Episode 069 - Bay Area Cocktails

Bay Area Cocktails Book.jpg

What’s shakin, cocktail fans?

This episode, we’re continuing to shift our gaze to the West Coast by taking some time to hang out with Shanna Farrell, author of the book Bay Area Cocktails: A History of Culture, Community, and Craft.

In this conversation with Shanna Farrell, some of the topics we discuss include:

  • The Creation of the book Bay Area Cocktails and how Shanna used her experience as a professional interviewer to learn from some of the most impressive names in the cocktail world, including Dale DeGroff and David Wondrich.

  • The early history of the cocktail renaissance in the bay area, and how a few sparks kindled the movement into a full-blown community.

  • Some thoughts on fern bars - yeah, that’s right, a fern bar is a thing. And we’ll tell you exactly what it is.

  • Notes on some of the most influential figures responsible for the cocktail Mecca that San Francisco has become.

  • Where to grab a drink with the creator of the Hanky Panky

  • And much, much more.

You can pick up Shanna’s book, Bay Area Cocktails, on Amazon and at independent booksellers in the Bay Area and elsewhere. And you can get in touch with her @shanna_farrell on Instagram and Twitter, and by visiting her website: shanna-farrell.com.

Featured Cocktail: Pisco Punch

Pisco is a Peruvian grape brandy, and it’s got a lovely, light flavor that lingers somewhere in between vodka, cachaca, and some of the lighter agave spirits.

Pisco punch was developed at a bar called the Bank Exchange Saloon in San Francisco in the mid-1800s, and various versions of it were made available by the head bartenders there throughout the ensuing decades. The most renowned version came from the most renowned (and last) manager - a man named Duncan Nicol, who was unfortunately forced to close the bar in 1919 due to the Volstead Act.

Another unfortunate loss is that Nicol took the actual recipe for Pisco Punch to his grave, leaving us to speculate and put things together without a significant trail of breadcrumbs.

So, after perusing some of the historical  descriptions of the drink and performing a little recipe meta analysis from about 10 google results, here’s the version we’re comfortable putting forward for you to try.

To make a Pisco Punch cocktail, you’ll need:

  • 2 oz Pisco

  • ¾ oz Pineapple Gomme Syrup

  • ¾ oz Lemon Juice

Actually, kind of a simple recipe, although I’m sure Duncan Nicol had his own secret sauce that made it just perfect.

A Note on Pineapple Gomme Syrup

“Gomme” refers to the presence of “gum arabic” which is a non-glutinous thickener that you can purchase pretty cheaply online, and it simply serves to give a bit more body to a syrup that contains both sugar and pineapple. It’s almost like putting cornstarch in your gravy. So, if you’re going to make something like that at home, check out Episode 053 of this podcast - Homemade Syrups - before you get started. There’s a lot of great info there that will ensure that your house-made syrup experiments are successful.

Large Format Pisco Punch

It’s important to point out that the above recipe is essentially a standard sour recipe. You’ve got 2 oz of a spirit, ¾ oz of a sweetener, and ¾ oz of fresh citrus juice. And this begs the question, how is this a punch? Where’s the spice? Where’s the water?

Well, let’s say you DO want to make this cocktail in a large format that will serve a number of guests. Here’s what I’d recommend:

Adjusting the classic 4:2:1:1 punch ratio to a 3:2:1:1 ratio of Water to Spirit to Sugar to Sour, you’ll need:

  • 36 oz of Distilled or Spring Water

  • 1 750ml bottle of Pisco

  • 12 oz of Pineapple Gomme Syrup

  • 12 oz of Lemon Juice

If you’re following this punch recipe, you’ll want to combine all these ingredients and get them chilled down somehow before service, whether that’s in a large pitcher or two in the fridge, or in a traditional punch bowl with a block of ice.

Important West Coast Cocktail Figures

In this interview with Shanna Farrell, we cover a great many of the important figures who helped to shape the west coast cocktail scene. Below, we list them in no particular order, with links to their bars or projects where applicable.

Be sure to also check out our book review episode featuring Thad Vogler’s book, By the Smoke & The Smell.

Lightning Round

Favorite Cocktail

I’m an Old Fashioned drinker through and through. Rye Old Fashioneds and Oaxacan Old Fashioneds.

If You Were a Cocktail Tool or Ingredient, What Would You Be?

Hand-blown glass stirring pitcher.

Cocktail with Anyone, Past or Present

Ada Coleman, inventor of the Hanky Panky cocktail.

Influential Cocktail Books

Advice for New Home Bartenders

Get out of your comfort zone a little bit.