Farm to Shaker:
Latest front on the local,
seasonal sourcing movement
We’ve all grown accustomed to the local “farm to fork” menus that highlight locally grown “organic,” “seasonal,” “artisanal,” and “sustainable” ingredients. But who expects to see those words on a cocktail menu?
Oh, you do?
Well, then, you may have been haunting Easy Lounge (now New Easy) at 3255 Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland years ago when they started their Saturday Farmers’ Market Cocktail Hour using fruits, greens, and herbs just purchased that morning from the Grand Lake Farmers’ Market. More recently, restaurants like Adesso, Grand Tavern, and Flora in Oakland have been adding seasonal riffs to their cocktail menus.
At Gather, a Berkeley restaurant founded on uber-green principles, bartender Anthony Keels gets his pick from the beautiful organic produce coming through the kitchen door. Last summer he featured the Yellow Doll, a cocktail made with the juice of Full Belly Farm’s Yellow Doll watermelon, a small, seeded melon with bright yellow flesh and a candy-sweet flavor. See the recipe below and try it yourself this summer when the melons roll in at the Tuesday Berkeley Farmers’ Market.
Anthony Keels’ Yellow Doll
¾ ounce Yellow Doll Watermelon Syrup (made with 2 parts Yellow Doll watermelon juice and 3 parts simple syrup)
1¼ ounce CapRock gin
½ ounce St-Germain elderflower liqueur
¼ ounce lemon juice
¼ ounce lime juice
Sparkling wine (your driest)
Place all ingredients except the sparkling wine in a shaker with ice. Shake and then double-strain into a martini glass. Top with a floater of sparkling wine.
Nostalgia or a New Art Form?
Pre-Prohibition cocktails are all the rage. But this rediscovery of classic bar drinks is not just another retro craze. It’s also about taking an honest look at what bar ingredients have become in the post-Prohibition era of “convenience foods.” During the second half of the 20th century, bartenders came to rely on mixers sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup and further tarted up with artificial flavors and dyes. In today’s revival, enlightened (and motivated) bartenders are discovering sweeteners like jaggery (a brown sugar derived from cane juice or palm sap), agave nectar, honey, and maple syrup to sweeten drinks, and they’re learning how to make their own syrups, sodas, infusions, tinctures, cordials, and bitters from wholesome ingredients.
Businesses like Jennifer Colliau’s Berkeley-based Small Hand Foods are cropping up to provide the “pre-Prohibition ingredients” bartenders now seek. Her flagship product is gum syrup, a sugar syrup thickened with gum arabic (a resin from the acacia tree) that gives cocktails a great “mouth feel.” She also makes pineapple and raspberry gum syrups, an authentic orgeat (French almond syrup, made from California almonds, apricot kernels, organic cane sugar, orange flower water, and California brandy), and a grenadine from real pomegranate juice, just like they did in pre-Prohibition days.
The GMO Dilemma
Russell Moore, chef/owner of Oakland’s Camino restaurant on Grand Avenue, has made a commitment to keeping his restaurant’s entire menu free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including the bar, “which sourcing for is challenging but not impossible,” he says. “Alcohol is one of the trickier things to source GMO-free. We don’t want food coloring or any other additives, and that can be hard to find. We deal with smaller distributors who don’t have any GMOs in their products. We make our own bitters. I’m not saying that we never mess up. We do. Supplying the hard alcohol bar is the biggest challenge of all. It’s very difficult to find GMO-free bourbon.”
Most bourbons and whiskies, as well as some some vodkas, are made from corn, and with an estimated 88 percent of all U.S. corn crops being grown from GM seed, bartenders seeking to avoid GMOs have to look hard for appropriate products. Food additives, such as high-fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, ascorbic acid, citric acid, artificial and “natural” flavorings are almost all derived from corn or sugar beets (which are now predominantly GM as well).
Allison Hopelain (photo at left ny Nicki Rosario), Moore’s wife and co-owner of Camino, offered their bar’s Negroni recipe as an example of how they have retooled a classic cocktail to be GMO-free.
“Traditional Negronis are specifically made with Campari—something we don’t carry at Camino because it contains artificial flavoring and coloring and because it is industrially produced,” she says.
The outcome of their efforts is a drink they feel is pretty close to the original, and for those who would make the comparison, might reveal the “chemical” taste Campari adds. Their replacement is Gran Classico bitters, which, like the Dolin vermouth, is from Europe, where everything is GMO-free. They use Voyager gin from Pacific Distillery, whose entire product line is GMO-free.
Camino’s GMO-Free Negroni
1½ ounces Voyager gin
¾ ounce Gran Classico bitters
¾ ounce Dolin sweet vermouth
Stir with ice and serve on the rocks with an orange twist.
Last summer, Edible Communities, Inc., joined St-Germain, maker of elderflower liqueur, in hosting St-Germain’s annual Can-Can Cocktail Classic contest, encouraging readers of the many Edible publications across the continent to submit original recipes for cocktails using St-Germain and local seasonal ingredients. The East Bay had three winners, and by chance (or not), they all found inspiration in the stone fruits that were in season at the time of the contest.
Oakland resident Maria Hunt (photo at left), a first-place winner, devised her winning recipe, Stone St. Sage, after she made a discovery at Oakland’s Piedmont Grocery: a treasure trove of what she calls “the best tasting apricots ever . . . sweet and slightly tart.” She knew they were from Fitzgerald Farm, but couldn’t recall their name. We sent Maria’s description to farmer Fitz Kelly: “small with slightly rough skin with little spots and a splash of red, kind of like a freckle-faced kid blushing,” and he knew right away that the apricots were his red blush “Elgin Marbles.”
Fitzgerald’s Premium Ripe Tree Fruits is located in southeastern Fresno County, where he has been growing a wide range of stone fruits since November 1972. Over the decades, he’s seen many fellow small farmers in this prime stone fruit country bought out by large operations. Fitz says he “still grows for flavor,” and you can find out what that means by stopping in at Piedmont Grocery during the summer as his various stone fruits arrive. The Elgin Marbles come along in early June and last for just a few weeks.
Maria Hunt’s Stone St. Sage
1 ripe heirloom apricot (or try ¼ ripe nectarine or peach)
3 fresh sage leaves, plus a sprig of sage for garnish
1 ounce Rothman & Winter apricot liqueur
1½ ounces St-Germain elderflower liqueur
¾ ounce 209 gin
Dash Peychaud’s bitters
2 ounces brut California sparkling wine
Muddle the apricot, sage leaves, and apricot liqueur in a cocktail shaker until the fruit and leaves release their fragrance. Add the St-Germain, gin, and bitters to the shaker along with some ice. Shake until well chilled. Double strain into a small martini glass or coupe. Top with the chilled sparkling wine. Garnish with the remaining sprig of sage.
Revelations at Rivoli
Chris Mar and Shari Stein both work as bartenders at Rivoli restaurant on Solano Avenue in Albany. Both entered the Can-Can Classic and won honorable mentions, Chris with his chai, rye, and apricot Kshantu Saint. He explains that in Hindi, “kshantu” means “patience,” which might be helpful for getting through the steps of crafting this multi-layered drink.
“I normally drink chai tea without milk,” he says, admitting that though drinking chai black is not the traditional style, it did give him the idea for his winning cocktail. Chris thought the flavor of apricot might go well with bourbon or other whiskey. “Instead of muddling the apricots I thought I might save time by blending them into the gum syrup. It also helps cut down on the bitterness.” He used the floral taste of the St-Germain to balance out the spicy flavors of the chai and the (rī)1 rye whiskey. “It also gives the drink a beautiful aroma that complements the aromatics from the tea.”
Pictured: Shari Stein and Chris Mar at the Rivoli bar. (Photo by Szymon Sipowski)
Chris Mar’s Kshantu Saint
¾ ounce apricot-infused gum syrup (blended apricots infused with gum syrup)
½ ounce chai spiced black tea (loose leaf, steeped really dark then chilled)
1¼ ounces (rī)1 rye whiskey
¾ ounce St-Germain
¼ ounce Gran Classico Bitter liqueur
Dash of Angostura bitters
1 dried apricot
Combine all ingredients except the dried apricot in a shaker. Strain into an ice-filled a rocks glass, garnish with the dried apricot, and serve.
The other winner from Rivoli, Shari Stein, runs the restaurant’s cocktail program. She does most of the sourcing for the bar’s ingredients, and changes the drink menu with the seasons.
“I love spending the afternoon scouring a farmers’ market for not only fruit and herbs, but also local jams, spreads, honeys, and spices,” she says, describing how she uses her finds to make cordials, tinctures, and infusions for Rivoli’s cocktails. Stop in for a drink before the dinner rush and ask Shari for a few tricks of the trade or about her growing repertoire of recipes for her latest project, an app on healthful cocktails for the adventurous spirit.
Shari Stein’s Cydonia
1½ ounces Hangar One Vodka
1 ounce St-Germain
2 teaspoons June Taylor quince paste
1 sprig marjoram, leaves only
¾ ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 ounce dry sparkling wine
Combine all ingredients except sparkling wine and shake vigorously over ice for 30 seconds. Fine strain into an ice-filled wine glass. Top with sparkling wine and garnish with a marjoram sprig. Enjoy!
Lay Me Down To Rest
2 ounces Four Roses bourbon
½ ounce Lorenzo Inga My Amaro
5 chunks organic white peach, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ ounce simple syrup (using raw natural cane turbinado sugar)
½ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
¼ ounce jalapeño tincture (recipe below)
1 pinch Murray River Salt
Muddle peach in shaker until well mashed. Add all other ingredients plus ice and shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Fine strain into an iced-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a peach and lime wheel and enjoy.
Slice 10 jalapeños into ½-inch-thick wheels and place into a glass jar. Fill the jar with a high-proof neutral spirit (preferably vodka over 80 proof) until there is 2 inches of liquid over the jalapeños. Tightly lid the jar and let it sit for 2 to 3 days, shaking occasionally. Once the desired level of heat is obtained, fine strain the liquid into another glass container, label and date it and store it in a cool, dry place. The tincture should be good for about 6 months.
Special thanks to M.K. Kilkuskie for assistance with this article.