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Sunday Serendipity

By Stephen Eliot

We happily count more than a couple of noteworthy wineries as our neighbors here in Alameda, among them, Rockwall Wine Company and Blacksmith Cellars, and our little island in the East Bay is also home to the artisanal distillers, St. George Spirits.

The self-described philosophy of the folks at St. George Spirits is “California Cuisine is known for being ingredient driven and our California spirits follow suit. Our distillery is a kitchen of sorts and our spirits are made from the most extraordinary fruit, vegetables, herbs, grasses and grains that we can find.”

We have known and admired those who oversee St. George’s stills for a good many years, and besides being ardent fans of their various elixirs, we can testify to the fact that, in their eyes, absolutely nothing, from basil to berries to Blue Bottle Coffee, is off-limits as a object to be transformed by the distiller’s magic. Firelit Coffee Liqueur, a collaboration between Jeff Kessinger and St. George Spirits distiller Dave Smith, is the most recent in a long string of remarkable tipples produced hereabouts, and it is quite unlike any coffee liqueur I have ever tasted. It is made from cold-brewed coffee, Batch #1 from single-origin Yemen beans and Batch #2 from Ethiopian Yirgacheffe both selected from Oakland’s Blue Bottle Coffee company, layered with Chardonnay brandy, Madagascar vanilla beans and a modest measure of cane sugar.

Kessinger says that “the goal was just to make a coffee liqueur that was about coffee, not about the sugar”, and there is no question that the goal has been met. This stuff actually tastes like coffee, but coffee of the first quality with real complexity and a sense of depth that makes the likes of Kaluha and Tia Maria seem simple and mawkishly sweet. The only down side about it is its very limited production. Only 1800 bottles of the sold-out first batch were released earlier this year, and recently released Batch #2 is similarly in short supply. It can be found on the lists of three dozen or so of the Bay Area’s better restaurants and on the shelves of specialty retailers. It is priced at $50.00, but a little goes a long way, and any who fancy themselves dyed-in-the-wool coffee lovers will find it a revelation and nothing short of a bargain.

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