In terms of cocktail culture, San Francisco is a town that’s known for its trend-setting ways. The latest craze is bars that specialize in a specific spirit. Read on for a sampling of Bay Area watering holes that are fully committed to making a splash in the one-drink movement.
At the Tenderloin’s Trocadero Club, a dimly lit and moody bar with minimal decor, bar manager and part owner Eric Passetti has curated an exotic collection of European-style schnaps. Not to be confused with the sugary American schnapps, the schnaps that Passetti serves are small-batch, hard-to-find spirits distilled mostly from fruit. At Trocadero, the schnaps is used as a base for an interesting list of cocktails (try El Chapo, a potent mixture of mezcal, cacao, Lillet, lemon and a walnut schnaps called nocino) and served up straight — sample hard-to-pronounce-but-delicious framboise eau de vie (raspberry-flavored schnaps), kirschwasser (schnaps made from Morello cherries) or brierbrand (schnaps distilled from beer). A bottle of these flavor-packed schnaps requires 20 pounds of fruit. When asked why he decided to focus on schnaps, Passetti says, “I was sick of seeing the same usual suspects on every menu in town. There is something to be said for using a product that hasn’t really gotten the attention of other spirits.”
The same can be said of Bar 888, a sleek, expansive space on the ground floor of InterContinental San Francisco, where the lesser-known spirit grappa is featured. The Italian digestivo is made from leftover wine grapes and generally enjoyed after a meal. However, at this bar the spirit is stirred into some pretty refreshing concoctions, including When in Rome, a delightfully fizzy drink made with grappa, limoncello and fresh-squeezed orange juice that’s topped off with a salted rim and skewered raspberry. Stocked with more than 100 bottles, many of which were hand-carried into the United States from Italy by grappa fans and Bar 888 employees, the bar also has several grappa flights. Informative bar manager Eric Hammermaster explains that grappa “is very distinguishable with different wine-like flavor profiles.” In between tasty sips, be sure to check out the grappa bottle — many are handcrafted with beautiful designs and intricate illustrations.
If you’re a fan of whiskey, head over to Elixir in the Mission. The 10-year-old saloon has one of the city’s largest selections (more than 300 bottles) of American whiskey and recently launched a special flight program. “I started out collecting tequila and mezcal, then sort of shifted and started collecting everything,” says Elixir proprietor H. Joseph Ehrmann. “Before I knew it, I had so many bottles in storage that I realized I had to dwindle down my collection. At the time, I was very into collecting whiskey, and since it fits with the saloon theme, I decided to focus on that.” An expert when it comes to all things whiskey, Ehrmann is excited to offer guests an educational drinking experience. Whiskey lovers can choose from three pour sizes (3/4 ounce, one ounce or two ounces) or a variety of flights meant to broaden horizons. There’s a new American whiskey flight, a California whiskey flight, an unaged flight, a scotch flight and a whiskey discovery flight that allows you to taste the difference between bourbon, rye and scotch. Ehrmann has also worked on a new cocktail menu devoted entirely to beverages that feature whiskey. “What I’ve learned is you don’t want all your capital sitting on the shelves not being sold,” he says.
Photos Courtesy of Jessica Stout Paul and Bar 888