The conversation around locally sourced food and beverage products is so much about organic microgreens, heritage pigs and that sort of wholesome, farmers market stuff. Nice, yeah, but how about the booze, the icy cocktails that are shaken, not stirred, and served up in that very international symbol of tippling, the martini glass?
To answer this pressing question, I narrowed the field of cocktails to five unfussy, mostly standard-issue drinks you’d order in any bar, anywhere, with the stipulation that both booze and mixer—garnish, if possible—be North Bay-made, and presented samples in little plastic cocktail cups to a group of PacSun tasters.
Gin and Tonic
This citrusy, balanced, not too sweet and very summery refresher was the hands- down favorite. The gin was the easy part—Spirit Works Distilling of Sebastopol makes one from organic winter wheat. It has a sweet nose, big on coriander, with a vanilla note, and a silky mouthfeel—if you can believe I’m still talking about gin, here. Finding a local craft tonic alternative to the mass-market, high-fructose corn syrup or artificially sweetened brands was the hard part. I asked Phaedra Achor, maker of Monarch Bitters in Petaluma, if she knew of any. “I make a delicious tonic syrup!” she replied. Her product is a concentrated syrup made with organic cane sugar and organic lemon peel, plus herbs and bark. It’s customizable—just add carbonated water to your liking. I liked best a mix of one-half ounce syrup to 4four or 5five ounces soda water—a higher dose seems to suppress the bubbles. The only local fail here is the lime—ask friends and neighbors if they’ve got a rare lime tree, or more likely, a Meyer lemon tree tucked away in the yard.
Runner up: Bummer & Lazarus gin, a grape-based spirit from Raff Distillerie of San Francisco, is more forward with green herbs and crushed juniper leaf aromas, and lends a more medicinal character to the G&T. H.O.B.S. gin, from Healdsburg’s Young & Yonder Distillery, is also juniper forward, but the aroma here is a bit too “medical” for my taste, reminiscent of depressing well drinks from dive bar days gone bye-bye.
When I asked a bartender for a ready-to-go list of classic cocktail recipes, I was at first disappointed that he couldn’t offer advice unless he’d tasted all of the components to make sure the balance was correct. But when I started mixing, beginning from recipes cribbed from the International Bartenders Association (IBA) and Wikipedia, I not only understood, but also was more excited about the project. Mixing an all-local cocktail is more than just a feel-good subbing of a craft spirit for a corporate brand—it’s a whole new cocktail.
Just for kicks, I mix 3 ounces gin with 3 ounces club soda, and 1 ounce Monarch tonic syrup, and find it’s just hard to overdo it on that Spirit Works.
Forget about where the martini was invented—Martinez or San Francisco—because we can reinvent the martini right here in the North Bay. Let’s start with 2 ounces Spirit Works gin, again, but where to find the vermouth, besides those bottom shelf brands that smell like stale wine breath? It’s rare—just 67 cases of Paul Hawley’s side project, Menagerie white vermouth ($22), were made from fortified Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, but it smells just as pretty as you’d expect from those grapes, plus a whiff of fresh fennel.
Mixed at 2 ounces gin to one-fourth ounce vermouth, this martini was clean and pretty, and it’s even nice at the old-school ratio of two to one. But it’s almost too pretty too dirty up with a splash of juice from McEvoy Ranch’s spiced olive blend. Vodka partisans will find Spirit Works’ vanilla-scented vodka makes the martini so pillowy and soft, a thin slice of Meyer lemon peel is the better garnish.
Like it dirty? That’s where Young & Yonder’s H.O.B.S. gets its turn to shine in the neon light. The Menagerie warms the aroma, but it retains that cool, alcohol edge, and can take an olive or two. Alas, the Raff had a bummer reaction to this particular vermouth.
Years ago, I liked Manhattans for about a week before I tired of the sickly-sweet vermouth. Menagerie red vermouth ($22), made from Sonoma County Zinfandel, is wholesomely delicious with real red cherry-like fruit, scented with fennel, and is not at all sweet. This Manhattan is a fairly dry and adult beverage matching 1 part vermouth to 2 parts Sonoma Distilling Sonoma rye. Monarch provides the bitters. The “dash” of bitters called for in the recipes was too subtle, however, so I consulted Achor—she likes to add at least 5–10 drops, and that was about right for her aromatic bitters, which round out the palate like an oak addition in wine. This is very dry with less vermouth—Sonoma rye stands up to a 2 to 1 mix, with Monarch’s cherry-vanilla bitters adding a tease of a sweet topnote. It’s cherry season, so go find a fresh one for garnish instead of the grotesquely colored candied kind.
Sonomify this New Orleans cocktail with 2 ounces Sonoma rye, and just one-fourth ounce of Raff’s Emperor Norton absinthe adds more than enough green herbal notes (Young & Yonder also makes a fine absinthe). Instead of Peychaud’s bitters, Monarch’s bacon-tobacco bitters, which does not contain nicotine, contributes a leathery note, like a smoky Johnnie Walker.
The dude abides in the North Bay, if you skip the vodka and just pour Griffo Distilling’s Cold Brew coffee liqueur, made from their grain-to-glass distilled vodka and Equator Coffee’s mocha java, over ice. No syrupy Kahlua-like liqueur, Cold Brew smells transparently like coarse-ground medium roast coffee. Add a splash of Straus Family organic cream to tie the whole drink together. Y