Steve McCarthy @ Alembic
Alembic is a dark (hence my hazy photos) and cozy little place towards the end of Haight St. down from Golden Gate park and Amoeba records. It has a gigantic selection of booze, from single malts to liqueurs, as well as local cult favorites like Russian River Brewery on tap. They do a pre fixe menu every night with interesting plates and fantastic presentation. The bartenders are well-versed and the staff is young with fashionable hipster vibe. The cocktails are top notch and, with mixer Daniel Hyatt running the show, they push liquid creativity to a new level. In short, Alembic is the perfect place to bring the esoteric Clear Creek spirits line up and showcase its creator Steve McCarthy. "Basically, if you're looking for spirits that are hard to sell and that no one likes, I'm your guy," Steve told the small crowd before beginning his presentation. The plan for the night was simple: we had four courses paired with a cocktail, and in between Steve and I would go around to each table and pour some samples and talk about them. The intimacy was unparalleled by any other event we have done. Steve basically ate dinner and talked with everyone personally and privately.
Before getting into the Clear Creek products, I want to reiterate that Daniel Hyatt is capable of blowing your mind when motivated to do so. I have my favorite bartenders in the city that I visit when the thirst beckons me, but Daniel's genius doesn't stem from an impromptu order behind the stick. He prepares all day for his cocktails, so you need to go with whatever wave he's riding on. In planning the menu for the evening - salad with tempura shrimp, polenta with prawns, roasted sweetbreads, and a fruit tart with lemon zest ice cream - Daniel whipped up four of the most creative drinks I have yet tasted. The brilliance is in the subtlety and the ingenuity. All four drinks went well with their respective pairings because they were like fine wines - restrained, and meant to tease your taste buds rather than overload them. The first drink used the Clear Creek cassis with some black tea and sparkling rose. The second was an insane combination of Clear Creek K&L Barrel whiskey with muddled persimmons and cinnamon. The third, a take on the Clear Creek Pomme with crushed ice and infused simple syrup with fresh muddled borage. Finally, the best for last, a cold shot of Clear Creek Pinot Grigio grappa and with lemon zest sweetener and espresso beans.
For the sampling, we brought out the best of the collection: our new barrel of McCarthy whiskey, the blue plum brandy, the eight year apple brandy, the douglas fir eau de vie, the still-unreleased brandy, and bunch of fruit liqueurs before we finished with a cold glass of Steve's legendary pear eau de vie. It was nice to watch everyone get the same fantastic treatment from Steve that I have always received. I got to sit back and take my enjoyment from that. The point that kept coming up all night long was the fact that every product in the Clear Creek line up is top notch. Some wineries make a great cab but a lackluster pinot, but this is not the case concerning Steve.
There's not much more to say that the pictures can't express. It was a laid back, easy-going, and intimate evening that I would have enjoyed immensely were I sitting down and eating. As it was, I know how I felt going through the tour two summers ago in Portland, so getting to see that excitement on the faces of last night's participants was almost just as good. All in all, a fun night that we probably won't ever have the chance to do again. At least not with cocktails this good and a man of Steve's stature.