As you cautiously weave the car around the blocks of abandoned buildings you will ask the question — are we headed in the right direction? This is a sure sign that you are almost there.
When you reach the water’s edge and the San Francisco skyline comes into view, three airplane hangars will emerge. Welcome to Booze Alley. Also affectionately known in the local media as Alcohol Alley and Distillery Row.
The first of these hangars is Rock Wall Wine Company, the second is Faction Brewing and the third is St. George Spirits – home of Hangar 1 vodka.
This area beckons for a visit. Not only for the high quality beverages, but for the views and the history.
We’d checked a visit to Rock Wall and Faction Brewing off our list, so last Saturday we hopped on our bikes and headed out to tour St. George Spirits.
Small scale alcohol production in airplane hangars is a brilliant idea. Plenty of room for processing and distribution, a wide open space to tour, and tasting rooms that have the appealing vibe of old warehouse meets modern design.
I love it when food and drink tours load me with new information and the St. George Spirits tour did not disappoint. Put it on your list for a must-do when you visit the East Bay. These are few tips to help and some of my favorite highlights from our afternoon.
A few tips for a visit:
- Visitors have three options. A tasting, a basic tour with a tasting and a more in-depth tour and tasting. We chose the second option and it was perfect. More details on that below.
- You have to purchase a tasting to try the vodka. Unlike Faction Brewing next door (excellent beer, by the way), you can’t just swing in for a shot or cocktail, although we really wish you could!
- Book your tour online and get there 10 minutes early. There were only a couple spaces left in our tour which we booked about 30 minutes before leaving the house. We were on the printed list when we arrived, but we got there about 3 minutes before the tour started. Because of the line to get in, and people buying the tastings, we were late to join the tour.
- Take your camera. They have some creative displays for their vodkas, the warehouse has original redwood ceilings from the 1940s and the view of the city from the area is gorgeous.
- Visit in the fall. Our guide showed us a photo of the warehouse full of California and Colorado pears that are used to make the pear brandy. Apparently you can witness the warehouse full of fruit if you visit after they are shipped in during peak season.
- We biked the 10 miles from our house. If you live in the city or anywhere that you can get in on the ferry to Alameda Main Street Station, bring your bike. It’s an easy 5 to 10 minute ride from the ferry terminal.
- Plan to shop. They have a gift shop with some things that are difficult to find elsewhere. Some of the brandies were available in smaller bottles and they had a great 3-pack sampler of their gins. The bourbon was also available in the gift shop.
The tour, interesting facts and product highlights:
- Our tour lasted about an hour and included a tasting of five St. George Spirits products that were selected for us and then we selected one other option to try.
- Hangar 1 vodka is made from viognier grapes and wheat. There were four varieties available – Straight, Buddha’s Hand, Kaffir Lime and Mandarin Blossom.
- St. George Absinthe Verte was the first released after the ban was lifted in the U.S. in 2007.
- Hangar 1 vodka is incredibly smooth. Something that is pleasantly unexpected for a vodka. They get major bonus points for the creative flavors. I mean, who else would think to infuse vodka with Kaffir Lime? While sipping it I had visions of a spicy vodka martini with Thai chilies.
- Their gins are outstanding. As described by our guide, the Bontanivore (I love that name!) has 19 botanicals that taste like a gin and tonic before even adding tonic.
- The next on my list to try is the Terroir Gin, made from California botanicals foraged on Mount Tamalpais (Mt. Tam). To date, my only experience with Mt. Tam was the most difficult trail race I’ve ever endured, which I’d rather forget. I’m hoping the gin will change my perspective.
- The Spiced Pear Liqueur tasted exactly like someone had gathered everything from the holiday season, distilled it and poured it in my glass. Despite being made from pear brandy, it tasted as described – like apple pie.
- Two things I didn’t get to try that I hope to in the future are the NOLA-style coffee liqueur and the single malt whiskey.
I’ve added St. George Spirits to my arsenal of options that I present when asked — what is there to do in Alameda? One sip and you won’t dare underestimate the potential of a quiet island or abandoned warehouses again. Three cheers for repurposing old buildings, local products and some fine craft spirits!