Alameda, CA: Touring St. George Spirits Distillery is the Best Thing You Can Do

The Stills

Founded in 1982, St. George Spirits turned 30 with a bang last Friday (photos on Facebook). My own visit, however, was a long time coming. I recently visited family for Thanksgiving in those parts and got to steal away for a day. I used that day to tour the distillery of a long well-regarded craft spirits company I’d become familiar with thanks to wonderful cocktails I’ve had in Los Angeles and beyond. Master distiller Lance Winters and  Continue reading

Las Vegas, NV: Sage Is a Cocktailian’s Respite From Bottle Service

Absinthe Demo with Michael Shetler at Sage

Ah, Las Vegas. The land capital of bottle service. It’s the only city where more appearance money goes to those bearing names beginning with the letter “K” than in all of Los Angeles. Okay, maybe not. But still, if not for the hosted media trip, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d just otherwise resign to bourbon, neat, for the duration of the weekend.

Concocting a Sidecar

Having acquired a favorite Vegas bar from my Cochon 555 All-Stars trip a mere month prior to this, I became disappointed in that very bar when my cocktail fell too sweet on my second visit. Though I know we were singled out as media guests, Sage came to our libational rescue.

We were treated to a great selection of cocktails hand-crafted with boutique spirits and housemade bitters. They were riffs on classics with a seasonal twist, and I got the sense that their exciting cocktail menu is a constantly evolving list.

First of all, the interior of Sage is beautiful. Though its hues are very Vegas, the aura of the space is contrarily subdued, if even calming. It’s refreshingly sophisticated in an understated – not overly manufactured – way. 

Art in the Age Margarita

If you can get in for a demo, the Russian-style absinthe tasting is a delight for the senses. From the brilliant, violet flame to the whiff of licorice and anise and ultimately the light, herbal taste – it’s a great way to dispel all those tales of lore you heard about this spirit, which remains in a class all by itself.

As for the cocktails, I surprisingly found myself loving the Tea Rose – made with tea-infused Death’s Door Vodka, St. Germain, lemon, rosewater and pinenuts. My favorite cocktail trended unsurprisingly towards the negroni-like Il Postino, with Plymouth Gin, Campari, Luxardo Maraschino and Averna. But I would be remiss to take for granted a well-made negroni. Another favorite was the Smoking Bulleit, made with beautifully smoked peach-infused Bulleit Bourbon and finished off with mint and lemon. But the most original cocktail of the evening was non-traditional, The Artful Margarita, made with Oro de Blanco Tequila, Cointreau, Art in the Age Root Liqueur and lemon. It left the impression of a Sarsaparilla with its root liqueur.

The cocktails displayed a sort of sophisticated simplicity in their recipes. We talked infusions with Michael Shetler, the Director of Beverages, and the differences between California and Nevada law (we’re a bit late to the legality of them, anyway).

As far as beer, Sage also has a small but wise selection of drafts.

Sage is a great place for not only pre-dinner drinks (complete only with the excellent food in the dining room) but as a serious Vegas cocktail destination. I know that when I land in Vegas again, I’ll definitely be back for a drink or two. Or more.

Two nights’ stay in suites, meals and cocktails at The Aria – including at Sage – were hosted.

Monday – Saturday:

5 PM – 11 PM

Closed Sunday

Cocktail Menu

Sage at The Aria
3730 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV 89109

The Liquid Muse Cocktail Club Does Absinthe: Don’t Believe The Voodoo

Water is poured onto absinthe to open up the flavor and bouquet

I’m always excited when The Liquid Muse cocktail club meets – there’s always fun people to meet and new things to learn. When I heard, though, that the next meeting would be over absinthe, I was especially ecstatic. I knew nothing of absinthe but the tales and lore of the just recently unbanned liquor. Was I going to turn crazy? Start hallucinating?

Well, I did know that it did resemble licorice, but we won’t exactly call that a head start. My mind was wide open to take the absinthe lesson in. And besides, the event took place at Bar Keeper, one of my top spots for gifting. I have given many a bridal shower, wedding and even birthday gift from the Sunset Junction shop (“break-resistent” glassware for that accident-prone best friend, anyone? Or Paris and Nicole’s faces superimposed on Jesus and Mary on a flask? Space invader-shaped silicone ice cube trays? They got it.).

St. George (American), La Clandestine (Swiss), Lucid (French)
St. George (American), La Clandestine (Swiss), Lucid (French)

The event was sponsored by Lucid – a 124 proof French absinthe that was actually “reverse-engineered” from a formula that is 100 years old. In it, you will get essences of sweet fennel and green anise. And guess what – it will take you 3 bottles of the stuff to hallucinate, contrary to what you may have heard about absinthe. And absinthe is simply achieved by steeping herbs in alcohol distillate – nothing voodoo about that. The irony is that it was once very popular during a very bad draught for the vineyards. People liked absinthe because it didn’t give them the hangover that other spirits did, but when the wine industry “came back” there were a lot of rumors created around absinthe for purposes of eliminating the competition.

The Lucid representative noted that in preparation, a typical pour would be 1 part absinthe to 2 – 2.5 parts water. The water, when poured into the absinthe, opens it up and allows the essences of wormwood, anise, fennel and beets to breathe. The sugar cube laid on the spoon between the water pour and absinthe makes the drink sweeter and a tad easier to put down.

We tried the Lucid, first – and then we got to try La Clandestine, which is actually a Swiss absinthe and instead of the light green that Lucid was, it was clear and 106 proof. It was interesting to see the pour turn from clear to a milky white. After La Clandestine we got to try an American absinthe called St. George – a dark blend of absinthe that I probably liked the least. I could taste a lot more wormwood and some mint; the Lucid rep had said this was a type of “modernized” absinthe.

Absinthe glass with spoon & sugar cube
Absinthe glass with spoon & sugar cube

We were told that the tales of absinthe lore, ironically, come from Czechoslovakia – where you can find the worst quality absinthe in the world. Contrary to what you may have heard about flashy absinthe experiences, you are never to burn the sugar and it is always meant to be enjoyed with water. There are a lot of additives in Czech absinthe as well as distracting flourishes such as the burning of sugar infused into the entire absinthe presentation. Don’t get fooled; absinthe is an enjoyable experience but not one necessarily tied to a whole lot of hocus pocus some might have you believe. There also exists very prominent brands of absinthe *cough* that perhaps shouldn’t be – the hype of which is financiered with an electric green color to match (read: tons of additives). You might also be able to find the bad stuff served on your Virgin America flight. *wink*

But wait – how did (high-quality) absinthe actually make me feel? No – I wasn’t hallucinating and you know, I honestly really enjoyed the lightness drinking absinthe gave me. I wouldn’t even call it a buzz as with alcohol; it was herbal and very lightweight. I would drink “the good stuff” any time, any time of day (ok, almost). Though the herbal taste is not for everyone, I found it delightful once my palate had acclimated.

Further reading:

Absinthe Does Not Make You Crazy – ShopEatSleep

Be sure to sign up for The Liquid Muse Cocktail Club to get the dl on the next tasting!

Bar Keeper
3910 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90029-2242