Did you know that Alameda’s former Naval Air Base is now home to a number of beverage manufacturers? Wineries, distilleries, and breweries – the craft beverage industry is booming on that little island next to Oakland. I had the opportunity to take a tour of the St. George distillery a few weeks ago in honor of a friend’s birthday, and it was great!
For just $20 and a reservation, you can take a tour of this famous distillery as well. Their claim to fame is being the first American beverage manufacturer to commercially produce an absinthe after the ban on it was lifted in 2007 (it had been banned in the United States since 1912). The prohibition of absinthe was due to the misconception that wormwood (one of the botanicals used to produce absinthe) made people hallucinate, crazy, and violent. Suffice to say, none of that was true, and since the repeal of the ban, absinthe production in the US has taken off.
In addition to absinthe, St. George makes a number of other distilled spirits. Coffee liqueur, a variety of gins, agricole rum (rum made with whole sugar cane, rather than molasses), fruit brandies, fruit liqueurs, whiskies, and bourbons. When you take the tour, they explain to you in great detail the process of making various spirits and the history behind absinthe, all while showing you around their incredible space.
At the end of the tour, you are guided back to the tasting room, where you are walked through a tasting of their delicious spirits. My personal favorite was and has always been their “Terroir” gin, a spirit aromatized with botanicals straight from Mt. Tam – wild sagebrush, douglas fir, and bay laurel all come together to produce a libation whose aroma smells just like Mt. Tamalpais on a hot summer day. The agricole rum is really unusual and herbal, and smelled just like a dirty martini full of olives. I also really enjoyed the fruit liqueurs, which were sweet and fresh tasting.
As a wine professional, it was really interesting and beneficial for me to see exactly how spirits are made. I spend so much time thinking about and researching wine, that I forget there is a whole world of other beverages out there that I don’t know anything about. If you are planning on going to Alameda, be sure to set up a tour of the St. George Spirits distillery – you won’t be disappointed!