How many people can say that their work takes them on field trips to craft distilleries for tastings? I realize I am lucky to be in this category, but it truly is important to know as many details about the products being merchandized when working at a market that sells premium products. After all, a big part of my job is to assist guests with making the best purchase catered to their liking. Though not a heavy drinker, I can certainly appreciate the spirits that St. George offers.
St. George Spirits occupies Hanger One (hence the name of their line of vodka) in Alameda and showcases a stunning view of the San Francisco skyline. They classify themselves as an eau de vie distillery and they make all types of liquor, from neutral vodkas to absinthe. We got to tour through the entire premises of Hanger One. We saw the Willy Wonka-esque distillation machines, the barrels that they age their whiskey and bourbon in, and the assembly line where each bottle is hand labeled and sealed. To start the tour, however, we did a tasting of a wide variety of the hand-crafted spirits that they make in small batches. Tasting liquor is NOT like tasting wine. Their motto at t. George is “spitters are quitters”. The tastes they pour are quite small though, so no need to worry about becoming intoxicated even after trying many types of spirits…unless you are a “one shot wonder”. To taste the liquor, one must inhale deeply and fully expand the diaphragm, then sip, swallow, and finally breathe out. No swishing or swirling in the mouth is permitted. The sip should be a smooth flow that allows the palate and back of the throat to capture all of the complex flavors and heat.
The following was on our tasting menu:
Vodka infused with buddha’s hand or kaffir lime. The buddha’s hand vodka tasted like a lemonhead and was a staff favorite.
We tried all three of their gins: dry rye, terroir, botanivore. The standout gin for me is the terroir. Said to be “an ode to the wild beauty of the Golden State”, this gin is infused with botanicals found on Mount Tamalpias such as douglas fir, California bay laurel, coastal sage, and other evocative botanicals. The botanivore is also an extremely complex gin that would be great mixed or neat. It has 19 different botanicals: angelica root, bay laurel, bergamot peel, black peppercorn, caraway, cardamom, cilantro, cinnamon, citra hops, coriander, dill seed, fennel seed, ginger, juniper berries, lemon peel, lime peel, orris root, Seville orange peel, star anise. I never would have guessed that cilantro and cinnamon would infuse together well, but this gin has proved me wrong.
The Breaking and Entering Bourbon is a testament to the dedication of the distillers at St. George. While bourbon does not legally have to be made in the state of Kentucky solely, St. George still thought it best to use barrels from the rick houses of Kentucky’s most respected bourbon distilleries. The result is a sweet and spicy drink with notes of maple, banana, butter, cinnamon, and cloves.
We tried a single-malt whiskey. The whiskey is aged up to 12 years, so that is quite an investment and an example of how this business is tricky and can either be rewarding or severely disappointing. Fortunately, we were not disappointed with this whiskey.
On a sweeter note, we tasted a raspberry infused eau de vie. This is a delicious dessert liquor. I am curious to try their other flavors including basil and pear.
The finale came with the absinthe. St. George’s Absinthe Verte was the first absinthe to be made and released for sale in the U.S. since the U.S. ban on absinthe in 1912. The label of the bottle shows off a monkey holding a bone and a cow bell, which was in fact inspired from the SNL spoof. Feeling like I was back in Chemistry lab, once ice and a splash of water was added to the yellow absinthe in my tasting glass, the liquid turned a murky teal color and tasted like spicy anise. I highly recommend trying this spirit, though in very small doses as it is 120 proof.