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.

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