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09.21.10 by  

Gold Rush Cocktails

Stiff saloon-style drinks aren’t just for gunslingers, gamblers and prostitutes, anymore. San Francisco Cocktail Week’s founding partner H. Joseph Ehrmann channels the stories and storytellers behind the pre-prohibition classics in his 150-year-old bar.

If you’re a regular at San Francisco’s Elixir bar, you know that 150 is the new sexy. That’s about how long the Barbary Coast neighborhood saloon has been serving pre-prohibition-style cocktails (but in true non-discriminatory SF-style, you no longer have to be in the Gold Rush crowd to nab a stiff drink). These classics now serve as the base of San Francisco’s cocktail culture and, thanks to H. Joseph Ehrmann, co-founder of the Barbary Coast Conservancy of the American Cocktail, these recipes won’t get lost. Cheers to another century of rogue cocktailing.

Serve modern cocktails in champagne coupes to give them a classic look.

served raw: let’s talk your neighborhood bar, Elixir.
H. Joseph Ehrmann: Elixir has always been a neighborhood bar, so all I did was breathe new life into it by focusing on its history and role in the San Francisco’s cocktail culture since the mid-1800s. I incorporated a lot of the things that make a contemporary neighborhood bar relevant: a pub quiz, sports on TVs, darts, jukebox, warm environment, regular hours, bankable service, value and quality in the drinks and friendly bartenders. By tying in a classic cocktail program that plays into the saloon theme, guests can get a feel of what it was like to drink those drinks 100 to 150 years ago. It just feels right to drink a cocktail from the 1800s in a bar where they were probably served at that time.

how are you innovating the classics at Elixir to keep things fresh and modern?
We’ve seen the introduction of a whole slew of new ingredients to play with in the last few years. Many of those are re-discoveries of lost products and it’s fun to make some of those old recipes with the ingredients they were intended to have, but to make them new again we need to look at the formulas and play with them. To give them fresh flavor, we can introduce fresh fruit. Our contemporary culinary bounty of ingredients and the wide variety of spirits we have access to here in the Bay Area is insane. Most other cities in this country don’t have what we have. So we take advantage of that by utilizing things like tea, organic spirits, odd and rare fruits and veggies. We also change up ingredients in the same formula. For example, this week we are featuring a Sazerac made in the classic way with (ri)1 rye whiskey and we’re switching it up into a spin on that classic we call a Napa Creole, using Charbay’s Doubled and Twisted Light Whiskey instead of rye. It’s an un-aged, clear whiskey made from IPA beer rather than rye, so the flavor is completely different, yet it works!

this week you open the doors to the Boothby Center for the Beverage arts in San Francisco, which you co-founded … what’s the story behind beverage lab?
The vision is to have a laboratory-style set up where beverages can be explored by the industry and the public. We’ll be doing education and experimentation and people will have the chance to come in and do it all, from whiskey tastings and blending exercises to cocktail creation session and simple Mixology 101 classes. Our hope is to engage the industry and the public on neutral ground, without the barrier of commerce.

Barbary Coast Conservancy of the American Cocktail founders Duggan McDonnell, H. Joseph Ehrmann and Jeff Hollinger (left to right).

for those who can’t get to san francisco, can you scoop us on how to create a DIY “beverage lab”?
Assuming that you already have a full set of tools and basic spirits, mixers, sweeteners, produce and glassware, go one step further and get flavors beyond your normal realm. Buy a bunch of different fruits and herbs. Expand your selection of modifying liquids beyond just orange liqueur and sweet and dry vermouth. Go to your local liquor store and ask them for ideas on modifiers. Get inspiration from the food you eat in restaurants and the flavor combinations you read about in culinary magazines. And sign up for our newsletter so you stay informed about our classes where you can learn these things!

Autumnal Punch

H. Joseph Ehrmann’s fall elixir.

  • 1 ounce Bacardi 8 rum
  • 1 ounce Marie Brizard Poire Williams pear liqueur
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/8 ounce St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
  • 1/4 ounce orgeat
  • Raisins, preferably yellow
  1. Fill a tall glass with fresh ice and raisins, sprinkling the raisins in amongst the ice.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Shake well for 10 seconds and Hawthorne strain over the fresh ice.