Always one of the best views of San Francisco, the northern tip of Alameda holds one of the Bay Area's most prized establishments - St. George distillery: the home of Hangar One vodka and the mad laboratory for distillers Lance Winter and Dave Smith. It had been a few months since my last visit, so I wanted to keep up with what was happening with these guys, as well as finalize the deal for what will soon be a new gin collaboration between St. George and K&L.
Right when we walked in, the distillation of gin was in full effect. Fresh off the still, we were able to taste the future Mt. Tam gin, which was created using only local botanicals from the local nature reserve. Terroir is an important concept to Lance and Dave, so they wanted to create something that reflected their local environment. We were able to put in a glass and experience the gin at full proof - the flavors are vibrant and amazing. This will be a big release when it is finally done.
Lance climbed up to the botanical basket and talked about the herbs and spices that were foraged for the new gin.
Meanwhile, Dave resurfaced with a stainless steel tank full of another delicious gin that was the result of a previous experiment. This is the future Faultline Spirits gin and the juniper flavors are bright with peppery accents. It is scheduled for a Fall/Winter release if all goes well. Hopefully, we all will be making your holiday spirits a bit brighter.
Getting back into the single malt barrel room was another main reason for our visit to the distillery. The success of last year's K&L/St George single malt release was so impressive that the pressure has been building for another similar bottling. However, I don't want a future release to be anything like the previous one so that expectations can be managed.
Dave brought out the rubber hose and started taking pulls of the barrels to coerce the malt into the glass. We tasted a few younger releases at first that really caught my attention. The quality of the booze going into the barrel at St. George is so superb that even the younger whiskies sing. One of the best we tried was a two month old distillate of Sierra Nevada Bock beer that lit up our palates - full of earthy, skunky, beery flavors that danced all over our tongues. If St. George ever got into the Bierschnapps market they would put everyone out of business in a heartbeat. No one is even close to their level right now. Another barrel that wowed me was a four year old malt that had spent two years in ex-bourbon and then an additional two years in Port - dynamite stuff that plays a role in their standard single malt, therefore probably not an option for a single barrel release. There are plenty of fantastic choices here however as long as the public is open to a younger whiskey.
Perhaps the most surprising moment of the day came when Dave poured me something out a giant green jug and I immediately recognized it as bourbon. "Oh my God! You guys made a bourbon!" I screamed. It was delicious and it tasted unlike any other flavor on the market, so I was super excited. Then Dave said, "Well, technically it's not ours, but we blended it." That's when he revealed to me that St. George was currently preparing to become the Compass Box of American whiskey - an organization dedicated to sourcing the finest possible bourbon casks and then marrying them into unique blends of original flavors. I couldn't have been more shocked or more excited. The bourbon in the jug was definitely bourbon, but had a light, fruity character that was typically more subdued in other brand-market options. It tasted like no other available release, yet still satisfied my bourbon desires. It was exactly what they had hoped to do, and hopefully will please the public as much as it pleased me. They're shooting for a $35 price point, which I think is fantastic. This is a program to keep a watchful eye on.
At the end of the day we devoured some Betty's Bake Sale chicken sandwiches - a local phenomenon that has people lining up around the corner in the East Bay. Wow, amazing eats. Crispy batter, succulent white meat, fresh cole slaw with vinegar and jalepeños. I couldn't eat it fast enough. We sat outside, talked about the future projects with excitement, and admired the view. It was tough going back to the store afterward. Not quite as fun as hanging with the lovely folks at St. George.