It’s summer in the city and things couldn’t be better—unless, of course, you upped the fun factor with a perfectly paired glass of local whiskey.
We asked Yosh Han for her expert advice. An internationally-lauded perfumer based out of Pac Heights, her sense of smell has been recognized by the likes of Barneys, Anthropologie, and Vanity Fair—as well as spirits conglomerate Campari, which periodically asks her to give seminars for Women and Whiskies. When she teaches about the fragrances of spirits, she dissects whiskey with the skill of a poet. Here are her favorite local whiskeys and what each one inspires her to do this summer.
Anchor Distilling Co. Old Potrero Single Malt Rye (Potrero Hill)
Fritz Maytag, who bought Anchor in 1965, wanted to make a whiskey similar to the way it was made before Prohibition watered down and sweetened American palates. The result was the first pot-distilled whiskey made in the U.S. since 1919. “We are making whiskey the same way they made it in colonial America,” says Anchor Distiller Kevin Aslan. “To me, this is how whiskey should be.” The whiskey is brewed, distilled, and bottled onsite in Potrero Hill.
The nose: Apple, orange, cinnamon, honeysuckle, caramel, oak, tobacco, white pepper, pink pepper
The taste: Caramel, honey, clove, nutmeg, sarsaparilla
The summer experience: A cloudy food-truck brunch. This relaxing, comforting, and cozy whiskey pairs perfectly with a long, drawn-out weekend filled with good eats. And the spicy rye is sure to warm up the grayest of summer days.
Workhorse Redhorse Rye (Mission)
Workhorse Rye embraces the American tradition in a different way—by not shying from trying something new. The Redhorse is a mixture of malted rye, malted barley, and malted wheat aged in French wine barrels. Yosh describes the drink as one for both “gentlemen and savages.” Workhorse’s whiskeys are brewed, distilled, aged, and bottled in several locations around the Bay Area.
The nose: Floral, pink pepper, wheat, cereal, apricot, sweet pea, malt, milk chocolate
The taste: Not floral at all—savory, clove, nutmeg, way, resin, wood, black pepper
The summer experience: An outdoor concert. This complex, expressive, and dynamic whiskey has a lot going on. It’ll keep you up and going, so it’s just the thing to help you dance the day (or night) away.
Bender’s 7-Year Rye (Treasure Island)
Co-founders Carl Bender (whose stylized image graces the label) and Christopher Cohen both saw their rye as an opportunity to create a personal expression. They used to joke that if Bender’s didn’t take off, at least they’d have a lifetime supply of something they liked. The whole grain rye is blended and bottled on Treasure Island.
The nose: Caramel, cinnamon, clove, oak
The taste: Vanilla, toffee, pepper
The summer experience: Daydrinking in Dolores Park. This rye will help you relax into summer and kick off your shoes. And it goes down so easy, everyone will want some—even if you spent last night drinking as well.
Sonoma County Distilling Co. takes the famed wine region’s love of tradition and quality and applies it to whiskey. The company was started by twin brothers Chris and Brandon Matthies, who were born and raised in the county and say they wanted to incorporate its craft ethos into spirits. This 100-percent-rye whiskey is overseen from grain to glass from Sonoma County.
The nose: White pepper, vanilla, allspice, nutmeg, white rose, carnation, dark honey
The taste: Tonka, white pepper, Chinese five spice, clay, dry soil
The summer experience: A weekend camping trip to Sonoma. Make a trip out of it—visit the county where it all started and go camping in Sonoma. This straitforward California Rye will keep you alert and relaxed for a day amongst the redwoods and beaches near Russian River. You could even make time for a craft brewery on the way home.
Seven Stills Whipnose (Dogpatch)
Co-founders Tim Obert and Clint Potter (whom you may recognize from The Bachelorette—had the idea of brewing their own whiskeys from beers over a drink in 2012. For each of San Francisco’s seven hills, they plan to develop a whiskey distilled from one of their own craft beers. But those aren’t on the market yet—for now, you can try any of their three whiskeys made from local beers. There’s one made from coffee porter, another from chocolate oatmeal stout, and one from Pac Brew Lab’s double IPA. They are currently brewed and distilled in rent space, but the pair plan to open a distillery late 2015.
The nose: Hops, hay, citrus, grass, frankincense, green pepper
The taste: A joint in a glass
The summer experience: A Warriors or Giants game. This IPA whiskey is good for watching a sports game with a bunch of friends because it’s a great conversation starter for beer lovers who might be curious about whiskey but don't want a heavily peated experience. You could even take it bowling.
St. George Spirits Single Malt Whiskey (Alameda)
In the lab of Master Distiller Lance Winters sit beakers and jars filled with distillates of materials ranging from bee pollen to ambergris. This lab is where Winters crafts the flavors of St. George’s next projects. His goal is to create spirits that will move you. “You need a layered flavor,” says Winters. “You want people to come back again and again to discover something new.” From conception to creation, the whiskey is made on-site.
The nose: Apple, pineapple, honey, elderflower, nutmeg
The taste: Apple, honey, coconut, pine nuts, walnut, nutmeg, pepper, chocolate
The summer experience: A grown-up picnic date. For those with an adventurous spirit and a refined palate, this elegant whiskey is made to impress. Take the ferry to Alameda on a sunny day to experience the St. George Spirits tasting room, and pack some delectable treats to enjoy on the tables outside, where you can take in the stunning view of San Francisco.