On the East Bay Spirits Trail

How Local Distillers Are Pushing Libations to the Limits

By Mary Orlin


So much for traditional booze. A new generation of distillers and adventurous imbibers is at work, reaching for boundary-pushing mash-ups, uncommon ingredients, and full transparency. Here are four local new-wave labels to explore when you’re seeking diversity in your glass.


Four East Bay born spirits from Left to Right: BOK Gin, Dissident Spirits' Monterey Pine Gin, Home Base Bourbon, and Hop Mez

A Lucky Gin

BOK Gin founder Young Jung Photo courtesy of BOK Gin

Korean-born Young Jung immigrated to San Francisco with her family when she was eight years old. Her mother was a restaurateur, and Jung always loved her mother’s kimchi.

In 2011, as a grown-up with an interest in beverage entrepreneurship, Jung opened a wine store in Brooklyn, but after six years, she sold the shop and moved back to the Bay Area, where she found herself thinking about beloved Asian flavors like kimchi and the Korean spirit soju. What about a kimchi-based spirit? But that would require a distiller and a distillery.

Jung was referred to Ryan Sutherland of Livermore’s Sutherland Distilling Company, where the would-be spirits-maker got her first piece of good advice:

“Ryan told me to make a bathtub gin with everything I wanted to put in it,” she says.

That batch included garlic (a key kimchi ingredient), but the garlic was too intense. As Jung persevered, she arrived at a successful recipe that includes 11 more botanicals: juniper, perilla (with its notes of grass, mint, and anise), earthy roasted sesame seeds, fresh cucumber, lime peel, kelp, coriander, and mugwort plus heat from pepper, ginger, and gochujang chile powder.

Jung launched BOK Gin in summer 2022. “Bok means lucky in Korean,” she says. “Being an immigrant, I always found myself to be lucky.”

Those lucky enough to get a taste of this brand-new spirit will find BOK Gin perfect for both spicy and sweet cocktails.



Four Cocktails with BOK Gin
Recipes by Dominic Butler-Parker


Dirty Kimchi Martini

  • 2 ounces BOK Gin
  • 1 ounce kimchi juice
  • ½ ounce Lillet Blanc
  • Pinch of salt
  • Kimchi for garnish

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe or Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with a couple pieces of kimchi.


Subag Smash

  • Pinch of gochugaru salt (half gochugaru chile powder, half table salt)
  • 2 ounces BOK Gin
  • ¾ ounce lime juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • 2–3 pieces of fresh watermelon
  • 2 perilla leaves

Rim a rocks glass with the gochugaru salt and add ice. Combine remaining ingredients in a shaker. Shake a dirty dump (no strainer) into the gochugaru salt-rimmed rocks glass.


Yuja-cha Sour

  • 2 ounces BOK Gin
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • ½ ounce yuzu syrup
  • ¼ ounce honey
  • ¾ ounce egg whites, foamed
  • Sprinkle of gochugaru chile powder

Combine gin, lemon juice, yuzu syrup, and honey in a shaker and dry shake (shake once without ice and then again with 1–2 ice cubes). Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with egg white foam and a sprinkle of gochugaru chile powder on the foam.


Gochujang Breakfast

  • 2 ounces BOK Gin
  • 1 scoop kimchi (with the cabbage)
  • Pinch of gochugaru salt (half gochugaru chile powder, half table salt)
  • Bloody Mary mix (your favorite)
  • Kimchi and oi muchim (seasoned Korean cucumbers) for garnish

Build the cocktail in a Collins (tall) glass. Fill with ice and top off with bloody Mary mix. Garnish with kimchi and oi muchim.


Against the Grain

Head distiller Adrian Willey designed a unique still to make the Dissident Spirits Co. products. Photos courtesy of Dissident Spirits Co.


With a name like Dissident Spirits, you’d expect unconventional bottlings, and that’s what friends Oliver Gothe and Adrian Willey set out to create at Richmond’s newest drinks destination. Adding a third dissident, Sam Pierce, the trio is on a mission, and in the spirit of going against the grain, they employ foraged ingredients in their unique process.

Dissident’s first gin—called Monterey Pine for its evocation of a piney coastal breeze, saline notes, and surprising sweetness—already had a following by the time this fledgling brand opened its tasting room in summer 2022. As head distiller, Willey blends fallen pine branches and rosemary stems with traditional juniper botanicals.

“None of us were gin drinkers when we started,” Willey says. That informed Dissident’s nonconformist approach, which means backing off on intense botanical character. “We wanted to focus on mouthfeel and smoothness and balance,” adds Willey, who built Dissident’s still and implemented what he calls an “unusual” distilling technique, keeping the still’s boiler temperature steady to maintain a precise proof. Too low or too high a proof can produce harshness and unwanted flavors.

On a Dissident label you’ll see Willey’s still, along with barrels representing aging, barley sheaves, sugar cane, juniper branches, and grapevines symbolic of the grapes and wine used to create the vodka and Aqua Vitae d’Uva, a grape spirit.

Monterey Pine was recently awarded double gold in the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition 2022, but curious imbibers who stop in for complimentary tastings at the Richmond tasting room will also want to explore newer additions to the distillery’s lineup like Peppercorn and BarrelHouse (aged) gins, vodka, silver rum, and Collina Ricca, a Campari-inspired amaro (bitter spirit).



Monterey Pine Martini

“We honestly love our Monterey Pine Gin best in a simple martini because it allows all of the fantastic flavors of that spirit to really shine.” —Dissident Spirits Co.

  • 2 ounces Dissident Spirits Co. Monterey Pine Gin
  • ½ ounce dry vermouth
  • Green olives or lemon twist, for serving

Shake the gin and dry vermouth with ice. Strain and pour into martini glass and garnish with green olives or lemon twist, then serve.

Frijolotes founders Young Jung and Fred Baptista check out a pile of agave hearts that will be used to make their Hop Mez mezcal at the Oaxacan palenque (mezcal distillery) where the spirit is made. (Photos courtesy of Frijolotes)

Mezcal Meets Hops

What happens when two San Francisco State photography students discover a mutual love of spirits? They dream up a beer and mezcal mash-up and create a new drinks business.

“Fred and I share a passion for alcohol,” BOK Gin’s Young Jung says when speaking of Fred Baptista, her partner in the spirits import and production company Frijolotes.

The two had just set out to create the next new spirited taste when Covid-19 intervened, but Baptista, who loves mezcal and hoppy beers, used the lockdown period to experiment. Pouring mezcal over hops through a coffee cone, he liked the result and knew he had something unique.

To refine his vision of a hops mezcal spirit, Baptista went to an artisan mezcalero (mezcal distiller) in Oaxaca, Mexico. Don Celso Martínez López works with a traditional triple-distilled mezcal de pechuga recipe that starts with Maguey espadin (the most common agave used for making mezcal) and employs raw turkey and fruit ingredients in the third distillation. They replaced the turkey and fruit with centennial hops to get the distinctively herbal notes of hops that Baptista was going for in his first experiment, and the result is what Baptista and Jung call “the world’s first hop-influenced mezcal.” Hop Mez received double gold in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2022 for its pleasing balance of complex smoke, salt, floral, herbal, and earth aromas and flavors, and its sweet finish.

frijolotes.com | hopmez.com

Agave hearts ready to be roasted in a pit for the Hop Mez mezcal.

Mez Sour

  • ¾ ounce lime juice
  • ¾ ounce Ancho Reyes Verde
  • ¾ ounce Aperol
  • ¾ ounce Hop Mez
  • 1 egg white (optional)
  • 1 flamed orange peel for garnish

Shake all ingredients with no ice, then add ice and shake a second time for a minimum of 30 seconds. Strain and pour into a chilled coupe glass. Flame orange peel over the top of the drink to release its oils, then garnish with the peel.

Whiskey Twins

Samantha and Alexandra Blatteis sample their aging bourbon at the Home Base Spirits warehouse in Berkeley. (Photos courtesy of Hillary Jeanne)


They lived on opposite coasts, but twin sisters Alexandra (Ali) and Samantha Blatteis wanted to build a business together. For these Oakland natives, the answer was clear: Start a whiskey company.

“We had this aha moment,” says Samantha. “Ali had already started a women’s whiskey club, and whiskey was a new, exciting love of mine.” They both felt inspired by the notion of creating a whiskey based on local ingredients.

At the time, Samantha was working with a New York farmers’ market network, but she pulled up roots and moved back to join Ali in the Bay Area. Together, they founded Home Base Spirits in 2016.

Home Base Spirits labels are designed by local artists

Home Base is unique in its transparency around sourcing and distillation processes. On the website, you’ll find details about where grains are sourced and malted; information on barrel types, sources, and wood char levels; dates for distillation, barreling, and release; and tasting notes and label artist stories.

“The more people know about what whiskey is and how it is made, the less intimidating it will be,” Ali says.

The twins currently work with local distillers to create each small batch, but they are hands-on and involved in every step as they work with Ryan Sutherland at Livermore’s Sutherland Distilling Co. or with Atwater’s Corbin Cash Distillery (Merced County). Back at their Berkeley warehouse, they complete the barrel aging, blending, and bottling, and they tap local artists for label designs. A rocks glass against the backdrop of the California coast adorns debut spirit Home Base Bourbon. It’s an easy sipper, smooth and balanced, with boozy caramel, vanilla, and butterscotch notes.

Bringing distillation in house is on the drawing board, and while Home Base Spirits doesn’t yet have a tasting room, it’s in the long-term plans for this young, spirited company.



Home Base Manhattan

  • 2 ounces Home Base Bourbon
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth (Vya Spirits or Lo-Fi Aperitifs recommended)
  • Dash of Home Base Bitter or orange bitters
  • Luxardo cherry or orange twist for garnish

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a glass of choice and garnish with a cherry or orange twist.


Black Manhattan

  • 2 ounces Home Base Bourbon
  • 1 ounce Averna (or amaro of choice)
  • Dash of orange bitters
  • Luxardo cherry or orange twist for garnish

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a glass of choice and garnish with a cherry or orange twist.


Mary Orlin is a James Beard Award– and Emmy Award–winning writer and TV producer and a WSET Advanced certified sommelier. For many years she was the Mercury Newswine writer and was executive producer of NBC’s national wine show, In Wine Country. She now co-hosts a tasty podcast called  Sip, Sip Hooray, exploring winemakers, wine, and other spirited libations.


Follow our Spirits Trail Map

We found a dozen highly creative East Bay producers that distill and/or craft unique spirits. Some of these companies are so new that their products are only starting to show up at bars and shops. As you move through our stories and map, the following key should help you find your ultra-new spirited experience.




East Bay Distillers with Tasting Rooms

1. Dissident Spirits Co.
855 Marina Bay Parkway,
Unit 28, Richmond

2. Hangar 1 Distillery
(Closing on December 18, 2022 as distillery moves to a new location.)
2505 Monarch St, Alameda

3. St. George Spirits
2601 Monarch St, Alameda
(Tasting room temporarily closed.)

4. Sidewinder Spirits Co.
2405 Research Dr, Livermore

5.Sutherland Distilling Co.
(Closing as of December 31, 2022.)
3189 Independence Dr, Livermore


East Bay Makers to Find Online
and at Recommended Bars

6. Absinthia’s Bottled Spirits
Absinthes and small-batch syrups. Oakland owned, San Carlos made.
Try at Bull Valley Roadhouse and Factory Bar.

7. BOK Gin
Oakland/SF bokgin.com
Try at Viridian.

8. Falcon Spirits Distillery
Distilled out in the marshy flats of West Richmond.
Try at Bull Valley Roadhouse, Hotsy Totsy Club, Factory Bar, Miranda, and Tupper & Reed.

9. Frijolotes/ Hop Mez
Oakland owned mezcal importer and distiller.
Try at Wolfhound

10. Home Base Spirits
Barrel aged, blended, and bottled in West Berkeley.
Try at NIDO’s Backyard.

11. Mosswood Distillers
Barrel aged, blended, and bottled in Southwest Berkeley.
Try at Bull Valley Roadhouse.

12. Wright & Brown Distilling Co.
A craft grain-to-glass distillery in West Oakland.


EAST BAY BARS Recommended by the Makers

13. Bull Valley Roadhouse 14 Canyon Lake Dr, Port Costa | bullvalleyroadhouse.com A deep dive into local craft spirits and cocktails and one of the East Bay’s most extensive spirits lists. Try a holiday daiquiri made with Mosswood Distillers’ Day Rum, chile liquor, and aquavit. Finish your meal with a dram of Mosswood’s Espresso Barrel aged Whiskey.

14. The Factory Bar 12517 San Pablo Ave, Richmond | thefactorybar.net The unofficial home of the Richmond Historical Society.” Extensive spirits list highlights locally made artisan spirits.

15. Hotsy Totsy Club 601 San Pablo Ave, Albany | hotsytotsyclub.com Est. 1939, Albany’s oldest bar stays up to date with local craft spirits.

16. The Miranda 1739 Broadway, Oakland | themirandaoakland.com Booze and bubbles in a sophisticated setting.

17. NIDO’s BackYard 104 Oak St, Oakland | backyardoakland.com Try Mr. Muscles—Home Base Bourbon, lemon, basil, and grenadine—or Ryes and Shine—rye, Home Base Bitters, mint, lemon, and apricot.

18. Tupper & Reed 2271 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley | tupperandreed.com Libations and tunes in a vintage music store.

19. Viridian 2216 Broadway, Oakland | viridianbar.com Vibrant bar and restaurant expresses owners’ Asian American heritage. Cocktails feature locally sourced produce and ingredients. Try the Blood Moon cocktail, a play on a dirty martini with BOK Gin, white vermouth, kimchi olive brine, kimchi powder, and seabean.

20.Wolfhound Bar 5516 San Pablo Ave, Oakland | thewolfhoundbar.com The place to try Hop Mez and explore other local spirits.


Viridian’s Blood Moon cocktail is made with BOK Gin. (Photo by Jeremy Chiu, courtesy of Viridian)