San Francisco Chronicle – Essential Checklist for the San Francisco Home Bar

01 Nov San Francisco Chronicle – Essential Checklist for the San Francisco Home Bar

You have your local vegetables, bread, cheese, meat. You have your local wine. And increasingly in the Bay Area, the original land of the locavore, you have your local booze.

 We asked Lou Bustamante, our contributing writer who specializes in spirits, to conjure a cocktail lover’s fantasy: A home bar stocked with the best of the ever-expanding universe of locally distilled spirits, along with brandies, liqueurs, bitters, syrups — even a margarita mix. There are a few basics missing, such as agave-based booze (see “Where’s the Tequila?” below). But here are the ingredients for a great number of cocktails, classic or experimental.

And aren’t the bottles beautiful? The arts of branding and labeling are flourishing among the region’s makers.

While we’ve gathered a very complete bar, feel free to see this as a terrific gift list. Wrap one great bottle of rum with a ribbon, or box up a local rye with a local vermouth and an offbeat bottle of bitters to bring along to a holiday party. So much more original than a bottle of Chardonnay.


Junipero (San Francisco, $30/750ml) Bold, classic flavors of juniper are the focus of this over-proof gin that mixes wonderfully without getting lost.

Botanica (Richmond, $39/750ml) Fresh herbs and cucumber give this gin a savory edge for those who eschew sweet and fruity flavors.

Aged Gin

No. 209 Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Aged Gin and No. 209 Sauvignon Blanc Barrel Aged Gin (San Francisco, $55/750ml) These gins demonstrate the prism-like effects barrel aging can have on spirits: Where the Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Aged Gin leans toward rich fruit and spices, the Sauvignon Blanc Barrel Aged Gin goes fresh and herbal.


Venus (Santa Cruz, $35/750ml) This clever, delicious aquavit is built like a gin but with a caraway focus, supported by coriander, star anise, oranges and even juniper.

Unflavored Vodka

Sonoma Brothers (Sonoma, $27/750ml) Made with a recipe of grain that twin brothers Chris and Brandon Matthies are also using in their upcoming whiskey, the multiple distillations leave just enough malty sweetness and vanilla.

Hanson of Sonoma (Sonoma, $35/750ml) Certified organic and non-GMO, this vodka from Scott Hanson is distilled from several grape varietals — no grain or potato here.

Flavored Vodka

Charbay (Ukiah, $36/750ml) Charbay distiller Marko Karakasevic keeps it simple when it comes to infused vodka, shredding organic fruit into high-proof vodka to create an extraction that they blend with even more vodka for a fresh and lively spirit.

St. George Green Chile (Alameda, $30/750ml) Using a combination of peppers, cilantro and limes, this vodka sounds more like a salsa than a spirit — until you get a taste of the complex layers of flavors accented with mild heat.

Liqueurs & Eau de vie

St. George Pear Brandy (Alameda, $20/200 ml), and Raspberry and Spiced Pear Liqueurs ($15/200ml) St. George Spirits has been making eau de vie (unaged fruit brandies) for 30 years, and that experience shows in the vibrant fresh-fruit aromas and real fruit flavors in the barely sweet liqueurs. NOLA, the New Orleans-style coffee liqueur, ($35/750ml) offers a new way to enjoy a post-dinner cup.

Spirit Works Sloe Gin (Sebastopol, $40/750ml) Based on a family recipe that combines Spirit Works gin with fresh sloe berries and a little sweetness, this wonderfully tart, citrusy and almost herbal spirit may make you a fan of a real Sloe Gin Fizz.

Fernet Francisco (Richmond, $40/750ml) San Francisco loves its fernet, and this surprisingly dry version, packed with botanicals, was made just for us.

Napa Valley Distillery Meyer Lemon Liqueur (Napa, $27/375ml) This liqueur adds a bright hint of Meyer lemons to most any drinks when used in place of triple sec.

Cannella Cinnamon Cordial (San Francisco, $25/375ml) Cinnamon is the spice of the year in liquor, and this liqueur gives you two different kinds (Ceylon and Cassia) in one bottle to add to any drink.


Sutton Cellars Brown Label (San Francisco, $20/750ml) White wine and a mix of botanicals including orange, chamomile and rosemary give this vermouth an herbal-citrus flavor that works with gin.

Jardesca Aperitif  (Sonoma, $30/750ml) Herbal, fruity and bitter, this is a vermouth that offers a balance between bitter and sweet. It might be tricky to substitute in a cocktail recipe, but it always works alone in a glass with ice.

Vya Sweet Vermouth (Madera, $22/750ml) Intensely flavored and with a good amount of sweetness, this vermouth works with bolder aged spirits or simply in a glass.


Osocalis Rare Alambic Brandy (Soquel, $45/750ml) A rich blend of Pinot Noir, Semillon and Colombard distilled in a small cognac-style still from France, the brandy draws on California coastal fruit to produce old world flavors that shine alone or mixed in a cocktail.

Germain-Robin Craft Method Brandy (Ukiah, $48/750ml) Made by one of the oldest small distilleries focused on brandies, Craft Method Brandy is distilled through an antique pot still using a mix of Mendocino grapes and is exceptional in a snifter and cocktail.

Aged Fruit Brandy

Kuchan Peach Brandy (Old World Spirits) (Belmont, $36/375ml) This is real peach brandy (made entirely from 100 percent fermented and distilled fruit), and it shows in each warming, summery sip that goes down like bottled sunshine.


Sergeant Classick Rum Silver and Sergeant Classick Rum Gold (Mountain View, $26 and $30/750ml) Easy to drink and even easier to mix with, this Hawaiian molasses-based rum distilled in Mountain View has plenty of fruit/cane flavor.


Corbin Cash Merced Rye Whiskey (Merced, $50/750ml) Made with rye grown as a cover crop for their sweet potato business, this rye is grassy and spicy. It makes a great Sazerac.

Old Potrero Straight Rye Whiskey (San Francisco, $70/750ml) This old dog of the local whiskey tribe may not have new tricks, but it doesn’t need them. Let this sit in the glass with a little water or ice and wait for it to unfurl with rich rye and spice.

Low Gap California Blended Whiskey (Ukiah, $65/750ml) This blend of three aged whiskeys produces a wonderfully soft and mellow spirit that aches to be in an Old Fashioned.

West of Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey (Rohnert Park, $55/750ml) A unique bourbon from Sonoma County Distilling, made with unmalted rye (which the distillery is known for), cherrywood smoked barley, and the requisite corn for a whiskey full of oak spice and fruity flavors that make for an indulgent Manhattan cocktail.


Small Hand Foods (Grenadine, Pineapple Gum, Orgeat) (Berkeley, $21/17.5oz) This is the holy trinity of cocktail syrups, and no one makes them better than Small Hand Foods.


Bette Jane’s Tonic, Ginger Beer, Club Soda (Healdsburg, $11/4-pack) Flavorful mixers for the bar with plenty of fizz, and the tonic is exceptionally good for gin and tonic, having been The Chronicle favorite in a recent tasting.


Inna Jam (Emeryville, $6/100ml) Simple and concentrated fruit and vegetable flavors make this line of shrubs an easy way to mix up cocktails.

Shrub & Co. (Berkeley, $22/16oz) More exotic and focused toward the professional bartender, the flavor combinations allow for some creative experimentation.

Margarita Mix

Tommy’s (San Francisco, $10/32oz) Surprisingly delicious (limes, agave and water are the only ingredients), this bottled mix makes stirring up a large batch of margaritas way too easy.

No Comments

Post A Comment