Notable Cocktails, Spirits, Wine, Beer & Sake in Winter 2010

I’m excited to return to Oakland’s new Era Art Bar & Lounge ( – a photo from my sneak peek pre-opening

Here’s two brand new openings I’d recommend for sipping a glass of vino:

Passion’s rooftop for warm days & nights

• Brave 6th Street and duck into Passion Cafe, a spacious French bistro with rooftop garden and multi-room space so cool, it’s a pleasure to linger over a glass.

• I’ve been a big fan of Kitchenette’s fabulous food since they opened… so it’s an easy win to be able to get it in greater variety at the Mission’s new wine bar, Heart. A crisp, minimalist space and startling photography set the tone for the playfulness that awaits when French wines are served in Mason jars (with these kind of tasting descriptions: “Like licking a skeleton with a pineapple in your mouth.”)


Kitchenette & wine at Heart

• At the dream of a pig feast that is Oliveto‘s Whole Hog Dinners, I couldn’t decide which wine I loved best with all that pig… each one cut the fat beautifully, never overpowered, but stood its ground. There’s the refreshing acidity of an ’06 Garlider Sylvaner from Alto Adige. Two more Italian beauties on the red side: 2005 Grifalco Aglianico del Vulture (dark red cherry and herbal notes) or the subtle plum and earthiness of a ’05 Valmaggione Nebbiolo d’Alba. I finished fine with a ’07 Cuvee Classique Domaine Monpertuis Chateaneuf-du-Pape: 70% Grenache, layered with dark fruit, dried herbs, spice, even leather notes.

Bagrationi Sparkling Brut is from Georgia… a tiny country situated on the edge of Eastern Europe and Western Asia (next to Albania). For a reasonable $13.99, it’s a good value, from hand-picked grapes, refreshing, with light citrus and honeydew notes.


A few of my favorites from SF Beer Week’s Opening Gala at Yerba Buena:

All you can taste at SF Beer Week’s Opening Gala

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• My love for spirits first and foremost clearly plays into my top taste from Beer Week: Abacus, a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine (13% ABV) that has aroma and tastes of bourbon (caramel, vanilla, oak). Thank you, Paso Robles’ Firestone Walker. They also deliver a bright Union Jack IPA, but it’s Abacus that wowed me. I’m not alone – demand for this barelywine has been such that they are purported to finally bottle it for the first time later this year.

•  Devil’s Canyon makes some fine beers, but its their awesome Root Beer I fell madly in love with. Small batch and organic, its touch of sweet comes from organic cane sugar, agave nectar and California honey. Rich, rooty, refreshing.

•  Linden Street Brewery‘s owner, Adam Lamoreaux, is such a cool guy and one man show at Oakland’s newest brewery, making “Old California style” lagers like a roasty, dark Burning Oak Lager.

•  Schmaltz Brewing Company – I was quite impressed with the fine taste of Albino Python, a white lager brewed with orange peel, ginger, fennel. My other fave is Jewbelation Bar Mitzvah, their 13th anniversary ale brewed with 13 malts, hops and 13% alcohol. These guys are doing it right.

•  North Coast Brewing Co.’s Brother Thelonious Belgian-style abbey ale is robust and memorable (9.3% ABV). It doesn’t hurt that jazz genius Monk himself is the mascot.


Sake & Chicken Hearts at Nombe

•  Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey– Far from a traditional whiskey, the unusual taste of Stranahan’s intrigued my palate with smooth wood and a range of tastes from caramel and spice to tobacco and leather. Here’s Malt Advocate’s publisher, John Hansell’s, great review.

• You’ll rarely see me go for flavored rums, vodkas (or vodka in general), etc… John Meisler, Don Q’s ambassador, gave quite the rum education and tasting on 2/2 at Yoshi’s for an industry event. Somewhere in the middle of side-by-side tastings of Don Q next to popular rums (of which I won’t name names) which lacked the flavor of Don Q (from Gold to a Grand Anejo), I kept burying my nose in a glass of Don Q CoCo, a rum flavored with natural coconut oils. I’d never order it but the fresh scent of coconut oil transported me immediately to some island beach, relaxed and tan, far from my seat on a Winter afternoon.


• The Mission’s new izakaya extraordinaire, Nombe, has an admirable selection of sakes, including flights to further your education. Out of a $15 Akita flight, the two that stood out the most were an acidic but balanced Manabito Kimoto Junmai Ginjo and elegant, chilled Akitabare Koshiki Junzukuri.