Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Trendspotting: Elixir's new Low Impact Menu

If a person’s character is to be judged by the cocktails they drink, ordering something sweet and low alcohol was a dead giveaway in the early days of craft cocktails. Telling a craft bartender that their cocktails were smooth and sugary could send them into existential crisis. A patron, on the other hand, could be judged as misled or disinterested in cocktails. As a result, it was hard to find low-alcohol cocktails.

But it seems we’ve evolved since then.

We get it, we’re serious about cocktails. But that doesn’t mean that you have to drink a stiff classic to enjoy yourself. In light of that, more and more bars have recently released menus with virgin, low-impact (low alcohol), and long drinks—AQ, Prizefighter, Rickhouse, and Novela, to name a few. And I love it. Just because you go out doesn’t mean you want to drink very much alcohol. Those who are driving don’t have to be left out of the party either.

We recently went down to Elixir, a famous neighborhood saloon in the Mission. The bar is respected as one of the early pioneers in craft cocktails in San Francisco, and today it’s still a great place to catch some solid drinks in a relaxed, unpretentious environment.

Check out their low-impact menu.

Here's the menu and a visual sample of each.


Matcha Mint Lemonade. This drink comes still or carbonated (using a Perlini carbonation system instead of just soda water. They don't use water/soda guns at Elixir because, frankly, they're gross). This was so good I could have ordered about fifty, and it's completely alcohol free.

Elixir Carbonated Matcha Mint Lemonade

Schpritzer Sister: Lillet Blanc, chamomile citrus tea syrup, lemon juice, soda, strawberries. The chamomile brings out the spice in the Lillet, and the lemon makes this drink dryer than you'd expect.


Kalimotxo: Mexican coke and red wine. This is an easy one to make at home: 50% red wine, 50% Mexican Coke (it's better in this drink because of real sugar)


Pimm's Cup: Pimm's No. 1, ginger ale, strawberry, mint, cucumber. The ginger ale gives this Pimm's a sweeter and richer consistency than most Pimm's Cups. It's nice if you're in the mood for something a little bolder.


Sutton and Soda: specially made dry vermouth by Carl Sutton, soda, lemon twist. Very dry, very simple, very tasty.


Menta Julep: Fernet, mint. If you like fernet, go get this drink right now. If you don't like fernet, at least give it a try. I'm not a huge fernet fan, and I actually liked this drink.

Elixir Menta Julep

For all the pictures check out our Flickr set.

- Josh + Noelle

3200 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 552-1633

Monday, July 29, 2013

Sneak peek: Diep9 Genever


There's a new spirit on the way to San Francisco, care of Belgium. It's a Genever, not to be confused with Genever style gin. According to European Union regulation, Genever can only come from Belgium, the Netherlands, two German states and two French provinces. Moreover, Genever must be distilled from malt wine (a grain mash consisting of some combination of malted barely, wheat, rye, or corn) and neutral alcohol; regular gin doesn't have malt wine. Both spirits, however, use juniper and other herbs and spices. Diep9, San Francisco's newest Genever, uses these spices:


Diep 9 is a tiny Belgian brewery that produces both young and old Genever. In the case of Genever, these labels have nothing to do with aging. Rather, young Genever is in the style of post-Industrial distillers, and thus has more neutral spirits, which are easier and cheaper to produce with more technically advanced stills. This young genever carried a distinct taste of barley—rather like the tea you find at Korean restaurants. (For a long time, we had wondered about how barley tea could be incorporated in a drink. Daniel Hyatt at Roka Bar currently has one on the menu; but we were curious about how barley could become a more dominant flavor. This young genever seems to hold the key!)

Old Genever is made with pre-Industrial methods, and therefore it has more more malt wine, which was regularly made before the Industrial Revolution. Compare the young Genever (below) with the old (at the top of the page). More neutral spirits make for a lighter color. Because of the age, the Old Genever delivers softer and rounder barley flavors and makes for easy sipping.

Apparently, both old and young genevers are commonly found in bars in Belgium, along with some other more fruity varieties. People will swing by bars and enjoy a glass during the afternoon.


The bottles in these pictures are handmade out of clay in Germany, by one of the last guys in the world to do that sort of thing. They also have this special seal, indicating the Belgian crown's approval of the brand:


Noelle and I were both impressed with this spirit, both on its own and in cocktails. If your only experience with Genver is through Bols, then you definitely want to try this out. As the ancestor of gin, there are some clear similarities—but don't be fooled into thinking it tastes the same. Comparatively, Diep9 Genever has much less of a malty flavor, which allows you to taste the juniper, citrus, and other flavors. Diep9 is particularly citrusy, which pairs well with the malt wine. I found both young and old enjoyable on their own.

A fun—and very tasty—thing to do is to use the Diep9 as a gin substitutes in classics. We tried out a few. First, a Negroni:


The malt wine makes Genever slightly sweeter and more viscous than gin, so the recipe needs to be adjusted. Instead of equal parts, try dropping the sweet vermouth and Campari by 1/4 oz. We also subbed young Diep9 in a Mint Julep and were actually stunned with how well the drink turned out. 


I think this spirit is going to take off when it hits shelves (bars for now, hopefully commercial spots too) in September. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

VIDEO: How to make a classic Ramos Gin Fizz (recipe)

The first time I had a Ramos was in 2007. Since no bar around knew what this cocktail was, some friends and I tried to put it together ourselves. Something went wrong, horribly wrong. Even though the three of us shared one Ramos, we each felt like we'd swallowed a hockey puck.

We've since practiced the Ramos, and while our rendition far from perfect, we enjoy this drink tremendously. It's rich, creamy, floral, and satisfying as all get-out. What's your recipe?


Noelle and Josh

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Alembic: a neighborhood bar worth a trip

Alembic interior

Most bars fall into one of two categories: neighborhood bar or destination bar. A neighborhood bar, like Shotwells, Dave's, or House of Shields, is a place you go to feel at home. A destination bar, like Bourbon and Branch or Rickhouse, is a special trip, a planned evening that had better deliver. Alembic is one of the rare places that falls into both categories. As soon as you walk in you can feel the neighborhood vibe. But since it's all the way out in the Haight, for most of us, it's a destination. The question is, does Alembic deliver? Is it worth the trip?

I often hear a lot of mixed things about Alembic––some respect its place in San Francisco cocktail history, others...not so much. Whatever the case, Noelle and I recently made the trip to Alembic from across town (not so bad, only $10 with UberX), and we truly enjoyed it. We tried a bunch of the cocktails that Ethan Terry and Danny Louie added when they took over the bar, and we were blown away. Without further ado, here's the menu.

The classics, which they call "The Canon."

Alembic menu

"The New School."

Alembic menu

Vasco de Gama: Bourbon, garam masala spiced apple syrup, and a bit of Islay scotch. This has a very autumnal feel, which is perfect for a San Francisco summer. The spiced apple syrup adds a nice bite to an otherwise crisp and fresh cocktail.

Alembic Vasco de Gama

Army and Navy: Gin, orgeat, lemon, bitters. This is a well-executed classic. The orgeat makes it creamy, but the lemon helps make it tart at the same time. If you want to make this one at home:

1.5 oz Beefeater Gin
.75 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
.75 oz Small Hands Foods Orgeat
2 dashes Bitter Truth Decanter Bitters
Combine ingredients with ice in cocktail shaker. Shake, strain into chilled cocktail glass. No garnish. 

Alembic Army Navy

Nine Volt: Gin, white Szechuan pepper, white grape juice, green tea. Both of us were shocked by this drink––and not because of the peppercorn. This is a surprisingly easy drinking and refreshing cocktail. The green tea gives the grape juice some depth, while the gin and peppercorn give the whole thing a bite.

Alembic Nine Volt

Hoots Mon: Scotch, Punt e Mes, Kina L'avion D'or. I think this Savoy Cocktail Book classic was my favorite of the evning. The Kina L'avion and the Punt e Mes make this drink rather bitter, but the scotch helps balance it out if you're afraid of bitter.

Alembic Hoots Mon

Switchback: Anchor Hophead Vodka, strawberry, Zirbenz stone pine liqueur, lemon. Cocktail snobs are rolling their eyes at the mention of vodka, but Anchor Hophead is legit, and so is this cocktail. Go try this one while strawberries are in season. Fresh strawberries and stone pine liqueur make an incredible combination. If you want to make this one:

1.5 oz Anchor Hophead Vodka
.75 oz Zirbenz Pine Liqueur
.75 oz Fresh Strawberry Juice (Or Strawberry Puree)
.75 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
.5 oz Simple Syrup
Combine ingredients with ice in cocktail shaker. Shake, strain over rocks into chilled rocks glass. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Alembic Switchback

Death and the Gulf Stream: Bols Genever, lime, sugar cane syrup, ango. This was on the Heaven's Dog menu awhile ago, but alas, Heaven's Dog is no more, so you can't find it. I may risk blaspheming, but I think I prefer this Death and the Gulf Stream to Heaven's Dog's. I think it's the Bols Genever that puts this drink over the edge for me. The maltiness blends with lemon nicely, and the sugar cane syrup gives the drink more viscosity than the usual Death in the Gulf Stream.

Alembic Death and the Gulf Stream

Charlie Chaplain: Sloe gin, gin, apricot liqueur, lime. Sloe gin an apricot, as it turns out, is an incredible flavor combination. The two give this drink and almost tropical feel. Loved it.

Alembic Charlie Chaplain

Noelle's favorites, from left to right:

Alembic Noelle favorites

My favorites, from left to right:

Alembic Josh favorites

The food menu is impressive. We tried two dishes. The figs and burrata is a simple dish, but it's delicious and the ingredients are honored. This isn't your average pub fare, so don't expect that when you go. The style and portion size is similar to AQ (read: small and tasty as hell).

Alembic Figs and Burrata


Alembic chips

On a weeknight, this is the vibe you can expect. A simple, relatively mellow neighborhood bar.


Be prepared to make friends with the people around you, including the bartenders. Cheers.

Alembic Danny Louie


1725 Haight St

Hours: 12pm-2am, every day.
Dinner 5pm-11pm, late night menu till 1am.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Where to drink (and eat!): Comstock Saloon


Although it only opened in 2010, Comstock Saloon has over a hundred year history in San Francisco. It originally opened as the Andromeda Saloon in 1907 and is the last bar remaining from the Barbary Coast––the spot the '49ers wet their whistles. Comstock, named after the guy who set off the Gold Rush, was spearheaded by San Francisco bar legends Jeff Hollinger and Jonny Raglin of Absinthe Brasserie & Bar manages.

The bar manages to keep much of its historic feel through a hefty list of classic cocktails and original decor. Overall, we enjoy Comstock. The mood is very relaxed, and there's usually a good crowd. The bar has a very neighborhood feel, and I think they try to cultivate that by harkening back to the old tradition of offering free lunches on Fridays (if you buy two drinks. Easy, no?). The live music makes this place a little livelier after 8pm, especially on weekends. Don't let the antique piano these guys play fool you, the bands rock.

Here's the full cocktail menu.


John Collins: Genever, lemon, sugar, seltzer. Always a classic, and I'm glad they have it on the menu. Tart, cooling, and appetite-stimulating.


Bamboo Cocktail: Sherry, dry vermouth, bitters. I love sherry cocktails. This one was rich and slow going, a nice way to ease into the evening.


America's Cup: Sutton Cellar's red vermouth, Breaking & Entering Bourbon, No. 209 Gin, orange bitters, ginger beer. Sutton Seller's red vermouth is a special red vermouth is made especially for Comstock Saloon. I think this is my favorite Pimm's variation in the city right now. I managed to get the recipe, so if you want to try it at home:

1.5 oz. Comstock Sweet Vermouth in collaboration with Carl Sutton (or 1 oz. Punt e Mes) 
.5 oz. No.209 Gin (Distillery 209)
.5 oz. Breaking & Entering Bourbon (St. Georges Distillery)
2 dashes orange bitters
Muddled with lemon, orange, and lime
Topped with Fever Tree Ginger Beer
Served over ice in a Collin’s cup


Zeinie Cocktail: Cognac, pineapple gum, lime, maraschino liqueur, Angostura bitters.



Since visiting Chicago, Noelle and I have been increasingly frustrated with the lack of food at SF bars. One joy of drinking at Comstock is the food. They've got both snacks and full entrees. Here's the full menu. This picture makes it look really imposing. It's not, actually.


While we didn't try the whole menu, I kind of feel like we did. We started with the pretzel, because those are my favorite.


The homemade BBQ chips and homemade ranch dressing are really good, too, though.


I was still feeling hungry and got the hummus plate, which was light and delicious:


Noelle opted for a full entree instead of a bunch of snacks. She ordered a duck pot pie, which she loved.


And then one for me. Alligator toast–– avocado, grapefruit, jicama, nom nom nom. I liked this one in particular because it was filling but still, somehow, light and refreshing.


I'm going to indulge my inner history nerd and post some pictures of the historical design aspects of this bar that I think are neat.

The mahogany bar itself is original, from 1907.


Atop the bar, you can see a bust of Emperor Norton, cast by a local artist in 1936.


This Pukka Walla fan was made in 1916 and runs the length of the bar, some 35 feet. You can see the whole thing at the top of this post, so here's the belt and wheel that power the spinning blades.


Also running the length of a bar is this:


A pee trough. See, people back then were smart. They knew that drunks would pee on the bar, so they installed little troughs to funnel the pee away. Nowadays, we pretend that drunk guys have the civility to walk to the bathroom. They don't, so they just pee on the bar. [Full disclosure: no one uses this pee trough. Though I think they should.]

The dining room has a great 19th century American feel:



Comstock Saloon
155 Columbus Ave
(415) 617-0071
Saturday to Thursday: 4:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Friday: 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.

Free Lunch Fridays:  free lunch when you buy
Happy Hour: 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., every day
Live Music: 8:00 p.m., daily
Food served until 1:00 a.m. every night 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Novela: a place for thoughtful cocktails [pictures and video]


A handful new cocktails joints have opened up in SoMA/FiDi recently, but we haven't covered any of them because, frankly, most of them are lame. Novela was the first place we've been to that really blew us away. We were most impressed with the thoughtfulness that went into this bar program. The whole place, from design to drinks, is literature themed––Novela is Spanish for novel.

Noelle and I were both blown away with both the concept behind the bar program and the execution of the drinks. The cocktails are all named after famous literary characters––Atticus Finch, Jay Gatsby, etc––and are designed to by simple tweaks of classics. For the cocktail review (there will be a punch review later), we tried the Leopold Bloom, a play on a julep.

Leopold Bloom–– 2 oz hibiscus infused gin, .5oz pineapple syrup, mint (a few sprigs). The hibiscus and the gin make this a much drier cocktail than you'd anticipate. The pineapple balances out the dry gin and evokes more of the citrus notes of the hibiscus gin. I loved this drink.


The walls are covered with books, organized by color. The nifty thing is, these aren't phony books, they're legitimate titles. I had fun ambling around seeing what I recognized.



There's even a card catalogue in the front, for those of us who remember what those look like.

There are lots of comfortable couches and chairs that provide an intimate group setting, giving the place a surreal, study-like quality.



Communal tables provide space for larger groups, which is perfect for big happy hour groups. The place is bonkers for happy hour, by the way, so if you're looking for a good scene, head to Novela between 5pm-10pm.