Monday, June 8, 2009

Hoppy vodka? Not quite...

The San Francisco Bay Area is known for its artisanal food and drink, including its locally produced wine and spirits. Most enthusiasts in the know are well aware of St. George Spirits (Hanger One Vodka, whiskies, and fruit brandies), Anchor Distilling (Rye whiskies and Gin), and Germain-Robin (distiller of fine brandies). However, far fewer are aware of a much smaller distillery, deep in Silicon Valley, named Essential Spirits.

Essential Spirits is the endeavor of David Classick and Andrea Mirenda, a husband and wife team who caught the distilling bug after spending time in France and at the Germain-Robin brandy distillery in Ukiah. Having a technology background, they both needed to get educated on distilling before deciding to open their distillery close to home in Mountain View. Rather than making brandy or whiskey, which typically require several years of aging in oak, or vodka, which has tons of market competition, the couple decided on making a unique un-aged German style spirit distilled from beer called Bierschnaps.

First produced in 1999, their Classick American Bierschnaps is a very unique spirit, as its the only one like it produced in the U.S. It's so unique, that the Federal ATF needed to create a special category for licensing the product. Unlike its German cousin, Classick uses a house made hoppy California style pale ale, similar to Sierra Nevada. He then distills the beer in a custom made Jean-Louis Stupfler copper pot still from France. The resulting product is clear like vodka, but has spicy undertones of the Northwestern Hops and American malt with a dry finish. It's an entirely different spirit than vodka in both flavor and mouthfeel. Bottled at 80 proof, it's a great substitute for vodka or gin in many drinks and makes a particularly good martini.

Over time, Essential Spirits has added other products to the portfolio including Napa Valley grappa, rum, and pear brandy. In addition, they also distill DH Krahn Gin in their pot still under a license agreement. As of press time, the distillery is not open for tours.

K&L Wines, a local merchant, carries several of Essential's products including the Bierschnaps, and also ships to home addresses.


Locations Mentioned:

Essential Spirits
144 S Whisman Rd # A
Mountain View, CA 94041
(650) 962-0546

K&L Wines
3005 El Camino Real
Redwood City, CA 94061
(650) 364-8544

Bierschnaps Cocktails:

Bierchnaps Martini
2 ounces of Bierschnaps
1/2 ounce of dry vermouth
Dash of Angostura Bitters

Shake vigorously with ice, strain, and serve with an olive.

While your host usually prefers a generous pour of vermouth in the martini, it's best to utilize restraint in this cocktail to allow the subtleties of the Bierschnaps to shine through.

Modified Lime Rickey
2 ounces of Bierschnaps
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1 tsp of agave syrup
Dash of Angostura Bitters

Shake vigorously with ice, strain, and serve with a twist.

The agave syrup is a little more exciting than standard cane based simple syrup. Make sure to use a lighter variety, or the agave flavor will dominate. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's usually carry several brands.

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