Friday, March 30, 2012

St. George Spirits - Home of the Firebirds

Welcome From The Firebirds
St. George Spirits is located in an old naval hangar on the island of Alameda. The hangar was the home of a reserve attack squadron called the Firebirds. They really play off the armed forces theme. A tasting is called basic training and costs $15. A tour, tasting, and special treat is $20 and is called spec ops training. Both options come with dog tags. 

The tasting room reminded me of something between the movie Top Gun and punk rock. The tasting room on the website is far more inviting and high class than the one I went to. I think that is the private one upstairs. If you are more in the wine tasting crowd than the punk rock show, then don't be intimidated; all the people behind the bar are super nice, passionate, and informative folks. Paul was an amazing host and all the other customers looked like they were in good hands as well. We had a killer time.

They are best known for Hangar One vodka. We figured since you can get that anywhere, we would try a selection of their other offerings. On the list for that day was three gins, a couple vodkas, pear brandy, a few liqueurs, a bourbon, and absinthe. We tasted out of tulip glasses which due to the shape helps with spirit tasting because it discourages shooting it, keeps oenophiles from trying to stick their noses in the glass, and enables the scents to waft out of the glass while the alcohol vapors remain in the bulbous base.

Everything we had was super smooth and full of flavors.

We started with the Botanivore Gin ($35, 45% alc/vol) and let me preface this by saying I'm not a gin guy, but it tasted like I walked into a bath and body works because there was a lot of botanical stuff going on and I wasn't really digging it. My friend loved it though and gin is her favorite spirit so it has that going for it.

Next up was the Mt. Tam Terrior Gin ($35, 45% alc/vol) which I liked. All the botanicals, including Douglas fir, California bay laurel, and California coastal sage were picked on Mt. Tam which sits across the San Francisco Bay from the distillery. The gin tasted like a forest with some floral and citrus notes. Having grown up on Mt. Tamalpais and the ability of scents to stir memories probably influenced my palate, but either way it was good.

The Lineup
Our third choice was the Aqua Perfecta Poire Eau de Vie ($40, 40% alc/vol) which is a delicious brandy made from Bartlett pears. This has the most subtle flavors of their line up, but not too subtle just a little nudge letting you know, "Yeah I'm here, yeah I'm tasty." It would be great to sip after a meal as a digestif perhaps with a peach compote.

From the subtle pear brandy, which probably should have been tasted first, we went to the Breaking and Entering Bourbon ($38, 45% alc/vol). This is the only thing that they sell that they don't distill. They source the barrels of bourbon from Kentucky and then blend and bottle. The current release is made of 80 different barrels ranging from 5-7 years in age. This has the most burn of their liquors and its not nearly as rough as most bourbons in this price point. I detected notes of vanilla, toffee, caramel, and oak.

The Firelit Coffee Liqueur ($50, 20% alc/vol) is an awesome coffee liqueur. It is clean and not syrupy like Kahlua or any of those other coffee liqueurs I had before Firelit. It tastes how fresh roasted coffee smells. They take cold-brewed coffee and blend it with chardonnay brandy (I didn't notice any chardonnay notes in it) into this perfect concoction.

For the grand finale, we had the Absinthe Verte ($60, 60% alc/vol) and wow it left me speechless and in awe for a second before I started praising their efforts.  Paul poured the absinthe over ice and it started looking like olive oil and as it sat in the ice it slowly turned into an opaque milky yellow. The licorice flavor was intense, but it didn't drown out the citrus zest and fennel. Unlike the swill that your friends bring back from backpacking in Europe, St. George Spirits' Absinthe is crisp and clean and there is no sugar needed. This is the first Absinthe legally distilled in the U.S. from wormwood since 1912.
Extractions and Raw Materials

Although everything was great, the bourbon and absinthe were my favorites.

St. George Spirits is located in the back of 2601 Monarch Street in Alameda, CA. Their phone number is (510) 769-1601. They are open Wed-Sat 12-7pm and Sunday 12-5pm. Reservations are needed for groups of 5 or more.

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