Mix Up Cocktails with Spirits Designed by Bay Area Bartenders


Most liquor bottles lining back bar shelves are as much products of marketing departments as they are of distillers. But, increasingly, bartenders are applying their real-world expertise to develop new spirits.

The principal bartenders at Bar Agricole (and forthcoming Trou Normand, opening this month) have flown to France twice, working with distillers there to create full barrels of young Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados brandies. The spirits are custom diluted to their specifications at high proofs for use in cocktails. Meanwhile, at Smuggler’s Cove, owner Martin Cate tackles rum, a barrel of which he helped distill, proof, and age in 2011 with three of his customers, whose faces appear on the label. He also created a private reserve blend of El Dorado rum for house cocktails, such as the Jet Pilot, Chadburn, and Grog.

It’s common for chefs to partner with local farmers and butchers to develop specialized ingredients, and now some bartenders and restaurant owners are collaborating with distilleries on customized blends. DOSA owner Anjan Mitra turned to his friend Davorin Kuchan, a distiller at Belmont-based Old World Spirits, to create an exclusive gin that’s infused with Indian spices, including black peppercorn, anise, and curry leaves.

“We want to be able to offer something special to our guests,” says bar director Brandon Clements of Bacchus Management Group (Spruce, Café des Amis, Village Pub, Pizza Antica). He’s on their third seasonally inspired gin. The first two were made by St. George Spirits, and the latest is a cardamom- and coriander-heavy blend from Sebastopol’s Spirits Works Distillery, which he uses in drinks such as the Greater New York cocktail at Spruce.

So if your favorite mixologists aren’t behind the bar making drinks, don’t despair—maybe they’re mixing things up elsewhere. 

Designer Spirits

The drinks below were created by San Francisco bartenders who helped taste test, consult on, blend, or develop the italicized spirits.


By Duggan McDonnell

4 Basil leaves

3 ounces Jardesca Blanco

1/2 ounce Fresh lemon juice

1/2 ounce Simple syrup

1 ounce Soda water

1. In a tall glass, muddle basil, then pour other ingredients.

2. Add ice and garnish with a fresh orange peel.


Vice & Virtue

by Duggan McDonnell

2 ounces Encanto Pisco

1/2 ounces Islay Scotch

1/4 ounces Yellow Chartreuse

1/4 ounces Agave nectar (Cut 50/50 with water)

2 dashes Orange Bitters

1. Stir

2. Strain into a small rocks glass

3. Garnish with a lemon peel.


Gentleman’s Delight

by Duggan McDonnell

1 1/2 ounces Bianco Vermouth

3/4 ounce Bombay Sapphire East Gin

1 ounce Fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1/2 ounce Simple syrup

1 ounce Tonic water

1 Thin cucumber slice doused with five dashes of Angostura bitters

1. Briefly shake everything except the tonic water

2. Garnish with ice,

3. Strain into a tall punch glass,

4. Add the cucumber garnish.


Cruz del Sur

by Carlos Yturria

1 1/2 ounces Kappa Pisco

1/2 ounce Blood orange juice

1 ounces Lemon juice

1/2 ounce Simple syrup

2 dash of Absinthe

1. Shake all ingredients with ice.

2. Strain over new ice in a Collins glass.

3. Garnish with a lime wheel.


Ancho Daiquiri

by The Bon Vivants

2 ounces Ancho Reyes Chili Liqueur

1 ounce Lime juice

1/2 ounce rich Simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water)

1. Shake all ingredients with ice

2. Strain into a cocktail glass

3. Garnish with a lime wheel


(Unnamed Drink)

Jonny Raglin

1 1/2 ounces Mezcal

1 ounce Firelit Coffee Liqueur

1/2 ounce Punt  Mes

1/4 ounce Benedictine 

1. Stir all ingredients

2. Serve up in a cocktail glass

3. Garnish with an orange twist

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