Before leaving the Bay Area, we worked in another distillery tour—this time to Alameda’s St George Spirits, just across from the City on the San Francisco Bay. The skyline view was stunning, as were the gleaming Arnold Holstein stills inside.
Founded by German law prodigy Jörg Rupf in 1982, St George has substantial seniority in craft distilling compared to newcomers like CH or Roslags. In a nod to his heritage—Rupf’s homeland shares the tradition of eau-de-vie (Schnapps in German) we enjoyed this summer in Alsace—he began by making fruit distillates, drawing on the abundant products of local orchards: our tour guide gushed, we [Californians] are agriculturally spoiled. To prepare St George’s All Purpose Vodka, as well as their signature brandy and spiced liqueur, the distillery still takes in regular 20-ton shipments of fragrant Bartlett pears—a distinctive sugar source, albeit with a low yield. By our guide’s account, pears yield only 5–6 % alcohol, in contrast to the 16–17 % achieved from grapes in nearby vineyards; at this rate, a single bottle might contain the equivalent of 30 pounds of pears.
In 2004 the distillery moved to their current, cavernous headquarters, a former airplane hangar of Naval Air Station Alameda. Behind the massive fermenting tanks and golden stills, an industrial-scale processing system dilutes distillates (over 95 % pure ethanol, per regulations, for their All Purpose Vodka) to proof with local carbon-filtered water. The remainder of the warehouse was jammed with oak barrels aging their Single Malt Whiskey, California Reserve Agricole Rum, and a range of experimental tipples, only a few of which have made it to market. The hangar has also been home to a few film scenes, including a car chase in The Matrix Reloaded; a life-sized model shark still swims between rows of barrels, commemorating alternative glory days.
We’ve been fans of St George for some years, particularly their Terroir Gin, boasting botanicals from Northern California’s Mount Tamalpais. Their Absinthe Verte is also something special, and was the first absinthe to market in the United States when the ban lifted in 2007; by the following year Esquire ranked it in the top 5 worldwide. St George also launched Hangar One Vodka, named for their formerly-naval home, though it spun off to a New Jersey distributor in 2010. An unexpected tasting room surprise was the seasonal basil eau-de-vie: we brought a bottle home, where it made a tasty Bloody Mary, as well as the experiment below (meant to evoke pineapple fried rice):
- 1 ½ oz Genius Navy Strength Gin
- ¾ oz Aqua Perfecta Basil Eau-de-Vie
- ¾ oz fresh lime juice
- ½ oz Liber & Co Pineapple Gum Syrup
- ½ oz ginger simple syrup
- ~12 drops Bittermens Hellfire Habañero Shrub
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass; garnish with lime. Enjoy…