Wine & Spirits
How Some Oakland Bars Make the Season More Festive
As the weather gets cooler, we’ll start spending more time indoors. For many of us that means more time in one of our favorite places: the local bar. Come shorter days, some of the town’s best barkeeps will be focusing on drinks to warm the bones and celebrate the season.
Drink selections at the Oakland location of B Restaurant & Bar are “all based around what’s in season in the winter,” according to Oakland and San Francisco B co-owner Kevin Best. Consequently, B features wassail, a cider-based drink made with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and Cognac. Best notes that his guests drink a lot more around the holidays and says he even has customers who take their cocktails in coffee cups lest their colleagues see them imbibing at the lunch hour. “There’s a three-week period in December where people really go at it,” says Best, adding that B serves a lot of rum- and whiskey-based drinks during the winter.
“People aren’t going out and taking long bike rides. So they drink a little bit more when it’s dark earlier and cooler,” concurs Rick Mitchell, owner and general manager of Luka’s Taproom & Lounge and the Franklin Square Wine Bar, both in downtown Oakland. During the holiday season Mitchell uses more of the apple brandy Calvados, brandy, Cognacs and Armagnacs. “People do buy more Bourbon-based old fashioneds and Manhattans in cool months,” he says.
Over at Levende East, co-owner Dirk Kahl does seasonal infusions with ingredients like lavender and apples. He also muddles a range of winter fruits and serves them as martinis. One of his top drinks at this time of year is the Glenrothes Scotch–based Tangy G, because “it makes you warm inside.” He adds that one big difference is that “in the winter people are happy to have drinks they can nurse for a little while.” He, too, sees an uptake in sales of brown spirits, such as rum and scotch in the cool months. He also notes that his customers are more likely to try new cocktails around the holidays as more time bellying up to the bar leads to greater experimentation.
At traditional Mexican restaurant Tamarindo Antojeria, Christmastime is all about the ponche navideño, or Christmas punch. “Everyone has their own name for it. It’s this punch that is at almost every party,” notes co-owner Alfonso Dominguez. “It tastes like a vibrant fruit punch with a little kick,” he explains. It can be served warm or cool, like sangria.
Almost all the restaurateurs agreed that the Oakland drinker is far more sophisticated than many customers in the City. “In the East Bay, people don’t want as much sugar in their drinks as San Francisco,” notes Kahl. And he adds that classic cocktails, made with bitters, “are better in the East Bay.” Over at B, Best’s customers “challenge our bartenders. In San Francisco they just order.”
Hopefully, their discerning spirits will allow them to celebrate over a great round of holiday drinks.
Santa’s BribeFrom Luka’s Taproom & Lounge
(Luka’s owner Rick Mitchell thinks Santa might prefer this to a plate of cookies.)
1½ ounces Modern Spirits Candied Ginger vodka
1 ounce butterscotch liqueur
½ ounce vanilla vodka
½ ounce Bailey’s Irish Cream
¼ ounce dark maple syrup
grated fresh nutmeg
Shake all ingredients together in a shaker over ice and strain them into a martini glass. Garnish with fresh grated nutmeg and serve.
Ponche NavideñoFrom Tamarindo Antojeria
5 liters water
1 cup guava (usually found canned in Mexican markets)
3 cups jamaica (dried hibiscus flowers that can be found at Mexican markets)
¼ cup raisins
3 sticks cinnamon
5 sticks sugarcane (which can also be found canned)
½ cup tejocote (a fruit similar to guava that can be found canned at Mexican markets)
½ cup whole pecans
4 cups Bacardi rum (light or dark)
Bring all ingredients but the Bacardi to a boil for 5 minutes, and then add the Bacardi. Serve warm or chilled in a large punch bowl. Serves 10 to 15.
The Tangy GFrom Levende East
3 blood orange slices (2 for the drink and 1 for a garnish)
3 ounces Glenrothes Scotch
1 ounce B & B
5 ounces agave nectar
Muddle the two blood orange slices with the other ingredients. Shake the mixture in a shaker with ice, strain and serve it up in a martini glass, garnished with a wedge of blood orange.
–By Liza B. Zimmerman
–Photography by Lori Eanes
–Photography by Lori Eanes