The patron saint of distillers and spirits fans alike.
Countries from England to Bulgaria, from Ethiopia to India come under the patronage of St. George. St George is the patron saint of cities from Genoa to Rio de Janeiro and of professions such as farmers, soldiers and horsemen. He must also intercede on behalf of distillers, or at least those at St. George Spirits distillery in Alameda, California.
Located in a restored warehouse on the former Naval Air Base in the San Francisco Bay, St. George Spirits was founded in 1982 by pioneer craft distiller Jorg Rupf. The distillery produces a broad range of beverages under the direction of Master Distiller (and current proprietor) Lance Winters, including Hangar 1 Vodka, several whiskies and gins, and a range of liqueurs such as eau de vie style dry fruit spirits. St. George is a craft distillery, producing in a year what large scale commercial distillers like Smirnoff might make in one day. In December 2007, the distillery added to its portfolio the first commercially available American absinthe since the lifting of the 1912 ban, St. George Absinthe Verte.
Some friends and I recently had the pleasure of visiting St. George Spirits. Informed, interesting and vivacious staff led the tour and tastings. St. George management clearly promotes originality along with its hip, funky and sociable vibe (the stills are named after Transformers, including Megatron). But let's face it, regardless of how friendly the staff may be, everyone visits the distillery to drink its unique and delightful concoctions. The highlights of my tasting include the following three spirits.
Aqua Perfecta Pear Eau de Vie
The distillery incorporates organic, locally-grown fruit, vegetables, herbs and grains into their products. Consistent with the eau de vie style, every ingredient is used in its entirety to maximize aromas and flavors. Distilled from fifteen pounds of dry-farmed organic Bartlett pears, Aqua Perfecta Pear Eau de Vie is an unaged fruit brandy that offers a fresh, intense pear flavor, coupled with subtle honey notes, with a lingering, memorable finish. Pear lovers will thoroughly enjoy this as a digestif; I've heard the Framboise Eau de Vie will delight raspberry aficionados.
Breaking and Entering Bourbon
Breaking & Entering is an ironically complex and diversely blended bourbon. St. George staff procured 80 barrels of 5-7 year old Kentucky Bourbon and then blended it into a unique tasting whiskey. Vanilla and banana cream aromas combine with banana bread flavors to create a balanced but sweet bourbon.
St. George one day will sell its bourbon made on its premises ' it's been aged for the last six years, so hopefully that day is almost upon us. The latest batch of St George's Single Malt Whiskey will soon be released. According to the authors of 1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die, it "might just be the best U.S. single malt available today." I can't wait to try it.
Most people probably think of drinking absinthe only after pouring water into the absinthe over a sugar cube on a slotted spoon. That's not necessary with St. George Absinthe Verte. While Parisians originally drank absinthe in this manner, that because most absinthes of that time were very bitter, and the water used to cut the absinthe was not potable. Nowadays, some bars still pour the absinthe over the sugar cube and then light the sugar cube on fire for show. The folks at St. George believe this is unnecessary. Instead, they just pour the absinthe over an ice cube or two. As the ice melts, the oils in the absinthe separate and emulsify, creating a milky beverage that smells like tarragon and tastes specifically like English Licorice Allsorts. My only disappointment was not seeing any green monkeys (except on the label). To my knowledge, I did not hallucinate.
My friends and I also sampled three gins and Hangar 1 "Straight" vodka. Made with a blend of Viognier grapes and Midwestern wheat, Hangar 1 Straight is one of the smoothest vodkas I've ever tasted, and without the rubbing alcohol odor one finds in many vodkas. I could drink it on the rocks and be satisfied. Two of the three gins had botanical notes, with the Mt. Tam Terroir having much more aggressive Douglas fir taste and odors. The final gin was the Ginski, a gin and whiskey blend. As a whisk(e)y lover, I appreciated the effort of making a gin for the whiskey aficionado, but the beverage needed a little work, as it tasted and smelled like an odd combination of neither.
Overall, several beverages in the St. George Spirits' portfolio are nothing short of spectacular and a fitting tribute to their patron saint.