Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Most Expensive Glass of Whisky in the World

I have a rule about cocktails: anything over $13 is going to suck. I have a similar rule about spirits: anything over $20 probably isn't worth it.

After reading about LA's "luxury whisky bar" £10, I think I'm making a new rule: anything with a five-digit price tag is just stupid. Granted, I haven't tried the 64 year old, Sherry oak aged Macallan Scotch that fetches $64,000 per pour, so I may owe £10, and Macallan, an apology. Until our little blog finds a patron to sponsor a pour of that nonsense, I'm sticking with my $11 San Francisco cocktails, thanks.

PS: Note the Cocktail Kingdom barware in the article's picture. I have that at home. Not so luxury now, LA. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Meet Kerry-O, our new dive bar correspondent

Besides having a vibrant cocktail culture, San Francisco has great dive bars. Or so we've been told. Actually, Noelle and I never go to dive bars. She's got a mild case of agoraphobia, and I hate loud places. We've decided, however, that our inadequacies have deprived this blog of a great drinking culture for too long. Are we venturing into the crowds? The sights, smells, and sounds? Not a chance. Someone else is.

Meet Kerry-O.


Kerry-O goes wherever she damn well pleases, and it so happens that she loves her a good dive bar. We've enlisted her help in exploring all of the good dives in SF and reporting back to the thirsty public. Look forward to her posts, which will give the skinny on the best local dives. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Perfect Pairing: Friends, Food, and Chateau Ste Michelle Rieslings

A warm summer’s day. A cold winter’s night. Spicy food. Seafood. Chinese. Dessert. What can’t you pair with some nice rieslings? So we were very excited to try Chateau Ste. Michelle’s rieslings—a beautiful trio of dry riesling, riesling, and sweet.

The winery was good enough to send us a box of the wines to try, and it was a sight to behold when we carefully opened up the box to see the three bottles for the first time. What better way to enjoy these wines, we realized, was with good friends and good food? And so we thought it was a great occasion to have a riesling party.

Rieslings are celebrated as an extremely versatile wine that is easy to pay with a wide range of flavors. In light of that, each of our friends brought over one type of food that we thought would be fun to pair with the rieslings. Common suggestions for the sweet white wine often include the likes of spicy thai food, sweet desserts, salads, and pork. But we thought we’d eschew these common suspects and try different types of every day food to see which flavor paired with each wine.
Here are the results of our tasting:
The wine: Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling
The taste: Partiers noted vanilla, pear, and apricot flavors. The light drink was lovely way to ease into the meal on a hot summers day.
Most successfully paired with: Salmon, salami.
The wine: Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling
The taste: A bolder, more buttery, low-acid riesling that was citrusy and sweet. Great as a table wine and main course accompaniment.
Most successfully paired with: Spicy hummus, pickled garlic, bleu-cheese-stuffed olives, quiche.
The wine: Chateau Ste Michelle Harvest Select Sweet Riesling
The taste: The sweetest of the trio and the richest, though in the grand scheme of rieslings, it still ranked as medium sweet, making it a great main-course accompaniment. The flavors were warm, like peaches, and fresh, like we were sitting in the vineyard.
Most successfully paired with: Dubliners Irish Cheese, brie, black pepper chicken pate.

The verdict: The Chateau Ste Michelle rieslings are nice wines to have on-hand at home to accompany with your dinners or to cool down on a summer day. Despite their name, most of them sit in the mid-sweet range, making it accessible for many.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer Cocktails and Appleton Estate Rum

San Francisco summers are a strange bird: Hot, sunny days are intermingled with grey skies, fog, and icy winds off the Bay. What is a girl to drink? Today Josh and I headed down to the Appleton Estate Rum cocktail event at Heaven's Dog. It was serving up three great summer sips for happy hour. Featuring rum (naturally!), the drinks were refreshing but also warm. Pull up the lawn chairs, we've found some great summer cocktails!

Here were the yummy cocktails featured today:

Savannah Planters Punch
A fruity and refreshing cocktail served over a beautiful bed of crushed ice. This is the dream of a drink you'd love to drink poolside—or at least when you're sitting at a bar wishing you were poolside. The delicate hearted, beware! The drink goes down easy, but it's backed with ironside Smith and Cross rum (114 proof, kids!). Appleton V/X, Delord Armangnac, Smith and Cross, pineapple, lime, Angostura bitters.
Savannah Planters Punch Heavens Dog

Son of a Gun
A bright but also warm and spicy cocktail, thanks to a heavy dash of angostura bitters (enough to make the drink burn dark pink!). Appleton V/X, Angostura Bitters, Lime, Orgeat.
Son of a Gun Heavens Dog

Will P. Taylor Hotel Nacional Special
Another vibrant cocktail, almost creamy from the pineapple gum, brand, and egg whites, despite the absence of any dairy. It's like drinking summer clouds. Appleton V/X, lime, pineapple gum, apricot brandy, Angostura bitters.
Will P. Taylor Hotel Nacional Special Heavens Dog

Happy summer, all!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Big - a new little bar in San Francisco

When you walk into Big, SF's newest bar, you've stepped into another dimension. With enough room to fit about 22 people comfortable, you'd better check out Big very soon before it gets...well...big.

The decor is perfect. Big reminds me some of Chicago's Violet Hour, since both strategically use heavy, velvet curtains to absorb both noise and light. The result is a cool, quiet atmosphere in which you can actually talk to your companions.


It's got a very living room feel.


The drinks are incredibly fresh and very citrus forward. The bartender has come up with some pretty interesting concoctions, such as a nice smoked gin. They carry Rusty Blade Gin, a barrel aged gin that I'd be interested in trying side-by-side with Ransom. Both the smoked gin (homemade) and the Rusty Blade made darn fine, slow-sipping cocktails.


This was a nice number using Gin, lime, shiso, cucumber, and green Chartreuse.


This was whiskey, maple, lemon, and smoked olive oil.

The wait was quite long for us, so bring only a few companions and your patience. Big isn't the place to go if you're in a rush or if you want to get blitzed before your night out on the town. If, on the other hand, you have a friend in town and you want to give them the quintessential San Francisco experience, stop by for a drink.

In the interest of impartiality and fairness to the reader, I should mention that the drinks are $14 a pop, which, to me, seems a bit steep. Nevertheless, it's worth at least a try, especially for the atmosphere.

Big is on Post between Jones and Leavenworth, right across from Farm Table. If the light is on outside, you're good to go. If not, you're out of luck.

761 Post St
San Francisco, CA 94102
Open: Tue-Sat 6 pm - 2 am

Monday, March 26, 2012

Winter Cocktails at AQ Restaurant and Bar

It really can't be said that San Francisco doesn't have seasons.

Sure, the city's east cost counterparts boast the full blusters of winter and dramatic fall displays of color and leaves. And even Midwest cities, like Chicago and Minneapolis, may claim seasons intense enough to freeze your tears and melt your skin and all of the earned bragging rights in leathered character.

But thin-skinned and soft-hearted San Franciscans may be, it cannot be said that the City on the Bay does not have seasons. You really only have to look to what San Francisco devotes so much of its pomp and circumstance: the food. In city that puts events like farmers markets at centerstage, eating with the seasons is an important part of San Francisco living. Home cooks and professional chefs kow-tow to fresh catches and seasonal harvests.

AQ Restaurant is the perfect example of this. The restaurant, which just opened in November to a flurry of accolades (including a nomination for the James Beard Award's best new restaurant), changes every aspect of its service with the seasons. The interior changes from the warm colors of fall to stark winter white. The staff rotates its garb from flannels to pressed whites. And, of course, the food and drinks shift every season to reflect the particular season's bounty.


If the concept sounds quaint, it is. But it avoids becoming gimmicky simply because, well, the cocktails are good.

What's cool is that many of AQ's cocktails give a strong nod to the classics. In fact, a whole section of the drink menu is devoted to "seasonal classics," common drinks that are tweaked here and there to make it the restaurant's own.

AQ also features some of its own drinks, too. They're not cocktails you'll necessarily find in the gentlemen's companion—but they were definitely delicious enough to make up a modern cocktail book!


We went to AQ during its winter menu. I was particularly pleased with my Manhattan, which featured orange-peel-infused bourbon, sweet vermouth, winter bitters, and angostura bitters. It was a really lovely spicy take on the old classic. It managed to taste enough like the original but took on its own distinct mood—kind of like visiting the same place at different times of day.


Next I ordered a New Amsterdam Variant #2: raisin-infused bols genever gin, maple syrup, old fashioned bitters, topped with apple cider. It was a sweet drink that ran thick with the maple syrup. The taste of raisins and cider tasted familiar and made me feel warm on a cold winter's night. Completely appropriate drink for fall (apple season!), as well.

The drink somehow become reminiscent of raisins and of hot cider. It was the perfect spice to warm my insides on a cold winter's night.


Josh asked the bartender for a recommendation on a scotch drink, and she whipped up a super tasty Bobby Burns—a deep and smoky drink that usually includes scotch, vermouth, and Bendictine.

Our companion Kasey, on the other hand, ordered a Bison Rose, and it came in this really cool cup! (Standby for low-quality pictures in a dark, dark bar.)


Overall, we were most impressed by the drinks featured on the menu (opposed to ones whipped up off-menu), and the bar takes a really fresh take on well-loved cocktails. Drinks were really well-balanced and very accessible for food-minded folks looking for deep flavors in their cocktails. These are California cocktails at their best!

[For the interested, here are dark, dramatic photos of the AQ winter cocktail menu, which has since been swapped out for the spring menu.]



AQ Restaurant & Bar

1085 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94103 415) 341-9000

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Leopold's Navy Strength Gin

Ever since having Leopold's Navy Strength Gin, I've got the unshakable feeling that all other gin (which I love, don't get me wrong) is somehow imperfect, somehow flawed in a crucial way. It's bold, juniper forward, and rich.

Heavens Dog

Trevor Easter, over at Heaven's Dog, introduced me to Leopold's. He explained the totally bad ass origins of the "Navy Strength" category. In a nutshell, one deck of Navy ships was set aside for gunpowder–unless a liquid was over a certain proof, it was not allowed on this deck at all, since if it leaked, it would ruin the gunpowder. A liquor of high enough proof, however, would still ignite. Thus, Navy Strength, which weighs in at a whopping 57% ABV, or 114 proof.

You may think that Navy Strength gin would be unwieldy, but Trevor (the viking in the picture below) made me the best gin-forward drink I've ever had. Ever. Essentially, it's a gin old fashioned using gum syrup (not simple) and a tiny splash of angostura.

Heavens Dog

I know I could not replicate this drink at home. Crafting such a simple drink requires technical mastery. This is one of the reasons Trevor is one of my top three favorite bartenders in the city–he's a big geek. In a good way. I mean, the guy has an infrared thermometer behind his bar with which he checks a drink's temperature. Every tool he uses is chilled. Each piece of ice is selected and modified to fit the drink.

In other words, this is much more than a simple gin old fashioned. I'd put this on my list of cocktails I could drink forever.

I should also warn you, reader, that this drink, and this gin, isn't for people who like gin. It's for people who love gin.

Heaven’s Dog

1148 Mission St.

San Francisco, CA 94103


Saturday, February 25, 2012

James Beard awards celebrates cocktails!

The list is finally out! Every year, the James Beard Foundation recognizes excellence in the food industry. But this year, this is an exiting new addition: This is the first year the James Beard Foundation is recognizing outstanding bar programs. Campari is sponsoring the new award category, which recognizes excellence in wine, spirits, and beer.

Hats off to them.

It's a welcome addition to the awards program, in my mind. The surge of interest in the so-called craft cocktails have brought an exciting new standard for the quality of drinks—and the places that have pushed this bar the most (so to speak, ha!) definitely deserve recognition.

Few of these semi-finalists deserve to call out here.

The Aviary
Though I have never been to the Aviary, they are making huge contributions to how people think about crafting cocktails. The question they ask is, would you let one chef make one dish all on his own? The answer would be no. And so they take a line kitchen approach to making drinks, with a whole slew of folks in back creating the drinks. (Now this is one occasion in which you really do question the use of the label "bartender." :-) Mixologists, it is?) It points the drink industry in a new direction, if the venture is successful—and judging by this nomination it has been successful. To my mind, I would miss sitting behind an old wood bar and actually talking to the person making my drink. It's an indulgence, perhaps, but one that admittedly makes my drink taste better.

Bar Agricole
This place is widely recognized across San Francisco as a true labor of love. The great pains that Thad Volger, the gentlemen who started it all, has seemed to reach mythological proportions. People were worried he would die starting the spot. But in the end, it seems his efforts paid off. Hats go off across this city for the incredibly high quality of ingredients at Bar Agricole. And Mr. Volger's co-founder, Eric Jackson, is an incredible bartender as well. We've had the pleasure of sitting at his bar at both Heaven's Dog and Bar Agricole, and the man can shake up some serious magic.

The Violet Hour
Josh and I have incredible reverence for The Violet Hour and for the integrity with which it makes its drinks. A New-York-style speakeasy in Chicago, the bar is commonly described as an "Alice in Wonderland"-like place. It takes you to another world. Tall, majestic curtains muffle loud, offending sounds, and the world becomes more intimate. You can talk easily without raising your voice. And the drinks—oh, the drinks!—are beautifully crafted. There are seven different types of very hard, very cold ice, and many of the drinks draw on house-made components—house bitters and house syrups make common appearances, making it difficult to recreate anything vaguely imitating what you experience at the Violet Hour. Josh and I will forever remember this place as one of the bars that first inspired us. It's also worthwhile mentioning that this is the Alchemy Consulting's second bar program on the James Beard Foundation's list. Toby Maloney, the New York mastermind behind the Violet Hour, later left to create Alchemy Consulting with Troy (one of the great bartenders from The Violet Hour) and others. James Beard semi-finalist The Catbird is one of those consulting projects.

Beretta is one of the quintessential San Francisco spots—delicious Italian-American fare, a California-fancy-cantine atmosphere, and a restaurant-bar program with cocktails that feature bright citrus shaken drinks and deep, cherry stirred drinks. Bright, tasty, airy—everything you'd want out of a San Francisco bar. From what I understand, Beretta has made significant contributions to the SF bar scene, even apart from everything we enjoy about it today. Apparently, after a group of bartenders were inspired at the Tenderloin's Bourbon and Branch, some of them headed over and continued the magic at Beretta. It combines some of the fun aspects of drinking cocktails—the ability to enjoy the present and the present history.

PDT has been very meaningful for me personally on this cocktail journey—Don, one of the main guys behind PDT originally, was hugely instrumental in me learning about the world of cocktails. He blew my mind by first showing me all the classics. I was taken. Aside from that, PDT is one of these coolest spots I've ever been to. The New York speakeasy invites people into the bar by way of an old-fashioned phonebooth. Pick up the phone and press the button, and a voice will magically appear on the other end and usher you in for gorgeous cocktails of classic genealogy, including the super popular Benton's Old Fashioned (which is code for a bacon Bourbon cocktail!).

Again, I applaud the James Beard Foundation for this new category, and I hope that the future brings with it individual recognition for the many men and women who mix amazing things behind the bar.

Until then, we wait excitedly to see who will be recognized this year.

New Drink on The Slanted Door's Menu

I should pause and note that this picture is actually somewhat significant.

For big fans of The Slanted Door—and bar manager extraordinaire Erik Adkins, for that matter—there is a new drink on the cocktail menu.

Check out the Brandy Lift—brandy, orgeat, Benedictine, cream, and seltzer.

I haven't tried it myself yet. But it looks awfully delicious.

Yes, I just gave you an excuse to enjoy yourself. You're welcome. ;-) Enjoy!

P.S. The Classico Negroni is the way to go! I already know Josh takes issue with this because he loves everything and anything Campari. But for those who find it too overwhemingly bitter for their tastes, you will find a new way to love the Negroni with the Gran Classico Bitters. Try it, and tell us how you like it!

Friday, February 24, 2012

An evening with Erik Adkins

President's day, Noelle got pretty pumped upon learning that Erik Adkins–of Bourbon and Branch, Heaven's Dog, and Wu Hing General Store fame–was creating the cocktail menu for a new restaurant/bar. She got so pumped, in fact, that she decided we had trot down to the Ferry Building and try to see the man himself. Slanted Door, which we've written about before, is a swanky Vietnamese restaurant/bar combo right on the water. It's always jam packed, so Noelle and I were surprised to see open spaces at the bar. Even better, the seats were right in front of Mr. Adkins. Noelle will explain the situation with the new restaurant/bar opening up. Suffice to say that the drink menu will rely in on this book:


In other words, the bar will serve lots of New Orleans style stirred drinks. We asked to sample and a few drinks of that style, and, holy moly, are we excited for this place to open up.

De La Louisiane
3/4 ounce Rye, Sweet Vermouth, and Benedictine
Dash absinthe
Dash simple


Stir stir stir, garnish with Luxardo Cherry.

I loved this drink. It was quite rich, syrupy and sweet as it first hits your tongue. Once the benedictine passes, though, the herbs from the vermouth and absinthe kick in, leaving a strong finish of rye and a lingering taste of herbs. This is a very rich, slow drink. Order it if you want to sit and enjoy the conversation for awhile, not if you're in a rush. It's best enjoyed slowly.

Dixie Cocktail

Erik described the Dixie cocktail as essentially a whiskey cocktail but with the addition of creme de menthe. This creme de menthe:


This drink really took us by surprise. It was lighter in texture and slightly brighter than the De La Louisiane but no less flavorful. Look how beautiful this drink is, especially with the perfect piece of ice:


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

More Details on Charles Phan's and Erik Adkin's New Project

Learning about Charles Phan's and Erik Adkin's new Embarcadero restaurant had the curious effect of making Josh and me very excited and very thirsty. And so we found ourselves, only moments later, dashing down to The Slanted Door, one of Mr. Phan's and Mr. Adkin's tried, true, and institutionalized restaurants in the Ferry Building. After all, we wanted to end the three-day weekend on a celebratory mood.

And as it happened, Mr. Adkins was there that night behind the bar! He shared with us a little more about the new spot, which is set to open just a little ways down from The Slanted Door at Pier 3.

The new restaurant will take on a New Orleans flare in fare and in cocktails. The drinks, specifically, will draw inspiration from the the book Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em, an artifact from the '30s and one of the few pieces documenting drinks from that place. For Erik, that means being able to do a lot of what he enjoys—stirred drinks and the like.

It's a very neat direction to go. New Orleans drinks are celebrated for some very significant contributions to the cocktail menu—the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz, just to name a few. But I don't know of very many bars who have chosen to thematically embrace New Orleans. And with the growing number of New York-style, Charles Baker, tiki, and tequila spots, it seems that Phan and Adkins might carve out a very unique spot.

The new place won't be solely about the cocktails and actually the cocktail menu won't be "seasonal," as I had previously thought. Instead, we are encouraged by with what we know about Mr. Phan's other spots—both great food and great drink. There's not much not to complain about that.

And so we wait with more anticipation! 2012 will, indeed, be a very good year.

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Cocktail Bar for Charles Phan and Erik Adkins (Sound the trumpets!)

Holy moly! San Francisco cocktail world, rejoice! We're about to witness a supernova.

Earlier I had mentioned that the super fantastic Erik Adkins was stepping back from managing the cocktail menu at Heaven's Dog to usher in the super talented Trevor, formerly of Rickhouse. And now I'm wondering whether it has anything to do with this happy piece of news: Charles Phan (famous proprietor of Slanted Door, Wu Hing General Store, Out the Door, and Heaven's Dog) is opening a new spot on Pier 3 on The Embarcadero—and the restaurant and its food are all centered around Erik's drinks, as Eater SF reports!

Details are few, but the restaurant is set to feature Creole food to compliment a "creative seasonal cocktail program," describes Eater SF.

I could not be more excited.

One of the distinguishing marks of San Francisco cocktail culture is that much of it is invested in food establishments. Restaurants, it seems, have an easier time acquiring liquor licenses or taking over places that already have them, and so you have a frequent interplay between food and cocktails. But I am incredibly excited to see what happens when cocktails take centerstage, and the food follows—and led by one of the most awesome bartenders.

It's going to be a great year for cocktails.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Heaven's Dog: Valentine's Day Cocktail Adventures

It was a kind of spur-of-the-moment decision on Valentine's. Though we had planned a classy, classy home Valentine’s dinner, Josh and I decided to capitalize on a celebratory mood and dash out for a quick happy hour. After all, one of our favorite bars, Heaven’s Dog, was not so very far away—and Valentine’s Day comes only but once a year! With hurried justification, we threw on our jackets and headed right over.
Josh and I have been going to the SOMA spot ever since it opened in 2009. Opened by Charles Phan of Slanted Door fame, the restaurant features some kind of Chinese American fare—fancy xiaolongbao, onion pancakes, spicy dumplings, and other “high-end” stir-frys. But what keeps us coming back are the cocktails. Originally managed by the incredible Erik Adkins—who is not only super talented but also the nicest guy in the world—the cocktails always took on his attention to detail, refined classics with high-quality ingredients. We recently learned that Trevor, former bar manager of Rickhouse, has since moved over to Heaven’s Dog, which is great since Rickhouse is another city favorite.
We noticed that Trevor had made a new cocktail menu. Looks yum!

New Cocktail Menu at Heaven's Dog

I started with a Nothing But the Brave, a stiff cocktail featuring armagnac, lemon juice, All Spice, and Ginger.

Nothing But the Brave

And Josh had the Oaxacan Firing Squad. The drink really became the star of the night, with its savory, smokey mix of Mezcal, lime, Small Hands grenadine, and angostura. Delicious! (Sorry for the dim photo—the place was so dark at first.)

We ended our happy our by splitting a Yankee Clipper, a crisp way to end our happy hour with Beefeater gin, carpano antica, Luxardo, orange bitters, and absinthe.


Heaven’s Dog
1148 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94103