Fall Cognac Crawl – SF Version

When I first began my spirit studies in earnest, I knew nothing about Cognac, save for the ancient bottle of Hennessy in my stash, inherited from one friends’ move or another.

As time went on, and as I build my cocktail catalog, I learned about the diversity and deliciousness of the amber queen.

Enter the marketing genius of the Cognac people, who worked with teams in New York and San Francisco to create a pop up cocktail tour, featuring inspired drinks made with cognac.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But first, a little lesson in Cognac.  Cognac is brandy, distilled in the Cognac region of France.  The prime grape source is Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano in Italian), but a small amount of Colombard and a smattering of lesser grape may also be used.

The most important thing to understand about Cognac is the labeling system of classification as, while it does not denote quality, it gives you a clue as to how long it has been aged.

  • V.S. (Very Special) is a blend in which the youngest brandy has been stored for at least two years
  • V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) or Reserve is also a blend, but the youngest brandy has be aged for at least four years in a cask.
  • XO (Extra Old) or Napoléon is a blend where the youngest brandy is aged for at least 6 years.  This is changing however, because in 2018, the XO needs to be aged at least 8 years.
  • Hors d’âge (Beyond Age) really is the same as XO, but it’s a great marketing ploy to showcase the highest quality product offering, and gives the appearance of rarity and luxury.

Here in San Francisco, our crawl included 5 well known craft cocktail bars, with 5 equally crafty cocktails – all different, all delicious, and all showcasing the flexibility of cognac brandy.

First up, we met at Blackbird, a hidden gem in the no man’s land between the . Mission and the Castro, on the upper reaches of Market Street.  At Blackbird, we started our journey with the Carried Away, a refreshing concoction made with Rye Bread-Infused Cognac V.S., Cocchi Torino, Bonal, a splash of Benedictine and a dash of Peychaud’s Bitters – with just a hint of Absinthe to add something interesting.

 

 

Next, we wandered down the street to Elixir, one of my favorite whiskey bars in San Francisco.  With over 500 bottles lining the walls, it’s hard to focus on the task at hand, but owner H. has plans for us.   walking out the back door, through the pass through bathroom to what seemed like a speakeasy that never went out of style, we arrived at the Elixir classroom.  Here, H., an avid Cognac fan and educator, led us on a guided tasted of three distinct cognacs.

Once we were clear on the foundation of our drink, the mixologists at Elixir treated us to the Elixir of Cognac, a frothy tropically inspired punch with XO Cognac, Crème de Cassis, pineapple gum syrup and lemon juice.  To add the creamy froth, a bit of egg white is added in and the whole thing is shaken over ice.  Yum

 

Our next stop was Dalva, where we snuck through the back door to another, semi secret speakeasy type bar.  Here, while it was dimly lit, it was cozy with a few small tables and a well stocked and beautiful bar. This stop gave us the most pure drink so far, somewhat of a Cognac Manhattan if you will – or a Corpse Reviver #1.

At Dalva, this was The Cure For What Ails You – and it certain did!  I could have had many of these, a straight cocktail made with Cognac, Bonal, Fernet, whiskey bitters and some amazing smoked pear bitters.

 

 

Our next to last stop, and the last stop on foot, Wildhawk, was bustling and teeming with happy hour revelers.  Here, we departed the savory land for the somewhat sweet Kind of Fancy, with Cognac, Rye, Port, Yellow Chartreuse (people still use this this stuff?), and mole bitters.  I admit, this wasn’t my favorite, but I can see how enjoyable it would be on a cool fall day, particularly if you warmed it up a bit.

 

Our final stop required an Uber to meander through the hills of Bernal Heights, where we ended our tour at Holy Water.  Our last cocktail of the #congaccocktails crawl was a Stinger Royale, a minty, chocolatey wonder with cognac, Cremè de Menthe, Cremè de Cacao, Absinth (you fickle fairy you) and bitters.  It was rich and certainly served as dessert.

Sadly, I couldn’t get a good picture of this one, so be creative with your imagery.

My personal favorites were the first three stops, but there is a cocktail on this tour for everyone – and you get the added bonus of discovering some of the best craft cocktail bars the city has to fofer.  The best part?  Its only $30.  Have you ever had 5 cocktails for $30 in San Francisco – outside of a shot of well rye in a dive bar in the Tenderloin?

Cognac

The Cognac Crawl continue through October 15th, so be sure to get your cocktail on and join int he fun!  Visit Good Passports to book yours today.

In New York?  There is a Manhattan version as well!

Special thanks to Teuwen Communications for the media preview, and H. from Elixir for joining the fun and providing a great Cognac class.




Ready, Set, Lunch!

Hidden in the depths of a cozy bar in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley, a secret lurks:  A delicious, inventive pop up called Lunchpad SF.  The Lunchpad has been serving lunch and brunch for the last three years, transforming this hip evening hangout in to a great day time destination.

Featured in 7X7 Magazine’s list of San Francisco’s “5 Best Spots for Coffee or Lunch Meetings”, The Lunchpad was created by Adam & Mark Hubbell, and Chris Snowden.  Combining unexpected ingredients with original flavors, this unique hot spot can even be delivered to your door via Postmates, one of the hottest new delivery apps.

During the week, the lunch menu includes a wide range of sandwiches, salads, and…wait for it…habanero candied bacon.  Yes, I said bacon.img_2388

This bacon is tangy, sweet, and spicy, and while it serves as the centerpiece for a few of the sandwiches, it really is best just alone.

Other favorites that I enjoyed were the Chicken Run, served only on Wednesdays when chef Chris comes in to make this special.  How could you go wrong with fried chicken?

Another favorite, and one that spawned a pickle craze at our table of media guests, was the Turkey Drizzle.  A classic turkey sando with so many twists you could be in the Winchester Mystery House, the candied bacon is layered on with cheese, giardiniera, tomatoes, and house

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made pickles.  These pickles were of divine creation, and take the classic bread and butter pickle and elevate it up three notches.  We were enjoying them so much that we actually ordered a plate of pickles to nibble on – as if we were going hungry.

 

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We thought we were nearing the end, but then came the Brunch menu!  savory Huevos Rancheros made my mouth water, but the cherry on the cake was the ginormous breakfast biscuit.  Based on a huge fluffy cheddar biscuit, more cheese is melted on top of  a perfectly fried egg, and garlic aioli is added as the finishing touch.  Yum!  Did I forget to mention that the bacon is also hiding in there?

To wash all of these tasty treats down, the Brunchpad Bloody is served only on weekends.  With bacon used as the finishing touch of flavoring, this fresh tomato juice cocktail is savory with just the right touch of sweetness.  Normally I’m not a huge fan of the Bloody anything, however, this was refreshing and delicious.  Other cocktails are available.

If you find yourself hungry while strolling Hayes Valley midweek, or are looking for a fun new brunch spot, check out The Lunchpad at Noir Lounge.  They are open Monday through Friday, 9am – 2:30pm, and weekends 11am-2:30.

On a rainy night you don’t want to go out, order directly from Postmates and enjoy Lunchpad from the comfort of your own home!  Lunchpad also offers pickling classes and other fun events. 
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Special thanks to Lunchpad for this amazing media preview!  Be sure to stop by and grab a bite when you are doing your last minute holiday shopping on Hayes Street.  

5 Indian Summer Cocktails that the Drapers Would Die For

Redwood Room

The back bar at the Redwood Room

Walking through the doors of the historic Clift Hotel in San Francisco, you can almost smell the years of cigar smoke and high powered financial deals that linger in the wood lined lobby.  Long the bastion of high powered deal making, the Clift opened it’s doors in 1913 by Frederick Clift on a family property, to serve the Pan Pacific Exposition.

Build to survive earthquake and fire, it still stands with the 1924 expansion of three additional floors.  At the time, it was the largest hotel in the state, and today, while it is now owned by the Morgans Hotel Group, it still remains much the same as when it initially opened.

The dark and brooding Redwood Room cocktail lounge feels like you are stepping back in history, with modern touches.  So named for the rich redwood panelled walls, and imposing etched glass and wood bar all pull us back to the original hotel’s glamour and clientele.  Enhancing to the unique flair, the Redwood Room boasts digital art work that will change when you are least expecting it – reminding me of a scene out of the cult movie Clue.

Clift’s famous and hanging array of digital artwork displayed on plasma television screens hung throughout the room. Snack on gourmet bites while sipping on delicious cocktails and enjoying curated music provided by well-known native San Francisco DJs along with world-class talent Thursday through Saturday nights.,

Master Mixologist Anthony Kim created the inventive and refreshing cocktail list just in time for Indian Summer, which is when us San Franciscians traditionally get some suIMG_1685nshine.  Using the freshest ingredients, these 5 cocktails represent traditional drinks that you might find in any bar, but with a twist of fresh, bright, and unique flavors.

A bit like a mai tai, this drink was named for two kings:  Bourbon, and basil.  This was my 2nd favorite of the night, because, naturally I love bourbon, and the addition of strawberries and basil adds a savory but sweet note that hits the spot.

A mimosa that is splashing out to play, the passion fruit and mint play off of each other in a dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, while the vodka adds a cool touch.  A smooth and refreshing aperitif.

Zinning in to 2013 – **WINNERS ANNOUNCED**

Happy New Year!  How the heck is it the second week of 2013 already?  Wowzah.

But here were are, smack dab in the middle of a chilly winter in San Francisco; what better time to celebrate America’s Heritage Grape than a cold winter night?  Celebrating 22 years of Zinfandel, this year’s event will be just as entertaining as last year’s, in the new event space at The Concourse.

One of the most unique American wines, Zinfandel has a long history in California.  From Italian field blends during the gold rush to the new gold rush of wine, zinfandel has a solid palace in history.  There are so many different flavor profiles you can find, from raisiny ripe Paso Robles to spicy & racy Sierra Foothills, to brambly blackberry punch of Dry Creek.  What better way to taste them than at the 2013 Zinfandel Festival!

January 31st, the Festival kicks off with Epicuria, my favorite event of the week.  This informal walk around event allows you the opportunity to nibbly on tasty tidbits, paired with 50 delicious zinfandels hand picked to bring out the zinny flavor.  There will be plenty of pork to go around, as well as some wonderful dessert offerings.  Come early, and come hungry!  The best bites go quickly.  $125

Congratulations to Amy Abascal and Cindy Gooch, who each won a pair of tickets!  Looking forward to seeing you!

 

Friday afternoon, Flights is designed for the enthusiast with a passion for the legendary, this exclusive seminar-style tasting ignites your imagination for the varietal as you delve into the history, culture and science behind the many flavors of Zinfandel. Flights offers unique insight into the Zinfandel varietal and allows you to experience the true character of the wines through the eyes of experts as you revel in a sensory experience like no other.  $75

 

Friday evening, a benefit event whisks you back to the 1940s with a Casablanca theme, benefiting ZAP and the Heritage Vineyard project.  The Winemakers Dinner is always a banner event, where premier winemakers host, and share the intrigue and romance behind their craft at this elegant reception and dinner.  Specially chosen private selections of Zinfandel will be poured as you get in the time machine and learn about the origins of Zinfandel, and modern techniques in wine making.  $250

 

Culminating in Saturday’s Grand Tasting, featuring over 100 zinfandels from all over the US, the week is sure to be zinny, zany, and downright purple.  Create your own Zin-fari, as you weave the isles through each growing region, to explore the diversity of American Zinfandel.  Taste barrel samples, new releases, and more!  $65

Congratulations to Shari Johnston & Amy Holtzman, who each won a pair of tickets!  See you there!

Tickets for this year’s festival are available HERE .

That said, you lucky readers, I have something special for you!  Two lucky readers can win a pair of tickets to Epicuria.  Two other lucky readers can win a pair of tickets to the Grand Tasting!  You must be in San Francisco for the event.  Tickets are non transferable once claimed.  Good luck and the deadline for entry is Jan 18th.  Enter below!

See you zinners there!

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A barrel of monkeys, and some wine…

There is something about having a local watering hole in walking distance, where everybody knows your name, and the wine flows.  No, it’s not Cheers, and thank god I don’t have a Cliff Claven sitting next to me, but I do have a fantastic new wine bar to tell you about.

Barrique Wine Bar, in San Francisco’s Financial District (ok well it’s really more like Chinatown but who’s looking) is located steps from my office and offers a unique experience for the wine lover or wine curious.  While the concept of Barrique is not new, the use in a full service wine bar is.

What IS this amazing, fantastic, life changing concept?  Why a negociant of course!  A négociant, a particular breed of wine merchant, has been a concept in France from the beginning of winedom.  This person is a particular type of wine merchant who assembles groups of small producers and winemakers and sells the resulting wines under their own label (or labels).  Given that the average wine grower in France once had less than 10 acres, this is a necessary part of the wine making business.

Here in the states, we have developed our own version of the negociant – a wine merchant who takes finished wine and slaps their own label on it.  Cameron Hughes wines has created a booming business model with this idea, taking famous maker producer wine and putting his own own spin on it at a fraction of the price.  Why do this as a wine producer?  It’s pretty simple actually.  First, the economics of making wine demand that you ensure that you can sell your excess juice.  You might have 1000 cases of 2010 Chardonnay sitting around, and another 1000 cases in barrel.  If you’re not moving existing inventory, you have no cash flow — you have another 1000 cases sitting around.  Voila, sell it off, you have cash.  Second, premium brands often need ot crate the appearance of scarcity.  How much would you really pay for Screaming Eagle if you knew that it was on every store shelf from here to Manhattan?  Probably not 100 bucks.  So, in order to not dilute the market and encourage allocation only wines that will sell out, wineries often sell off excess juice to negociants.  Finally, sometimes, the wine is just not up to your standard.  It might be perfectly lovely wine, but it isn’t your ultra premium winemaker pick.  That is how some negociants get exceptional wine, and can offer it as an exceptional value.  Trader Joe’s private label is one example of this, and many premium wineries have second labels that also serve this purpose.

Now, with Barrique, you have the opportunity to take being a negociant to a new level.  Packed with barrels, this small space off of Jackson Square has about 10 tables and 5 bar high tops.  At any given time, 5-10 wines are on tap from these barrels, the private label wines selected specifically for the wine bar.  Additionally, you can elect to purchase a bottle or glass off of the wine list if you want to go mainstream.  Eventually, the team at Barrique hopes to bottle their own wine for retail sale.  Having the ability to create your own wine flight based on the current barrel offerings allows you to explore wines from a specific region, or cross regions to gain more tasting experience.

The staff at Barrique is warm and welcoming, and I’ve spent several hours talking wine with Sommelier extraordinaire Tom Capo.  My first time at the bar, I was meeting a friend for drinks when I happened to bump in to Ted Elliot aka TR Elliot wines; of course we got to talking, and my identity as a wine blogger was revealed – inspiring a great conversation with Tom about Barrique and being a negociant in general.  Pouring generous (and I DO mean generous) glasses from the barrel, Tom encourages you express your wine likes and dislikes, so he can customize your tasting experience.  He will also create a flight, which will let you taste several things without drinking a whole bottle er barrel.  Find something you really like?  You can also elect to purchase a .5 liter measure of any wine from the barrel, which is about 3 big glasses, or 4 good glasses, to share with friends.  Tom also creates weekly flights along a theme, which might include a La Folette pinot or a pinot on tap from Carneros.  You can also purchase any bottle on the list to take home at 10% off list price.  This is a great service, because one thing I hate is tasting a fantastic wine at a bar and not being able to find it again!

Of course, you can also have a beer if you must, as well as a nice selection of cheeses and light appetizers.

All in all, Barrique is a great experience, and is tucked away in an out of the way 100 year old building.  Offering private event space and a fun atmosphere, it should be on your list while downtown.  Today, I stumbled across a special blind tasting event (sold out sadly) that would be a blast!  Since I can see the front door from my office, it’s become my regular hangout, so you’re apt to find me there every other Thursday about 5.  Hope to see you there too!

Barrique is located at 461 Pacific Ave, between Sansome and Montgomery in San Francisco.  Check out the website for more info!

A little sun in the city

Ah, Sonoma.  That illustrious wine growing region to the north.  Oh the delicious pinot, zinfandel, and other wines created there!  Well, here in San Francisco, sometimes it’s hard to get up there.  Traffic, time, gas, etc.

Fortunately for us city dwellers, Sonoma is coming to the city!  This week, through a series of tastings and events, the wines of Sonoma are being showcased here in the city.

Starting tomorrow, the Grand Tasting at the Westin St Francis, over 200 wines from 100 wineries and growers will be poured.   Here, you can explore over 200 Sonoma County wines from 13 regions hand picked to show off the diverse terroir and winemaking styles.  Tickets are $55, but you can get a discount if you use your VISA Signature card!  There is also a special VIP room ($65).

On Thursday, Forks & Corks will be at the Firehouse at Fort Mason.  Eighty wines will be paired with five of our best food trucks: An the Go, Brass Knuckle, El Porteno Empanadas, Japa Curry and the Crème Brulee Guy. Tickets are $75 ($50 with the VISA discount, or $40 using code SPECIAL).

For those who like a little less formal of a stating, Vin12, who does monthly wine tastings at urban locations, is hosting a tasting on Friday at SLOANE for $25.  Featured wineries include Ceja, Gloria ferrere, Roessler, and Tin Barn.

I hope to see you out and one or more of the events!

Happy Sipping!

 

Crushing it in Dogpatch


Oh no you say!  Not another “do it yourself” urban winery!  Ok, I’d have to agree – that was my first reaction when I got the press release about Dogpatch Wine Works.  Since Crushpad abandoned their urban winery projects and effectively dumped its consumer based wine program after its move to Napa (and subsequent move to Sonoma Valley), I’ve had a bit of a bad taste in my mouth for community crush projects.

But, Dave Gifford’s email intrigued me.  A Crushpad alum, Dave knows first hand how to (and frankly, how NOT to) do an urban custom crush operation.  Moving in a scant block down from Crushpad’s former headquarters on 3rd Street in San Francisco, Dogpatch now operates a 15,000 square foot urban winery with a missing “to enable wine enthusiasts to realize their passion for all things wine”.  I’m hoping that this enthusiasm is somewhat more friendly than Crushpad’s seeming lackadaisical consumer program.  As a former Crushpad customer, I got to know them well as I wandered through three winemaking projects with a group of wineaux.  If you’re super nice I might let you come over for a tasting of the zin, cab blend, and freshly minted BeezleBubblez!  I got to know the team well, and in fact, and pleased to see former head winemaker Mike Zitzlaff joining the Dogpatch crew.

While I fully understand the economics of operating a micro winery and custom crush, a good business plan requires you to commit and focus on your core audience.  A business bill yourself as a “community based winery”, then you need to be…well, community based. Crushpad’s failing was that they lost focus and weren’t interested in pursing the consumer base.  The primary goal was to be a custom crush and attract premier winery partners.  That’s fine, but please don’t tell me you care about me and send me an email halfway through the full winemaking cycle that says “oh hey yeah we moved to Napa”.   Please note these opinons are NOT AT ALL reflective of any experience with DPWW, simply my observatoins as a disgruntled Crushpad customer.

Anyway…back to Dogpatch Wine Works.  Taking a note from Crushpad’s premium vineyard plans, DPWW allows you to choose from terrific grapes including – I’m very happy to report – Windsor Oaks Pinot Noir. Hey Julie, you ROCK!  As a big fan of Windsor Oaks fruit, this could yield some interesting stuff.  Add in the requisite equipment, a bonded winery, and expertise (yeah well ok so I didn’t go to Davis and chemistry isn’t my strong suit so Mike, i NEED you!), you hopefully have – a winery in a box, in a fun urban environment.  Some additional vineyard offerings are Sonoma Coast Pinot, Atlas Peak Cab, and Anderson Valley Pinot.  Ohh AV pinot?  Count me in!

All of these seems familiar, and I get a buzz of excitement that the beast is alive.  The goal of community based wineries is to allow you, for a fee (well yeah they need to make money) to participate from head to toe in the winemaking process.  Theoretically, you will learn a lot, have fun, and get purple with it.  Oh, and you get wine when you’re done!~  Yay!

One feature that Crushpad was missing whilst in the city was a tasting room, where we could actually TASTE some examples of wine they produced.  While in Napa, they did indeed have a microwinery tasting room, but well, it was in Napa.  This alone will add a unique feature which will be a draw; while there is a wine bar in Dogpatch (Yield) a tasting room is going to add interest and attract visitors.

Giving Crushpad it’s due, some of my favorite brands were launched there.  I just wish they had been clear about their goals from the start.

I salute you Dave, for being willing to revisit a space that Crushpad  screwed up abandoned, and taking on the challenge with a renewed focus.  This a huge space and one that I see a lot of potential in; avid wine lovers want to learn and experience the full lifecycle.  This is how we can do it.  Please check out Dogpatch Wine Works if you’re in the city – I know I will be!  I am starting to think I might need to make some more wine…Pinot anyone?

Cheers!

 

**Wordpress ate my homework**  I’m sorry to say that 2 of my best paragraphs ran away.  arrrgh!  I will repost if I remember them.  Yes, yes, I know.  Write in Word, archive, paste.  Bugger.

 

 

Support your local grape!

Adrink local wines I was reading through my backlog of blogs, I came across my favorite Caveman, Mike Wangbickler, who reminded me that this week is the second annual Regional Wine Week.

I’ve long been an advocate of shopping locally to somehow, in some tiny way, support my local merchants.  It can be challenging and expensive in some arenas, and just plain fun in others.  Living on the Left Coast, I am an hours drive from at least 5 world class wine regions, and this affords me a bit of luxury when drinking locally.  Yes, I know it will cost a bit more to support a small business, but isn’t it worth it?

Regional Wine Week is the genius of  WineCurmudgeon.com‘s Jeff Siegel and and WineLine”s David McIntyre (also of the Washington Post) who gathered a few wine writers to talk about their respective regions’ wines at the same time.  With 40 participants talking about their local juice, it was a great success and spawned the DrinkLocalWine.com website.

DrinkLocalWine gives readers a single source access point to read about different wine regions.  They are aggregating the psots during Regional Wine Week, and is really opening up doors for some lesser known areas producing areas in the US and worldwide.

For me, it’s too easy to pick Sonoma or Napa.  I live in San Francisco, the hotbed of technology and wine, where there are at least 5 wineries in the city limits, and many more using coop facilities and there are at least 20 member producers of the SF Wine Association.  I’m going to drink local this week, starting off with Vie Winery, maybe a little Sol Rouge, and perhaps sipping a bit of Blue Cellars.  I don’t have any AP Vin sadly, so you’ll just have to write about that yourselves!

I encourage you to go out and find somethign produced locally, and even better, owned locally.  If I could raid my friend Andy’s backyard for his Garagiste syrah I would, but sources tell me this might not be the best idea.

I hope to read some entertaining posts!

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