traditional Mexican businesses."

Introduced earlier this year Revel's Avila Blanco and oak-aged Avila Reposado are the first and only commercially available avilas in the U.S. Both medalists in the 2018 San Francisco World Spirits competition, they're available for purchase online ( and are just beginning to be stocked at local bars, including District (216 Townsend) where crackerjack mixologist Ashley Plasterer has created some deliciously complex cocktails, including an Indian-food friendly gem combining Revel Avila Blanco with over half a dozen ingredients, including pistachio orgeat and rosewater. It's Mexico and Mumbai in a single drink.