Features Spring Cocktails
Spring Cocktails, Concoctions, and Brews from San Francisco
April 2010

After California’s mercurial winter, the first cloudless and mild days of spring unfurl in San Francisco long before the rest of the country. Early spring sees the first additions of lighter, more thirst-quenching spring cocktails on cocktail menus around the city, providing the rest of the country with inspiration for the coming season.

The floral delicacy of J. Witty chamomile liqueur defines Mixologist Brian MacGregor’s esoteric Scorching Banshee at San Francisco’s Jardinière. The honeyed aroma of this chamomile elixir is tempered by a touch of bitters, and the cocktail’s whiskey backbone is softened thanks to dark allspice-laced Jamaican rum. The resulting concoction packs a punch, but ends on a gentler note with warm spices, flower fields—and the promise of Spring.

MacGregor’s The Pony Express may sound like a child’s ride at the fairground, but it has a sophisticated balance of flavors that is anything but infantile. Its rye, white tea liqueur, and zesty lemon are mellowed on the finish by mildly sugary maple syrup.

Kelli Bratvold of Rickhouse Bar takes a saucier approach to spring with her cocktail The Noble Savage. “Walking a fine line between pretty and ferocious” as Bratvold puts it, this smoky mezcal-laced beauty is bravely muddled with Bénédictine. An unusual pick in modern bars, this herbal liqueur had its heyday in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, then largely fell out of favor. Here it gives brings balance and complexity to Bratvold’s brew. Orange bitters, sweet vermouth, and a flamed orange slice add aromatic nuances to the mixture, which is then served over hand-cut ice cubes.

When the hottest days of spring approach, Bratvold’s colleague Erick Castro, also of San Francisco’s Rickhouse Bar, offers a fine solution with his Kentucky Buck cocktail, an homage to the South in a glass, with strawberry, ginger beer, and that iconic beverage of the South, bourbon. Brown sugar simple syrup activates the vanillin of the bourbon, giving the cocktail warmth, while strawberries and ginger beer effervesce sweetly together.  

At Beretta, Mixologist Ryan Fitzgerald’s colorful Algonquin East is a fresh take on the classic Algonquin. With its ruby red hue, warm aromas of cardamom, exotic pineapple, and lemon twist, the cocktail has an unexpected combination of flavors. Cardamom is not most the obvious choice of spice when it comes to mixing a drink. But as a tincture in this drink, it mates well with the pineapple by offsetting its sweetness. Fitzgerald also taps into his connections when it comes to unusual finds like the Pineapple Gum or Gomme Syrup. Made from gum arabic sourced from Acacia trees, gomme is a more viscous version of simple syrup with a heavier mouthfeel. Fitzgerald uses Small Hand Foods’ pineapple version, made with crushed organic pineapples, which adds a touch of the unexpected to Fitzgerald’s Algonquin East, replacing the more mundane pineapple juice of the original.

Fitzgerald’s Pamplemousse is a seasonal gin-based lemon and grapefruit creation that’s a bit like Mary Poppins in a glass: prim and proper. Then fresh basil brings clean, herbaceous elements to an otherwise very buttoned up, sensible drink, and allows Mary to let her hair down a bit. This mildly alcoholic concoction is an ideal start to the drinking season for patrons.