Bar Review: Mezcalito, San Francisco

You needn’t think too hard to figure out what the spiritual focus of San Francisco’s Mezcalito, a bar and restaurant which opened seven months ago. It’s right there in the name.

At a recent tasting, bar manager Adam Mangold walked us through a good chunk of the extensive cocktail list here, almost all of which involves healthy doses of mezcal.

Mangold welcomed us with a small pour of Union Uno, the house mezcal, served with chili-spiced pineapple and orange slices. This is a fresh and clean starter mezcal, light on the smoke and earthy notes, with a restrained body. It was an excellent entry to the broader list, when things get more exciting.

Straight out of the gate, Mangold hit a home run by crafting the establishment’s Maracuya Sour, which blends Siete Misterios mezcal, passion fruit, vanilla agave, lime, and egg whites. Peychaud’s bitters are spritzed across the top of the frothy drink, using a stencil to leave a big red M across the drink. Tropical, with a big lime kick, it’s a fresh and fun drink with a subtle smokiness, growing in power as the volume of liquid left in the glass drops.

The Fresita de San Felipe was originally made with gin, but the bar recently swapped it for reposado tequila, which pairs with a strawberry jalapeno shrub, ginger, and lime. It’s a solid drink, but I found the herbal notes a little hefty, overwhelming the strawberry notes, which I’d love to see more of.

The Tequila Pimm’s Cup is exactly what it says, a Latin spin on a classic Pimm’s, with cucumber-infused blanco tequila, Pimm’s No. 1, mint, lime, ginger, and ginger beer to finish it off. The presentation of the drink is gorgeous, and the character is akin to a spiked iced tea, punchy with an herbal kick on the back end. Summery but bold, it’s both curious and refreshing.

Jonathan’s Gin & Tonic (that’s the official name) is just now debuting on the cocktail list, and it’s a Barcelona-style G&T, spiked with mezcal (of course). Gin, mezcal, and Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water are the core of the drink, but it’s the addition of dried hibiscus that takes this to another level. Bold and bitter at first, the hibiscus slowly infuses into the drink over 10 to 15 minutes to give it a fresh, floral character — and coloring the initially clear cocktail a lovely shade of pink. Your patience is rewarded on this one with a complex and vibrant cocktail.

Closing off the night after a dinner of traditional and not-so-traditional Mexican dishes, ranging from fresh oysters with smoked mignonette (a killer combo with mezcal) to a lobster role with chili butter on the side, Mangold brought by the Xoco-Mil, a dessert cocktail made with mezcal, Aperol, creme de cacao, yellow Chartreuse, and cream soda. A very grown-up milkshake, it’s a sultry, spicy chocolate kick that is fun and filling. Pro tip: Ditch the straw and drink it from the top to get bits of the cocoa garnish with every sip.

None of these sound like they’re to your liking? Check out one of the dozens of mezcals, many of which are incredibly hard to find, on the mezcal list.

Bar Review: The 404 Nashville

Though barely three years old, The 404 has made a name for itself as one of the pre-eminent dining and drinking spots in Nashville, Tennessee. While you’ll find a real feast for the gourmet on the food menu, it’s the small bar space that Drinkhacker readers will definitely want to check out. Small? Yeah, it has to be small: The whole place is built out of an old metal shipping container, so space is at a premium.

That hasn’t stopped bar manager Damien Breaw from putting together a vast collection of spirits, with a heavy focus on American whiskeys. How heavy? How about seven different bottles of High West’s A Midwinter Nights Dram? At least six Stagg Jr. variations? Every Orphan Barrel out there, and plenty, plenty more. Breaw says the bar has over 370 unique whiskeys on its shelves — by far the most comprehensive in the city of Nashville.

But Breaw, a Bay Area transplant who moved here to get The 404 up and running, is an accomplished mixologist, and the cocktails we tasted — all quite booze-forward, so rest up — are some of the best I’ve ever had.

Breaw started things off with The Mad Hattler, a deceptively simple combination of St. George gin, Kina L’aero D’or (a wormwood-flavored aperitif), and Sauternes. A drink that flows from fresh and herbal to bitter to nutty, earthy, and peppery on the finish, it’s a rare pre-dinner drink that offers incredible depth.

The Georgian Victory is a cocktail that immediately caught my eye, because everything in the ingredient list sounded good. Breaw puts these together with aplomb, counterbalancing a complex mix of Rittenhouse rye, Cynar, Yellow Chartreuse, peach syrup, house-made pecan bitters, and Angostura to produce one of the most beautiful whiskey cocktails I’ve encountered in years. A delight to drink and hard to put down, it was matched only by a serving of 404’s delightful cornbread, made perfect thanks to a crispy and buttery “shell.”

We closed things out by sampling the Apothecary, which is an excellent night-ender, made with WhistlePig barrel aged maple syrup, Green Chartreuse, Underberg bitters, Fernet Branca, and lime juice. That’s a lot of bitters, but by toning them down with the sweetness of the syrup (which is actually made by WhistlePig) and the intense sourness of the lime, what’s left behind is a surprisingly balanced drink that will please both amaro fans and those looking for something a bit less intense.

Before we left, Breaw poured a few of his favorite whiskeys on the shelf, including Act 4.3 of Midwinter Nights and a sample of Woodford Reserve’s recent Brandy Cask Finished Master’s Collection bottling. Both are excellent whiskeys to drink straight, but I don’t think it’s wrong to have wished instead for another go-round with the Georgian Victory.

A Visit to “Traditionally Irreverent” Laughing Monk Brewery

Laughing Monk Flight

Laughing Monk Brewery, in San Francisco, California, celebrates its first anniversary this year on St. Patrick’s Day. Brewers Jeff Moakler and Andrew Casteel are both avid beer aficionados, having traveled in Belgium and starting out through home brewing. Jeff has several medals under his belt and worked as a Head Brewer for BJ’s Brewhouse. Their idea for Laughing Monk is to brew Californian and Belgian beers using local, in season, ingredients. For those versed in Trappist beers, a few of these will be recognizable styles.

Their building is in the Bayview area of San Francisco — an artistic place to visit. Every building is painted in vivid, bold murals. As expected of a new craft brewery, the room is small but offers a friendly atmosphere. They have a collaborative relationship with their next door neighbor, Seven Stills Distillery. A visit to one will get you $5 off at the other, so why not check out both?

During our visit to the tap room, we tasted all of the below. Thoughts follow.

Midnight Coffee Stout – This is supposed to be a medium body stout, but the body is a dark brown, brewed with Artis cold brew coffee. The ivory head darkens closer to surface. With a strong espresso scent, its heavy coffee taste carries through to the finish, with mild barley and chocolate flavors underneath and a slight acidity. 7.1% abv. A

Laughing Monk BreweryBook of Palms – When coconut and pineapple are first mentioned, many people automatically think “sweet.” However this Berliner Weisse is a sour beer. The pineapple in the scent is fresh, but tart upon taste. The coconut becomes pronounced on 2nd sip. This dry beer has a cloudy, bright yellow body and a light head—typical of a Berliner Weisse. 5.3% abv. B+

Evening Vespers – This is a Belgian Duppel with a reddish-brown body crowned by a white frothy head. The nice dried fruit flavors of plum/prune, raisins, and dates are not overpowering. The sweetness is light as well. 7.1% abv. A

Date With the Devil – The deep red body and thin, white head of this Belgian Quad are appealing. Its date flavor brings a natural sweetness that’s more pronounced than that in Evening Vespers but it’s not syrupy or overpowering. It is certainly not as bold as expected. 9.5 abv. B+

3rd Circle Tripel – Belgian Tripels are traditionally brewed with three times the malt as other beers. 3rd Circle has a nice golden yellow body, and a thick, white head, and slight dryness to it. You can taste a bit of tart hoppiness with acidity following. 8.7% abv. B

Mango Gose – Originally brewed in collaboration with the Pink Boots Society, this Gose won a Bronze medal at the California State Fair Beer competition for session beers. Its body has a bright yellow color and an effervescent head. Mango sweet-tartness fills the nose immediately and then follows through on the tongue. Its mild saltiness comes from sea salt. 4.8% abv. B

Karl the Fog – This is a Vermont (American) IPA. Right off, the grapefruit-like scent of the hops tickles the nose. If you like IPAs, then this golden yellow beer with a white frothy head will please you. It is heavy with Mosaic and El Dorado hops. 6.2% abv. A

A Visit to Moonlight Brewery’s Tap Room, Santa Rosa, California

Moonlight Brewery is located in Santa Rosa, California. While it is a small brewer, the brewery is best known for its beer Death and Taxes. We recently visited its tap room, which is on the brewery site.

Unfortunately the brewers were not available to interview. However, the hosts of the tap room were very gracious and friendly, and they offered a look at the boiling tank workroom and the massive, covered brewing kettles. Moonlight may be small, but the size of these boys is impressive.

On tap, six beers were offered, so a sample slat of those was in order. From left to right in the above photo, we tasted:

Toast Burnt Lager – This beer, typically brewed for New Year’s celebrations,  is a light amber body color with a creamy head. At first sip, a nice maltiness is noticeable. The burnt flavor comes through on the back end without being harsh. It is dry and not sweet at all. 6% abv A

Tipple Winter Ale – This dark brown ale is a type of “winter warmer,” brewed for fall and winter. It has a nice, rich, tan head. The first pass under the nose has a citrusy hop note which carries through the first sip. The hoppy overtones are more subtle with the second taste. 6% abv. A

Reality Czeck – A pale yellow pilsner, Reality Czeck is a light and refreshing Czech style beer. It does have the traditional floral hops flavors which are stronger after the first taste, but it reminded me a bit of a Budweiser. 4.8% abv. B

Twist of Fate Bitter Ale – Moonlight calls this English style ale ESB-ish, which means it as a touch of the extra special bittering hops that are noticeable in the taste and scent. I agree this is true to its name. Its hoppiness comes through, but it’s not overpowering. 5.6% abv. A

Lunatic Lager – This lager has a bright yellow body (slightly darker than the Reality Czeck) with a light scent revealing a touch of yeast. It is refreshing with a slight lingering aftertaste which was ever so slightly soapy in texture. 5% abv. B

Death and Taxes – It is a San Francisco style black lager–a common style of lager. The dark, chocolate brown body and thick, creamy, tan head are very welcoming. There are chocolaty notes but more of a dark roast coffee taste than anything. This one remains a favorite. 5% abv. A+

All of these are approximately $7 per 16 oz. draft, depending upon where you buy them.

Bar Review: The Chandelier Lounge at The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Las Vegas has no shortage of high-end drinking establishments, but stepping inside of a three-story-tall chandelier to get your drink on? Well, that’s still something even in an age of overblown glitz.

The Cosmopolitan’s Chandelier Lounge is an opulent temple to shimmering crystal — but it’s also home to some inventive cocktails that those sipping their beers and martinis are missing out on. You needn’t look far to find them. The drinks menu houses a page of seasonal specialties. At present, nine cocktails appear on the list. These clearly rotate based on what’s fresh (and, being Vegas, what’s hot).

Recently we took a quick spin through the menu to hit the highlights and see what The Chandelier’s mixology crew had been up to lately.

Let’s start with some drinks that focus on simpler flavors — though both are clear crowd-pleasers. The Classy Lassi is an award-winning take on the Indian dessert, a mix of Opihr spiced gin, mango, passion fruit, yogurt, coconut, cardamom, ginger, peppercorns, kalamansi (like a kumquat), and “snake oil.” I didn’t ask about the last ingredient, but the rest come together in a milkshake-like, mango-heavy concoction that is sweet and fruity, with no kick to it whatsover. Light herbal notes give the finish a little kiss. This is an easy knock-’em-back cocktail that will surely lead to trouble later in the evening after round three.

Similarly, Old Dogs, New Tricks blends Xante Pear Cognac, Creole shrub, Giffard’s Vanilla, lemon, and ancho chai masala tea into a flute-served refresher that focuses heavily on the vanilla-pear combination, with a finish that plays up the citrus and sugar components. This was maybe my least favorite drink of the night, which is saying something since it was perfectly enjoyable, if a bit less than complex, from start to finish.

Things start to get weird with the Lost in Translation, which is composed of “strange bedfellows” of Yamazaki 12 year old whisky, Giffard’s creme de banana, coconut cream, ceremonial grade matcha tea, lavender honey, ginger, and sesame oil. Rimmed with matcha, the greenish-brown drink is muddy and decidedly homely, but amazingly delicious. Tropical notes play surprisingly well with the whiskey and the honey — with the sesame and matcha enduring on the more savory, aromatic finish. This one is as hard to put down as it is to look at.

Lastly, we turn to one of the most inventive cocktails I’ve ever had, called Schnozberries Taste Like Schnozberries. The description goes like this: “Dragonberry Rum, Sloe Gin, Aperol, Pickled Strawberry Lychee Pink Peppercorn Shrub, over a Miracleberry Ginger Gobstopper Ice Sphere with a scented Lolligarden.” That is a long way of explaining the core of this drink: A miracleberry tablet encased in ice that slowly melts into your drink. Miracleberry is a weird little fruit that binds to enzymes on your taste buds so that you can only taste sweet flavors. As it melts into the drink, the quite sour concoction slowly turns sweeter and sweeter. For good measure, you get a plastic flowerpot with aromatic “flowers” and four sweet-and-sour lollipops that you can suck on to see how impacted your taste buds are. While the effect wasn’t as immersive as I’d hoped, it was amazing to see this drink change before your very eyes. Er, mouth. It’s fun stuff, and worth the visit for this one alone.

Bar Review: The Oakwood, Vancouver B.C.


Vancouver’s Oakwood is a Canadian Bistro by name, featuring a decent-sized restaurant serving Canadian classics next to a roaring fire. But across the aisle is a bar that’s worthy of your time in its own right.

We picked an auspicious time to visit, as Oakwood’s former bartender recently left and was just replaced by a new fellow, Robert, who’s dismantling the current drinks menu and replacing it with new libations.

We tried one of these new cocktails on the day it was designed — the Exuberant Gaucho, a mix of anejo tequila, Campari, creme de cacao, and cold brew coffee. It’s the dash of chili-infused vodka that gives it the exuberance — and we went back and forth with the bartender on whether one dash or two was the best version. (Our ultimate vote: One dash, plus some chocolate bitters.)

The only cocktail Robert says he plans to keep on the list is the Shrubbery, a complex mix of grilled pineapple-infused tequila, Aperol, pineapple bark shrub, lime juice, pineapple-jalapeno bitters, and a smoked chili salt rim. An easy crowd pleaser that offers an amazing balance among its various flavors, it fires on all cylinders right from the start and goes down incredibly easy.

Keep an eye on the place come January when the new menu should be revealed!

Dining with Sammy Hagar at El Paseo’s Wine Collectors’ Dinner


What’s better than bringing a bottle of wine to dinner? Bringing about 30 of them, then passing them around so everyone can try a bit of each.

Such is the idea behind the monthly Wine Collectors’ Dinner at Mill Valley, California’s El Paseo, a fine dining establishment perhaps best known for its celebrity ownership, local luminary and legendary rocker Sammy Hagar.

Hagar’s brainchild is organized around themes in the wine world. Each month guests are instructed to bring wines of a particular variety. In March it was pre-2003 Howell Mountain reds. In February, Right Bank Bordeaux. This month, Sonoma Coast and Central Coast pinot noir.

Hagar’s wine collection is legendary, and he always brings exotic offerings to the party. This month was no exception, as he poured a splash of 1980 Chalone for me, which utterly surprised with its amazing longevity and plenty of fruit. Later, he uncorked a magnum of 2012 Williams Selyem Allen Vineyard, which was fun to compare against the 2012 Williams Selyem Peay Vineyard that I brought, both from the Sonoma Coast. Of course, all the guests had wine to share, too — the rule is one bottle per person — which meant ample opportunity to try both classics and obscurities, like a gorgeous pinot from Occidental and an opulent new wine called The Prestige, made by a negociant who was in attendance.

Of course, this is a dinner, and the $125 entry fee gets you a four course meal that I’d describe as rustic French in style. A Wellington-style scallop was a unique highlight, but the tender, roasted veal chop that came after was probably the standout of the night.

Sadly, my picture-taking skills failed me and I forgot to snap a selfie while Hagar and I talked not just wine but also his upcoming spirits projects, which include a spiced rum to round out the Sammy’s Beach Bar line and a hybrid mezcal-tequila he’s calling Mezquila. Both are arriving this fall, so stay tuned… or visit El Paseo during one of the upcoming Wine Collectors’ Dinners and ask him about them yourself.