Week of September 15–23

Cheers to Oakland’s Low-ABV Cocktail Crafters (and all the rest)

At the dawn of the contemporary craft cocktail age in the early aughts, San Francisco swiftly became Northern California’s darling of the scene, with bars like Bourbon & Branch and Trick Dog gaining national recognition as top drinking destinations. Oakland wasn’t known for outstanding bars like its sister city, but the last decade has changed all that; Oakland now boasts some of the most innovative and unique cocktail bars in the Bay Area, and many have been touted across the globe. This September’s inaugural Oakland Cocktail Week highlights the creativity and craft behind the cocktail programs at various Oakland restaurants, bars, bottle shops, and distilleries.

From drink specials and chef’s dinners to tasting opportunities and discounts, locals are encouraged to explore Oakland’s cocktail culture at their favorite bars and newly discovered haunts. The weeklong celebration showcases the bars and shops as well as the creative minds behind them—the mixologists, shop owners, restaurant proprietors, and head distillers who have put Oakland on the map as a cocktail mecca.

Each venue is curating its unique Oakland Cocktail Week offerings, with the low-ABV (alcohol by volume) trend spotted across many participants’ menus. A current development in the wellness scene shows imbibers looking at everything going into their glasses. But health is far from the only reason bar patrons are interested in less boozy bevvies. Any cocktail enthusiast will appreciate the nuance of flavors that can be achieved when you take high-proof spirits out of the equation.

Kayoko Akabori, co-owner of Oakland’s sleek spirits shop Umami Mart, recommends playing with shochu (a Japanese spirit made with rice, barley, or potato) as it’s typically lower in alcohol content. “It’s a nice way to complement cocktails, as the flavors are not so intrusive. Shochu is still very new to our customers, but I think there is a desire to learn more about this little-known spirit.”

As do other bar professionals, Akabori anticipates a growing presence of cocktails that have a lower volume of liquor. “I’m very excited about the appearance of highballs on menus. In Japan, the highball—extremely popular for decades—consists of a little Japanese whiskey and plenty of soda and ice. This has been a low-ABV cocktail of choice, alongside the Chu-Hi, which is shochu mixed with anything from cold oolong tea to fresh fruit juice like grapefruit or yuzu.”

Like the “session” beers that can be found on nearly any drink listing (especially during summertime, when thirsty drinkers might be inclined to drink more than one in succession to cool down), session cocktails can be spotted on most menus as well, although they might be hidden among stronger libations. Crafted with care, these drinks are treated as equal-opportunity tipples. Where imbibers once sought out the strongest drink they could order, they now often lean toward cocktails that are subtler and allow them to sip several without getting too tipsy. More cocktails and longer evenings with friends? We’ll drink to that! ´

—Story and photos by Christy Moyer

Find more information on Oakland Cocktail Week including a list of participating venues and special events at oaklandcocktailweek.com.’

Christy Moyer is a food and beverage photographer, stylist, and writer based in Sonoma County. She muses about cocktails and the company that comes with them on her blog The Shared Sip at thesharedsip.com.