The Bay Area is the birthplace of many culinary trends. Ingredient-driven cuisine, the organic movement, whole animal butchery and farm-to-table food are a few of the recent innovations that have become standards at restaurants in San Francisco and, subsequently, around the country.
One new craze that we’re betting will soon be de rigueur: proprietary beers and wines. This trend serves as an extension of the farm-to-table and garden-to-glass ethos. If restaurants tap local farmers to grow certain types of vegetables and produce preferred cuts of beef, why not ask nearby brewers and vintners to make a specific type of beer or wine solely for them?
If repeat diners are coming back to enjoy a taleggio cheeseburger on a housemade English muffin, why wouldn’t they return to sip a French bubbly rosé unique to their favorite eatery?
These are the questions that many restaurateurs, chefs and wine directors are finally answering — with a drink to call their own.
One of the first places to jump on the proprietary beverage bandwagon was Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Spruce. The Sacramento Street hot spot has an incredible wine and spirits program, featuring a list of more than 2,500 bottles of vino.
Over the years, Bacchus Management Group’s wine and spirits director, Andrew Green, realized that he had amazing personal relationships with prestigious winemakers and fine distillers. These relationships allowed the award-winning restaurant to develop a selection of custom-made libations, including a German riesling, Willamette Valley pinot noir, Kentucky bourbon and a single-malt scotch that you can order.
Another eatery that is a pioneer of the proprietary trend is One Market. The restaurant, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2018, has been making its own sparkling wine since its second year in business.
One Market partnered with Iron Horse Vineyards to create its own California cuvee, made in the methode champenoise with a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes fermented for an extra three years in the bottle.
“Every two years, myself, Michael Dellar [restaurant owner] and Joy Anne Sterling, the partner/CEO of Iron Horse, get together at the winery and blend the wine,” says Tonya Pitts, One Market’s wine director and a certified sommelier. “We produce bubbles because we love them so much. We want to share the dining experience of One Market restaurant with everyone who walks in the door. What better way to do that than with bubbles?”
Anna Weinberg, the co-owner of the Big Night Restaurant Group, couldn’t agree more with Pitts. Weinberg and her team recently opened their sixth eatery, Petit Marlowe, and to celebrate the occasion they made their own champagne.
“The team at Big Night Restaurant Group has always wanted to create a private label to serve at our restaurants,” says Weinberg. “Whenever we’d host VIP guests and wanted to send them something special, we’d say internally to ‘Big Night bubble them’ and send over some sparkling wine on the house.”
The group asked Casey Doolin, who now works with importer/distributor Charles Neal Selections, to make the wine. Doolin previously served as the wine and beverages director at Park Tavern (another of Big Night’s restaurants), so he had a clear vision of the brand and its needs.
“It was a natural fit to tap Casey to help us create Big Night Bubbles as we knew he would be able to capture the spirit we really wanted the wine to embody,” says Weinberg. “Thus Big Night Bubbles was born — a beautifully dry brut rosé by Vitteaut-Alberti in Burgundy which naturally exudes the feeling of having a fun, special, celebratory ‘big night,’ which is really what we’re all about, every night, at all of our restaurants.”
If the bubbles go over well, other proprietary wines might be on the agenda. Weinberg says, “If/when we produce additional Big Night wines down the line, we’re planning to incorporate the custom wallpaper designs from different Big Night properties into the labels of each release (i.e. the ducks from Petit Marlowe, the blue floral and red plaid from The Cavalier, the bovine print from Marlowe, etc.” The tropical print label of the bubbles is Leo’s Oyster Bar’s custom wallpaper. Weinberg adds, “Always fun, always memorable, and always very much ‘Big Night.'”
Beer is just as popular as bubbles in the Bay Area. And at Epic Steak, a beloved waterfront steakhouse, you can sample the restaurant’s very own house brew.
Epic Proportions was created by bar manager Nick Henry and local favorite Barebottle Brewing Company. The draft beer is an approachable IPA that is meant to please all palates.
“Just as the chefs in the kitchen pride themselves on creating great food dishes, our bar team at Epic Steak wanted to create a unique beer profile that would pair well with steak and also be enjoyed standing alone,” says Pete Sittnick, a managing partner at Epic. “We were fortunate to partner with a local craft brewery in Barebottle, so we keep the community spirit alive.
The fun and important aspect to Epic Proportions is that the staff is solidly behind selling it since they all played a part in making it. The fact that you can only get the IPA at Epic makes it special and a distinctive memory of the Epic experience.”
At China Live, the Chinese food emporium and eatery in Chinatown, Duggan McDonnell, the director of beverage, knew he wanted to make his own beer from the beginning. “Chinese culture in the U.S. begins in San Francisco, while craft brewing is also rooted in Northern California,” McDonnell says.
To bridge the two cultures, he reached out to Brendan Moylan and Arne Johnson, the owner and brewmaster, respectively, at Marin Brewing Company, to craft a light and incredibly drinkable ale. “With our signature Shanghai Blonde Ale,” McDonnell says, “you’ll taste a refreshing ale, perfect with our cuisine, with notes of ginger, cinnamon and red robe tea.
Although China Live has only been open for a few months, the Shanghai Blonde Ale is already a favorite among regulars, proving that proprietary beverages, be it brews or bubbles, are here to stay.