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