From carrot liqueur to the best in absinthe, a tour of the city's new tipples
2601 Monarch, Alameda. (510) 769-1601. www.stgeorgesspirits.com
On a winding road above St. Helena and under peaceful Spring Mountain pines, there's more going on than this distillery's impeccable line of vodkas. Thirteen generations have gone into this family business, founded in 1983 and run by Miles and Susan Karakasevic, their son Marko, and his wife Jenni. The distillery's lineage is evident to the discerning tippler who sips their port, rums, pastis, brandy, grappa, wines — even their herbaceous tequila. Charbay's father-son distilling duo traveled to Mexico to painstakingly learn traditional tequila-making technique, which they expertly riff on to make their distinct blends.
Don't even get me started on Release II of Charbay whiskey! 110 proof, aged six years with a pilsner beer base, it's a stratospheric $325, but one of the most exceptional things I've ever tasted. From its astounding complexity, I caught everything from hops to echoes of the pine trees surrounding the distillery. I also sampled an unreleased 12-year version of Release II: higher proof, rich, a stunner.
But there's no rest for the Karakasevics. Future whiskeys are already aging in French oak barrels — the one I'm most thirsty for, a stout whiskey, won't be ready until 2012. If early tastes are any indication, it's already brilliantly complex with coffee, spice, and dark chocolate notes. Made with neighboring Bear Republic's stout in copper alembic stills, it'll age for two years to reach 90 proof and is expected to retail around $90 — part of a younger, more affordable line of whiskeys compared with the divine but costly Release II. The bold explorer spirit that propels Charbay to Mexico to make a fine tequila shines in their future whiskeys.
TEMPUS FUGIT SPIRITS
These importers have already made waves with their Swiss-produced Gran Classico Bitter, which I hailed for reinventing classic cocktails like the Negroni. They also import some of the best French and Swiss absinthes in existence. Absinthe historians and spirits experts Peter Schaf and John Troia are the masterminds behind Tempus Fugit — and owners of one of the finest vintage absinthe poster collections in the world. It was a thrill to check out these rare pieces while tasting the history and forward-thinking vision in their bitters and liqueurs.