On Distilling Conferences and Watering Holes

April 14th, 2009  |  Published in bars, distillery, events, recipes  |  6 Comments

Fool's GoldI am beginning to think that elopement is underrated. I wouldn’t have said that two months ago, but two months ago I wasn’t engaged and was therefore unqualified to offer an opinion. And these days, I think eloping is definitely the way to go. It’s too late for me, so all ye who are not yet engaged take heed and make for Vegas.

All of which only partially explains why it has taken me more than a week (!) to write about my trip to San Francisco for the American Distilling Institute Conference on brandy. It’s amazing how much junk can accumulate in four days and it’s taken me the better part of ten days to get it all sorted out and settled down. With that out of the way, I can pause and reflect on San Francisco, the conference and, oh yes, the bars.

If you, like me until a few months ago, have no idea what ADI is, let’s start with an explanation. Per their own literature:

Founded in 2002, ADI is the voice of the new generation of artisan distillers. It is dedicated to the mission of disseminating professional information on the distilling process. Our members are proud to say that their products are handmade.

So ADI is a way for craft distillers to come together as a community to share information and inspiration and their yearly conferences are centered around the production of a specific type of spirit; this year, it was brandy in all its forms—cognac, armagnac, calvados, applejack, eaux de vie, grappa. This year marked the first time that ADI reached out to cocktail and spirits bloggers to come in and cover the event and five of us signed up: myself, Matt (Rowley’s Whiskey Forge), Matt (RumDood), Gabe (cocktailnerd) and Erik (Underhill Lounge); at the conference, our group was fortified by Max Watman and Jonathan Forester. We spent four days chatting with distillers from all over the country, tasting and checking out a wide range of products, and being mystified by the very advanced distilling seminars on gas chromatography. I still couldn’t explain it to you, but I definitely came away with a much better understanding of cognac and calvados. All in all I can tell you that the conference was incredibly inspiring—there are so many people out there making wonderful regional products!—and if you’re interested in more of the conference goings-on, we will be doing more coverage at the ADI blog.

While the conference was great and took up much of our weekend, we did still find time to experience the local color. Which, in San Francisco, means the restaurants and bars. Sadly, given the low level of light at most of the places we were drinking, I didn’t manage to get any photos of most of the fabulous drinks I had over the weekend. The ones I did get are pretty fabulous, though, so I hope shots from just one of the many fine bars in San Francisco will suffice.

Our first jaunt, after a quick sandwich at Ike’s Place, was Absinthe Brasserie in Hayes Valley. Those of you who have read The Art of the Bar will be familiar with Absinthe’s bar program; even if you haven’t seen the book, odds are that many of you have heard of Absinthe because Executive Chef Jamie Lauren was one of the contenders (and my personal favorite) on “Top Chef” last season.

I’ve been dying to get to Absinthe for ages—ever since I first tried the brandied cherries from The Art of the Bar—so this was an exciting trip for me. Gabe, Matt and I bellied up to the gorgeous copper-topped bar and pondered the multi-page drink menu. There were so many choices it was hard to settle, so I gave up and ordered the Fool’s Gold (pictured above), a mezcal-orgeat cocktail featured on the specials board. Our bartender, Zan, was quick and approachable; before long we had another round in front of us, including the Galapagos, one of the bar’s best sellers. (For good reason—it was delicious.) Having already chatted with Zan about our reason for being in town, she passed the word to Jeff Hollinger, who very kindly took the time to stop by and chat for a few minutes and whip up the Sacred Heart, a gorgeously red tequila-based cocktail on their regular menu (recipe below). Sadly, we had places to be and so we bid Absinthe adeiu, bellies full of frites and great drinks.

Heaven's Dog MenuLater, we found ourselves at loose ends and the two Matts and I headed for Heaven’s Dog to meet up with the rest of our unruly blogger crew. It took us a while to find the bar, given it’s rather exceptionally discrete location next to the Federal Building, but once we did we settled back and enjoyed a fabulous experience. Bar manager Erik Adkins, of Slanted Door fame, and our lovely server Barbara took great care of us. I can’t say enough about how fabulous the food and beverages here are, but I can tell you that the Pisco Apricot Tropical (pisco-pineapple syrup-apricot brandy) was a lovely starter, followed by a shockingly good Pendennis Club Special (gin-apricot brandy-lime). At this point I could’ve died happy with my Pendennis and a plate of spicy green beans (swoon) but we gathered our things and soldiered on to Cantina.

To be perfectly honest, I remember only three things about Cantina:
1. It’s a long, long walk from Heaven’s Dog if you happen to be wearing heels.
2. Friday nights are very, very, very, very crowded.
3. The music is uncomfortably loud. You kids get offa my lawn!

From there, we walked a few more blocks to Clock Bar, where the one-and-only Marco Dionysos made me a stellar Negroni nightcap while the others enjoyed his signature Chartreuse Swizzles. At this point I don’t think I could feel my feet anymore, but lounging in a plush chair drinking a Negroni really is the best way I can think of to end an evening climbing San Francisco’s hills.

And so there you have it: one whirlwind trip through San Francisco’s liquor-serving establishments. There is still a long list of bars I need to visit, so I will be back for round two but until then, kick back and enjoy a Sacred Heart cocktail straight from Absinthe.

1½ oz La Pinta Pomegranate Tequila
¾ oz Kübler absinthe
½ oz Pallini limoncello
¼ oz lemon juice

Shake and double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Sacred Heart

Bonus photos for posterity:

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  1. Mr Manhattan says:

    April 14th, 2009at 9:38 pm(#)

    Hah! I did the same trek from Clock Bar to Cantina just last Thursday. I was totally rebuffed by the loud crowd of obviously plastered 20-somethings and the even louder music. I remember thinking, “Duggan Mcdonnell actually works inside there?” I beat a hasty retreat to Heaven’s Dog just in time for a last Bittered Sling (my current favorite of Erik’s potions).

  2. Dr. Bamboo says:

    April 15th, 2009at 7:41 am(#)

    It’s gatherings like this that make me wish the jetpack I’ve been tinkering with was at least near the prototype stage. I need to be able to quickly get to these things.

    Anyone try the Pan-American Clipper? That looks awesome.

  3. Marleigh says:

    April 15th, 2009at 1:48 pm(#)

    Mr Manhattan—It’s not such a bad walk between the two, unless you’ve already walked two or so miles in the same day. Duggan was actually there when we walked in and was really great to us, but the Friday night vibe isn’t so great if you’re a group of five and want to have a conversation.

    C—I think someone tried it (Rick? Rowley? Adam?) but I don’t remember distinctly. All our drinks were solid, though, so I’m sure the Clipper would have been fantastic.

  4. dbeach says:

    April 17th, 2009at 5:59 pm(#)

    I have had the Pan-American Clipper at Heaven’s Dog and it is indeed fantastic. Many (all?) of the cocktails at Heaven’s Dog are adapted from Charles Baker’s The Gentleman’s Companion. Here is his recipe for the Pan American Clipper:

    Applejack, 1 jigger
    Absinthe, 1 dash
    Lime juice, 1 scant pony
    Grenadine, 1 tsp

    Shake with cracked ice and serve in Manhattan glass.

    It’s a Jack Rose with a dash of absinthe. Obviously if you don’t live in SF you can’t get the Small Hand Foods grenadine, but you probably make your own already, right? Assuming you have good grenadine, I would increase it a bit; I think Heaven’s Dog does.

    This post inspired me to take a stab at the Pendennis Club, for which Baker also has a recipe, but obviously not the one that Heaven’s Dog uses. Here’s his:

    “To 1 jigger of dry gin add 1/2 jigger of the best dry apricot brandy procurable. Squeeze in the juice of 1 lime or 1/2 a small lemon, strained of course, and trim with 2 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters which has been made for generations in New Orleans…. Split a ripe kumquat, now available during the winter in most big grocery or fruit stores; take out the seeds and put the 2 halves in a Manhattan glass. Stir the drink like a Martini with lots of cracked ice and strain onto the golden fruit.”

    Well, first of all, I don’t have any kumquats and I haven’t even ever tasted one, but I gather it’s a citrus fruit. I also don’t have any apricot eau de vie, but it sure looks like if you used that in there you would have one very tart drink, unless kumquats are much sweeter than I guess them to be.

    So I used 1 1/2 oz. gin, 3/4 oz. R&W Apricot, 3/4 oz. lime, and the Peychaud’s. I put a little tangerine juice in to try to simulate the kumquat. The resulting drink was a little tart, so I scaled the lime back to 1/2 ounce and found the result quite pleasant. Next time I go to Heaven’s Dog I’ll have to try their version and see how it compares.

  5. Chartreuse Swizzle | cocktailista.com says:

    May 14th, 2009at 8:59 am(#)

    [...] may recall, from last week’s post, that I taunted you briefly with mention of the Chartreuse Swizzle, also known as the official [...]

  6. On Distilling Conferences and Watering Holes | cocktailista.com says:

    May 14th, 2009at 9:00 am(#)

    [...] On Distilling Conferences and Watering Holes jb 14 April 2009 Uncategorized absinthe, anchor, bars, brasserie, food, marnier, signature, [...]

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