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    An Agricultural Emphasis at the Bar

    by Katherine Sacks
    Antoinette Bruno
    February 2013

    Biography

    Recipe

    The popularity of old school mixology dens has shifted American bartenders’ focus toward handcrafted bitters, sodas, and artisanal sprits. And leave it to San Francisco to take artisanal and house-made a step (or 10) further with the ultimate farm-to-table bar experience. We’re talking more than fresh herbs and pomegranates ripened in the California sun. The team at San Francisco’s Bar Agricole has created a holistic approach to their pantry and well, emphasizing farmhouse distilling and sustainable production. You won’t find any commercially produced items that include artificial flavors, colors, or non-natural additives behind their bar.

    “We seek out those products that have a clear sense of origin, production method, agricultural traceability, and, ultimately, are made well, and simply taste better than anything else in their category,” says Mixologist Craig Lane. The cocktail menu created by Lane, Owner Thad Vogler, and Bar Manager Eric Johnson is rooted in classics and made with updated, artisinal spirits. And the result is an intoxicating trip down memory lane—from the Pimm’s Cup-inspired, floral and spicy Fruit Cut to their flagship ‘Ti Punch, starring Agricole rhums of Martinique.

    Rigorous research, tastings, and purveyor relationships allow the group to cultivate a bar pantry that outshines the common shelf. “We are for spirits that taste, smell, and express a clear sense of place,” Lane says. “We want to support spirits that are steeped in the traditional distillation practices of a region and are made by folks who have a close connection to the land from which these spirits originate.” The team’s thirst for first-hand knowledge and product quality has led them to Martinique, France, Mexico, Kentucky, and Scotland. And along the way, they’ve gained exclusive access to select brandies and rare spirits like Herencia Mexicana tequila.

    'Ti Punch: Rhum Agricole, Cane Syrup, and Lime Zest

    'Ti Punch: Rhum Agricole, Cane Syrup, and Lime Zest

    Fruit Cup: Gin, Lemon, Americano Rosso, and Ginger

    Fruit Cup: Gin, Lemon, Americano Rosso, and Ginger

    Presidente: Dememera Rum, Farmhouse Curaçao, Grenadine, and Orange Bitters

    Presidente: Dememera Rum, Farmhouse Curaçao, Grenadine, and Orange Bitters

    Bar Agricole also partners with local farms to create custom distillates, including biodynamic curaçao, brandies, and pisco. It was this particular process that led to its namesake Bar Agricole, which literally translates as "farm bar." Lane uses herbs grown in the restaurant’s 1,600-square-foot garden and biodynamic grape spirit to make their house bitters, a recipe resurrected from Charles Baker’s The Gentleman’s Companion. They also worked with Alameda-based distiller St. George to launch an Agricole-style rum, Agua Libre, and encouraged Colorado-based Leopold Bros. to make a domestic maraschino liqueur. “By sourcing theses types of quality-driven ingredients, Bar Agricole is forging new territory in cooperative relationships between distillers and bars,” says Lane. And, thankfully, using these artisanal spirits and custom blends doesn't translate to precious cocktail pricing—all drinks cost a reasonable $11.

    Sound like a tall order? Take a sip of El Presidente, a refreshing aperitif that highlights their dedication to both product and recipe. The drink is a nod to its original creator: Havana-based, Prohibition-era Bartender Eddie Woelke. The Bar Agricole team honors his legacy with a heavy-handed 2-ounce pour of El Dorado 3-year cask-aged white rum as the base.

    Although this rum is crucial to the drink’s complexity, El President also relies on a mixture of aromatics, bitters, and sweeter flavors. “The interlocking layers of cane, floral vermouth, sweet orange, bitter orange, and pomegranate should appear and retreat with each subsequent sip as if they were skilled dance performers crisscrossing the floor with precision, elegance, and grace,” he says. A dash of their biodynamic farmhouse curaçao and orange bitters provide a smooth undertone of citrus, while Small Hand Foods’s grenadine and Dolin Blanc vermouth lend a sweetness that balances its flavor.

    That balance and complexity prove that farm-to-table bars are no fleeting fetish—they just provide a better, more intimate way to savor the cocktail experience. Bar Agricole has attracted much attention with its dedication to product, hospitality, and sustainability, distinguishing it amongst other farm-to-table bars and earning spots on “top bar” lists and a James Beard nomination for Outstanding Bar Program. Its style and approach is 100 proof. Cheers.