Over the last couple of decades, farm-to-table—the ethos that emphasizes organic, local, and sustainable practices—has become the gold standard in food and wine.
With spirits, it’s a completely different story.
Proprietor and single-origin spirits champion Thad Vogler, outside Bar Agricole.(Eric Wolfinger)
Most distillers couldn’t tell you who grows their grain or even what state it comes from. Instead of making their spirits out of local ingredients, they rely on cheap, industrially grown crops shipped from across the country or even across the globe.
Because spirits aren’t regulated by the FDA, distilleries don’t have to tell you what exactly is in them. Many use caramel coloring to give their whiskey or bourbon an aged look without actually doing the work. Others use red dye 40, high fructose corn syrup, and petroleum. Some producers don’t even distill their own liquor, instead buying a base spirit from a big conglomerate and then bottling it under their own label, duping consumers into believing their vodka or whiskey is better than their competitors.
And then there’s the waste, the epic amounts of water and energy distilleries consume, and the equally epic amounts of plastic, shipping materials, and garnish leftovers produced by the bars serving the spirits.
Bar Agricole is leading a revolution against it all.
At Bar Agricole, the uber-knowledgeable staff crafts subtle cocktails that highlight the distinctive flavors of the spirits.(Eric Wolfinger)
When Bar Agricole burst onto the scene in 2010 with the goal of carrying only spirits made with high-quality, regional ingredients with no artificial flavors, they were one of the first in the U.S. to imagine a more sustainable industry. That laser focus on single-origin spirits didn’t go unnoticed. After seven years of James Beard nominations, they finally won the coveted outstanding bar program award in 2019.
The following year, owner Thad Vogler planned to move the business to a new location but the pandemic led him to choose temporary closure instead. Finally, in August 2022, the new and improved Bar Agricole reopened. Then in November, in collaboration with some of the world’s most lauded grain-to-glass producers, they celebrated their return to business by launching an eponymous line of single-origin spirits.
Bar Agricole 2.0 is a sleek, minimalist dream of bent wood and low lighting. The front room is dominated by a blue-tiled bar, long communal tables, and endless shelves of outstanding spirits. In the back dining room, Agricole’s generous booths undulate around a central bar stocked with hand-cut ice.
But it is in their drinks menu where Bar Agricole’s most impressive feat was achieved. Vogler and team convinced around 30 of the highest-quality small producers from France to Oaxaca to bottle their precious spirits under a new label called, simply, Bar Agricole. Their first collection—which is available to taste at the bar and restaurant, and to purchase by the bottle on site and online—includes amaro from Italy’s historic Bordiga family, single cask apple brandy from Alameda’s St. George Spirits, and single-run agave verde from Mexico’s legendary Tio Chico. Bar Agricole also carries a handful of bottles under their distillers’ label, including Leopold Bros. single cask straight bourbon.
From this unique inventory, the uber-knowledgeable staff crafts subtle cocktails that highlight the distinctive flavors of the spirits: a Scotch cocktail made with single cask Kilchoman Islay malt, cherry brandy, and curaçao; a Martinez made with Bar Agricole gin, Nebbiolo vermouth, and orange bitters; an agave daisy made with Tio Chico Rezpiral, lime, and plum. Their side-by-side old fashioneds give you the chance to compare the aromas and flavors of two bourbons from separate casks.
A few of Bar Agricole's ingredient-driven dishes.(Eric Wolfinger)
Although some of Bar Agricole’s most singular spirits and the cocktails that contain them are expensive, most are on par with the current SF market. Go during happy hour from 5pm to 6pm Tuesday through Saturday, to find seven of them knocked down to just $8 a pop.
To accompany their spirits, Bar Agricole has a food menu that is just as local, organic, and ingredient-driven as their bar program. With each dish, they strive to enhance rather than interfere with the natural flavors of the produce, seafood, meat, and dairy. Don’t miss the charred-to-perfection roasted cabbage with horseradish cream and sauerkraut, the beautifully baked oysters with absinthe and fennel, or the thick slices of rustic house-made sourdough with cultured butter and spreads like duck liver with Cognac and winter squash ricotta with pomegranate.
There’s more in the works from Bar Agricole including new partnerships and continued advocacy for the health and dignity of farms, ranches, growers, and producers in the spirits industry. They’re also currently pursuing B-corp status to assure that the bar-restaurant’s inner-workings reflect the equitability, transparency, and sustainability they value in their spirits.
And if history tells us anything, where Bar Agricole leads, other distillers and bar programs will (very slowly) follow.
// Bar Agricole is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5pm to 10:30pm; 1540 Mission St. (SoMa), baragricole.com
Taking hand-cut ice seriously at Bar Agricole.(Eric Wolfinger)