Tag Archives: san francisco

The Best Bars? The Top Bars?

Here are a couple of articles about the top whisky and cocktail bars here in San Francisco:  The Best Whisky Bars in San Francisco   San Francisco’s Top 10 Cocktail Bars

Articles and lists like these are the epitome of subjective.  What criteria is used when selecting the “best”?  Is it the selection of drinks available at the bar?  Maybe the pricing or the atmosphere? Possibly the innovation or the bartenders?  It is probably a combination of all of these factors and more but with different levels of importance placed on each of them.   For me, being able to actually have a conversation without yelling is of primary importance.  Maybe I am just getting old but I have absolutely no interest in a packed bar with loud thumping music in the foreground – I don’t care how amazing the selection of whisky is.  Coming in second are the folks behind the bar that are serving the drinks.  While I don’t expect bartenders to geek out on whisky and know every every minor detail, I do expect them to have a working knowledge of the spirit.  I am a lot more open to taking a recommendation on what I should try from a bartender that knows what they are talking about.  I’m pretty low key and I think it reflects on my choices for preferred whisky bars in SF:  Whiskey Thieves, Broken Record and 83 Proof.  There are of course many other whisky bars in SF that I haven’t been to – these are simply my favorites for the ones that I have been to. – Chris

What are the qualities/characteristics that you look for in a bar?  What are some of your favorite watering holes?


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Nirvino Tasting at the Boothby Center for the Beverage Arts

A stroke of good fortune led to my invitation by DG Blackburn to check out a Nirvino Urban Wine Tasting at the Boothby Center for Beverage Arts.  The event started at 6:00 PM, and that was a good thing because I was still relatively dry and ambulatory.  And I am glad I was because the event was decidedly pleasing.

The event boasted a respectable turnout without getting crowded (a preferred balance).  One standout beverage was Mashup by Periscope Cellars.  A multifaceted blend, the wine stood out as a rare example of a fundamentally complex yet delicate creation.  Brilliantly, it was served on tap, getting the wine at the right age, right from the barrel, and right into your glass without any interloping bottles.  I hope more wine makers figure out that this is a great way to get quality wine to the public when one doesn’t intend on laying the wine up for half a decade.  Kudos, Periscope.  Another good showing came from Fortuna Winery.  Their sparkling wins (one dry, one almond enhanced) and a pomegranate wine surprised me.  My initial reservations were quickly dispelled when these offerings proved to be lush and original.  The Extra Dry was respectable and while satisfying the traditional needs of a champagne-seeking palate brought a new freshness to the flavors.  The Almond, and I am not particularly crazy about almonds, managed to add a tasty layer in nose and body without side-tracking the well-focused champagne experience.  The pomegranate wine was expressive of the fruit without getting bogged down in the sweetness that often comes with such attempts.  Yummy.  And the Extra Dry with a dash of the pomegranate wine made for an aesthetically pleasing champagne cocktail sans the bitters.

I hope Nirvino keeps up the good work.  And I look forward to spending more time at the Boothby Center.  As the name states, this space is dedicated to the beverage arts, be it educational seminars, tastings, or some new concoction.  It is a space for drinking and I look forward to spending a lot more time there.  DG’s build-out bodes well for future events.  Between the hand-crafted bar-top and the spirit safe (seriously, it’s an actual bank vault from near-on a century ago set into the wall with what looks like a functioning lock) a broad swath of windows makes for a solid spot to imbibe. –Nate

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Whisky Tasting In San Francisco On June 17th

We are having our next tasting this week on Thursday June 17th.   The line-up has not been solidified yet, but there will definitely be interesting expressions that you won’t really see at a bar or you might not want to spring for on your own at a shop.  If you are interested please email Chris@whiskywall.com for further details.

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May’s 3rd Thursday Whisky Tasting

Line Up

May’s tasting came and went and, simply put, it looked like a good time was had by all.  While the turnout was respectable, it was by no means the largest crowd.  While the weather was fine on the deck, there was still a cooling in the air.  If there was one thing to be said about this 3rd Thursday, one unifying aspect that defined this particular evening, it was this: People were in the mood drink.

There did not seem to be any one reason to hang it on (not that you need one), but it seemed to be an unpublished plan that everyone was adhering to.  Those who walked in tired walked out with a spring in their step.   Probably in part due to the Springbank 12 Amontillado that kicked the evening off at 110.6 proof.  Its praise ranged from a solid good to a Frosted Flake’s ‘Great!’  No one seemed interested in my Edger Allan Poe lore and cryptic references to his short story ‘A Cask of Amontillado’.  But then people were there to drink and be merry, not to contemplate getting vengefully bricked up in a wall while still alive.  Fair enough.

Scapa’s 16 year from the Orkney Isles followed quickly.  Really quickly.  Considerably tempered compared to the Springbank, it gave attendees the opportunity for an alcohol-infused breather before moving on to the Lagavulin 12 which brought the evening back up to cask strength.  A complimentary bottle of the Lagavulin 16 was in residence purely for comparative references.  And people drank.  People engaged in pleasant conversation.  Apparently some people even stumbled upon a stash of cigars on the deck.  And people drank.  Somewhere along the line a rather large stack of Vietnamese sandwiches managed to disappear.

In the end, an arbitrary time meaning variously everything from ‘time to turn in’ to ‘time to move on’, it was unclear which whisky was the most adored.  The Springbank went over well and only an empty bottle remained.  The Lagavulin went over well as well and only an empty bottle remained.  The Scapa’s own showing wasn’t bad, with about ½ of an inch remaining.  Was it the right whiskies?  Was it the right crowd?  Were we all simply in the mood to get our collective drink on?  Personally, I’m going with ‘all of the above’.  N. Nicoll (Tasting notes to follow.)


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Signatory Vintage/Edradour Tasting in San Francisco

The Whisky Shop is co-hosting a tasting with Signtory/Edradour on June 17th  at 6:30 – 9:00 pm at the Presidio Golf Club.  Address:  8 Presidio Terrace, San Francisco, CA 94118.  Call (415) 989-1030 to reserve a space.  It is $45.00.

Tasting Line Up sounds pretty good: Auchentoshan 1999, Dalmore 1990, Dailuaine, Glen Grant 12, Clynelish 1997, Ledaig 16, Ben Nevis Cask Strength, Bunnahabhain 1997, Heavily Peated.

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Short Re-Cap of April #Whisky Tasting in San Francisco

Date of Tasting: April 15, 2010

With colder than normal weather, there was some concern about having an outdoor tasting. While jackets or other garb offering a layer of warmth were a sound idea, the fog, chill winds, or any otherwise inordinately inclement weather failed to materialize. And at 6:30 it was still light out so the out-back seating worked well for what was a respectable turnout of the 3rd Thursday crowd. In addition to Aberlour’s A’bunadh, the line-up boasted a few untested (but highly anticipated) quantities including a Dewer Rattray Auchentoshan and a Provenance Port Ellen. A 10-year Glen Grant also worked its way into the night’s sanctioned festivities.  All purchased from our wonderful local retailer: Whisky Shop


Taking a non-standard tack, the evening kicked off with a cask-strength dose of the 18 year Auchentoshan. The bold beginning was well-received. Owed in part to yet another excellent selection by Dewer Rattray, in part to a surprisingly complex Auchentoshan, and in part to everyone’s need to get down to the business of drinking, this first round improved already good moods and set a high bar. It also got people munching on the Mediterranean platters which work well to pad the stomach without compromising the taste buds (unless you go a little to heavy on the red chili sauce, which tends to bring out the heat in any dram). And so a night both low-key and cosmopolitan ensued: fine scotch whisky paired with hummus and falafels in the back of an upscale restaurant on a cooling April in San Francisco.

The A’bunadh came quickly on the heels of the Auchentoshan. Looking more sherry than some sherries, the dense almost-sanguine color was a pleasure in and of itself and at 59.5%, it built upon the fanciful flavors of the proceeding lowland with its not-misplaced reputation for a densely packed, intense whisky. As is typical, each drinking at there own pace, engaging in conversations more engaging than others, etc., the lock-step pace of the tasting began to fracture with some breaking away while others lingered.

The Respectable Side

Looking up at what is left of the Auchentoshan

In this haphazard but traditional manner the Glen Grant started making the rounds. Billed as a 43% palate cleanser to both take the heat down and to make way for the Port Ellen, the Glen Grant jumped rapidly to the head of many revelers’ favorite-of-the-night list. Lush and pleasant. And instead of getting boring it just got tastier and more popular. 3rd Thursdays are no exception to the second law of thermodynamics and entropy is essential to any casual whisky tasting.

By the time Port Ellen was pouring the muse of low level chaos had established a beachhead and the night was “officially” on.  The Port Ellen caught some by surprise and left others wondering but by the end of the evening’s festivities, it was just as empty as the Glen Grant. I thought the Auchentoshan had a swig left in it but the angels appeared to have taken a second share while my back was turned.


I would be remiss if I failed to mention a surprise entry for the late-night stragglers. Glenmorangie’s Astar was lauded by the still-extant palates as a real treat. So much so that half a bottle went missing quickly amidst the conversation and delight of those still drinking. – N. Nicoll (Formal tasting notes to follow).  Pictures provided by R. Polnar.


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Finalized List for April 15th #whisky Tasting

Made some changes to the lineup for our April 15th whisky tasting in San Francisco:

1. Aberlour A’Bunadh

2. Dewar Rattray Auchentoshan

3. Glen Grant 10 OB

4. Provenance Port Ellen

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Tentative pour list for April 15th tasting

Here is the tentative line up for our April 15th whisky tasting in San Francisco:

1. Port Charlotte PC7
2. Aberlour a bunadh
3. Dewar Rattray Mortloch
4. Signatory Unchill Filtered

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More publicity for Japanese whisky

I am a huge proponent of Japanese whisky – probably a little too much as some have commented.  However, a good malt is a good malt no matter where it comes from in my opinion.  Here is a link to an SF Chronicle article about Japanese whisky.  I am hoping more people will be exposed to it and the demand will increase.  Because at this time we see so little of the lineup that is available across the pond.


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Bar Review of Whisky Thieves in San Francisco

Unpretentious “dive bar” that has a great selection of whisky – both bourbon and scotch.  A typical tenderloin façade with a big bouncer checking ID’s and pool table included.  If you can get past the line of PBR’s at the bar, loud ruckus crowd and rockin’ juke box a tremendous selection of whisky will reveal itself behind the bar.  Whisky Thieves has many of the standard distillery releases, but what makes them stand out is their selection of independent bottlers and other non-standard distillery releases.  I was able to try some great Murray McDavid Mission Gold series and an exquisite Malt Trust 17y/o Bunnahaibahn.  There aren’t too many other places in San Francisco that you can try these great drams at.  But the prices are also very reasonable, the Bunnahabhain was $17.

It is somewhat difficult to identify the selection due to the dim lighting and the drink menu, if you can find it, is often out of date.  You might want to familiarize yourself with bottle shapes and color combinations.  However, the bartenders are usually extremely knowledgeable and more than willing to help you out.

If you want to enjoy a good dram at a good price and aren’t concerned with décor this is the place for you.  If you want an upscale sophisticated bar – go somewhere else.

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