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1982, when Jörg Rupf founded St. George Spirits in Alameda, California, the
craft distilling movement in this country didn’t exist. Like many other
visionaries, Rupf was at least several decades ahead of the societal curve. To
make matters more difficult, he decided to focus exclusively on eau de vie, a
spirit practically unknown among American consumers.
As the years passed, Rupf became the Godfather of American craft distilling. He won numerous awards for his eau di vie, and trained the next generation of artisan distillers, men such as Steve McCarthy (Clear Creek), Randall Grahm (Bonny Doon) and Fritz Maytag (Anchor Distilling). However, the pivotal moment in the history of St. George was probably the day in 1996 when Lance Winters turned up to apply for a job, with a bottle of homemade whiskey in hand as his resume.
Winters, a former brewer and nuclear scientist, eventually transformed St. George under Rupf’s leadership. The two men put their first whiskey in barrel in 1997, and the country’s first single malt was released in 2000. In 2008, after 28 years as master distiller, Rupf officially turned the operation over to Winters.
If the average consumer is familiar with St. George Spirits, he or she would likely connect the company to Hangar One Vodka, a brand they launched in 2000. At the time, Rupf and Winters wanted to make spirits from citrus, but found the flavors incompatible with eau de vie. With materials sourced from California growers, the pair produced vodkas such as Buddha’s Hand Citron, Mandarin Blossom and Kaffir Lime. The brand was sold to Proximo Spirits in 2010, although St. George continues to make the vodka under contract.
In the post-Hangar One era, St. George has created spirits such as Absinthe Verte, Agua Libra Rum, Breaking and Entering Bourbon, and liqueurs made from raspberry and pear. One of their most distinctive accomplishments is a trio of gins---Terroir, Botanivore and Dry Rye. All three are bottled at 90 proof/45% ABV and retail in the $35 range, but they and very different in flavor and style.
I began with the Dry Rye because it was described as a gin for whiskey
drinkers, a mix of pot-distilled rye with five other botanicals, with juniper
playing a central role. The nose offers a warm and pleasant assortment of malt
and grain aromas. In the mouth, it has a high-toned palate imprint dominated by
the grains but also containing a core of citrus and anise; surprisingly, the
juniper stays firmly in the background. The mid palate is long and clean and
the finish is even cleaner, marked by echoes of mint, pepper and fennel.
According to St. George, Terroir Gin is “forest-driven…an ode to the wild beauty of the Golden State” (have all the hippie poets become distillers?). The nose is fresh and floral, with scents of pine and suggestions of lavender; the juniper seems more present here, even though the percentage used is far less than the Dry Rye. The Terroir is sweet on entry and turns spicy in the mid palate, with pronounced notes of pine, fir and sage; it is, as they claim, “a forest in your glass.” The finish is long, minty and penetrating.
The Botanivore Gin is a riot of 19 different botanicals. The most prominent are juniper, bay laurel and cilantro, all of which stand out on the nose. Like the Terroir, it seems sweet on entry and turns spicy in the middle, but also has a lush---almost unctuous---texture which is very appealing. The finish is lengthy and elegant, with resonant hints of juniper and pepper. With characteristic modesty, the folks at St. George suggest that this would make “the best gin and tonic ever.”
All three of these spirits would obviously form the
basis for some thrilling and very different Martinis, not to mention memorable
Negronis. However, here’s a recipe for a cocktail you won’t soon forget,
originally developed by Thad Vogler of San Francisco’s Bar Agricole:
RYE GIN OLD FASHIONED
1.5 oz. St. George Dry Rye Gin
2 bar spoons Small Hand Foods Gum Syrup
1 bar spoon Leopold Bros. maraschino
2 dashes cherry bitters
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Stir all ingredients, then serve in a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with orange and lemon zest.
When it comes to wine vintages, few statements are more compelling than the pronouncement that a specific region has experienced the Vintage of the Century. Marketing is easily fueled by superlatives, particularly when they seem to come from the mouths of experts, and hyperbole can help a wine triumph over a brutally competitive field.
Recently, though, the Vintages of the Century have been hurtling at us in clumps and at warp speed. Bordeaux is one of the best examples. Robert Parker proclaimed the 2000 vintage to be one of the best of all time, and his comments triggered an unprecedented gold rush. Since then, we’ve had three more VOTCs there: 2005, 2009 and 2010 were widely hailed as superlative, and the century isn’t yet two decades old. Now we’re hearing that the next VOTC in the making is 2015. In California, by contrast, every wine vintage seems to be VOTC.Read more
Duckhorn Vineyards is one of Napa’s iconic wine estates. It was founded by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn in 1976, at a time when there were a handful of wineries in Napa compared to over 500 today. From the beginning, it operated on a different philosophy from its neighbors.Read more
decades ago, Casa Noble didn't exist---the concept of premium tequila was unknown in this country. In
fact, it probably would have been considered laughable. Tequila in America was
the drink of frat boys, bikers and bums. It was what you drank if you wanted to
get obliterated as quickly as possible. It smelled like rotting compost, and
tasted worse. In fact, the standard method of ingesting it---downing a shot
quickly, along with a dose of salt and lime---had been developed specifically
to mask the aroma and flavor of the stuff.
When I first heard that Moet Hennessy was going to make a super-premium red wine in China, I was skeptical. China is certainly the Wild West of the wine business these days, the one market that everyone in the trade wants to penetrate. It’s true that Moët already had a foothold in the country, with their Chandon China operation producing sparkling wine for domestic consumption.
This, however, was different. Rumors began to surface six years ago that Moet Hennessy was seeking land in the foothills of the Himalayas to make a Bordeaux-style red that would be on a par with the great wines of the world. It seemed like a tall order. Despite rapid economic development, China is not the Napa Valley or the Médoc. Then, in 2012, Moet announced they had found their Shangri-La---literally.Read more
Disclaimer: In the world of craft spirits and whiskey geeks, this issue has been debated ad nauseam for several years. The following post is geared toward average consumers, who may not be aware of certain industry practices.
Craft spirits are one of the hottest trends in America, but a large proportion of those spirits are produced at the MGP warehouse in Lawrenceville, Indiana.Read more
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is deeply intertwined with the history of California wine. Without Stag’s Leap, in fact, California wine might not exist in the form it does today. Here are the details, for those too young to remember:
On May 24, 1976, a blind tasting occurred in Paris. The event was organized by Steven Spurrier (no, not the football coach, but rather an English wine merchant of the same name). Spurrier owned a wine shop in the city and had recently begun to dabble in small-batch California wines from top producers. He thought it would be an interesting idea to assemble a panel of French judges and see if they could pick out the French vs. California wines in a blind tasting. The prospective judges---a group of winemakers, critics and restaurateurs--- assumed it would be no contest, and were happy to participate.Read more
Commodities tend to go up and down in price, thus creating confusion about what they’re “worth.” Gold, for example, is supposed to be a safe haven with great intrinsic value. If so, how do we explain the fact that it sold for over $1800 per ounce in 2011 and $1200 two years later?
The truth is probably that commodities are worth what people are willing to pay for them. This seems unfair in the case of wine, since there are fixed costs tied to its production. Some wines cost $50 or $75 to make and sell for thousands of dollars. There are also wines that cost $15 to produce that consumers won’t pay $10 for, or even purchase at all.
Despite what some partisans want you to believe, fake news is not a new phenomenon. It’s as old as news itself. The only real change, as I pointed out recently (Food and the 24-Hour News Cycle), is the proliferation of news outlets. Between the Internet and cable news, there’s now an unprecedented tsunami of reporting, and there’s no more real news on any given day.Read more