They say that cocktail trends form from the west coast to the east coast. I’m just back from Santa Rosa where a revolution is slowing taking over the San Francisco Bay region.
Bitter flavors such as Fernet Branca are woven into dreamy little West Coast cocktails that are far beyond the typical five-minute drink. Take the Young Gun cocktail comprised of Fernet Branca, Amaro Amorino, Crème de Cacao. It comes with a jolt of bitter against the sweet of the Crème de Cacao. Your drink is featuring a backbone of Rittenhouse Rye, twisting your memories into a whirlwind of fun. Jackson’s Bar and Oven in Santa Rosa gets it in their craft cocktail menu. Their entire list is chock full of tasty little turns from the creative cocktailians dream book.
Their list is diverse and carefully chosen craft spirits predominate. Drinks such as the Summer Crush are classic examples of the refreshing qualities of mint and lime, with some watermelon, grenadine (house made) and the whole thing is grounded by a few slugs of Buffalo Trace Bourbon. Hats off to the bar chef for using one of my favorite unsung Straight Bourbons. It’s the good stuff that doesn’t cost like the really expensive bourbon that line your back-bar. You can pour Buffalo Trace all day long and most people will think that it’s pretty darned good bourbon.
Finding Barr Hill Gin on a menu all the way up in Santa Rosa, California is a pleasure for me. I’m a massive fan of their raw honey and local grain-based gin. This little concoction is derived from the abovementioned gin, Amaro Nonino (bitter!), rosemary honey (yum) and lemon. It’s a take on the Bee’s Knees with a twist, the bitter Amaro element.
Their cocktail known as “Stay In Your Lane” attracted me immediately with the base of Mezcal, strawberry infused Campari, Monarch Wormwood Bitters, lime, and cucumber syrup. When I used to drink distilled spirits, this drink would have called out to me, rather it would have screamed my name. I loved watching this drink prepared, it’s true mixology over just mixing a drink.
The strangely named, “Menage a Trois”, a brilliant combination of Rhum JM Agricole from Martinique (one of my favorite Rhums), Appleton Estate Rum, Rumhaven Coconut Rum, Pineapple, Pink Guava, Monarch Wildflower Syrup, lemon and Monarch Chipotle Salt is a drink that only I could imagine, yet this combination will be years before it hits the East Coast, unless you sense the urgency in the fact that you have discovered West Coast drinks on the East Coast? Reading this column does offer certain gems, be they snippets of love from other places? I hope so.
The Menage a Trois is a take on the classic Rhum punch with a couple of twists and turns along the way. Think of this drink in the way that you think of a tropical night. The air is thick with mosquitos and humidity. You can feel the sweat dripping down your back in a long, burning sensation. Water doesn’t offer any soothing, what you need are tropical fruits and salt to lock in the healing. Healing also comes in ways undiscovered. That would be in the form of rum. The Rhum Agricole from JM is unlike the other rums in the recipe. It comes from a specific recipe, or AOC and is produced in a specific manner using fresh sugar cane juice over molasses (which most rum is made from). Also, the spelling of Rhum over Rum. That is Rhum from Martinique, St. Barth, Guadeloupe. The French islands usually are Rhum producers. I think as a base for a cocktail, Rhum adds a deep element missing in the traditional sugar cane molasses versions. They lack the funk. Jamaican rum has a different funk. This comes from something named the Dunder. As there is sourdough bread in California, Dunder Rum is only found in Jamaica. Dunder is a wild yeast so rums from Jamaica that are not the mass-produced rums- can be distilled with a Dunder in place of an industrial yeast strain.
The sophistication to use these quite disparate rums makes me smile. This is a bar program that says quality over just getting wasted.
Santa Rosa is not a big town. Sure, it has a commercial center, but Jackson’s Bar and Oven is not located in the downtown area. It’s out by the railroad station in the older part of town. You would wander in, as I did- thirsty, hungry and ready to enjoy a bit of West Coast hospitality. Cheers!