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    Gin Is ‘In’: Bay Area-Based Gin Producers Are on the Rise

    By David Landis, The Gay Gourmet–

    Gin: the mere mention of it divides cocktail enthusiasts into two groups—those who love it (me included), and those who don’t.

    Trust me, I know. I used to be in the latter group, thinking it would give me a headache. Turns out, I was just drinking the wrong kinds of gin. Now, the gin-based Negroni is my daily cocktail of choice.

    Thankfully, in the Bay Area, gin is “in,” and more popular than ever. Even better, there is a new breed of local Bay Area craft producers that are making gins well worth imbibing.

    But, let’s take a step back. While the Bay Area is well-known for wines, it’s not always been the center for producing spirits. And gins historically tended to hail primarily from England. According to Wikipedia, “Gin originated as a medicinal liquor made by monks and alchemists across Europe, particularly in southern Italy (Salerno), Flanders, and the Netherlands, to provide aqua vita from distillates of grapes and grains. It then became an object of commerce in the spirits industry. It became popular in England after the introduction of jenever, a Dutch and Belgian liquor that was originally a medicine. Although this development had been taking place since the early 17th century, gin became widespread after the 1688 Glorious Revolution led by William of Orange, and subsequent import restrictions on French brandy. Gin then emerged as the national alcoholic drink of England.”

    Gin today is produced in a variety of ways utilizing numerous herbal ingredients, which now have resulted in many different approaches and brands. Three of the best are made right here in the Bay Area: namely, Gray Whale Gin from Sebastopol, Loch & Union Gin from American Canyon in the Napa Valley, and Junipero Gin from Anchor Distilling (now Hotaling & Co.) in San Francisco.

    How do each of these brands taste? Let’s start with Gray Whale Gin from Sebastopol. I love the story of how this gin was created: the founders were on a camping trip overlooking Big Sur’s majestic cliffs and spotted a gray whale. That was the inspiration for creating a locally-produced and sourced California gin. The bottle is a bright blue color, reminiscent of the ocean. In my opinion, this gin is the lightest and smoothest of the local three I’ve sampled. It’s a corn-based spirit that is distilled seven times. Besides the requisite juniper (from Big Sur), it has 5 additional botanicals from our Golden State, sourced from the path that gray whales take when they migrate (and some a bit further inland): kombu (from the Mendocino coast), almonds (from the Capay valley), limes (from Temecula), fir (from Sonoma), and mint (from Santa Cruz). Because of the semi-sweet overtones, this is an excellent sipping gin. You can also feel good about partaking because Gray Whale donates 1% of its profits to Oceana to help preserve the oceans.

    Next up? Loch & Union Gin from American Canyon in the Napa Valley. It’s bolder and more complex, in an American dry spirit manner that is more traditional. Bottled in a modern, rectangular-based bottle, it also has definite notes of orange and spice, with just enough juniper for that gin zing. It’s a grain-based spirit that also includes such botanicals as: angelica, chamomile, and coriander. Because of the citrus piquancy and its gentle warmth, this gin is my favorite for my go-to daily Negroni cocktails.

    Finally, we have the original craft gin, Junipero. Made by Anchor Distilling (now Hotaling & Co.) right here in San Francisco, it’s the most like a traditional London dry-style gin: classic, bold, a bit sharper, and packing a punch. The gin has structure complemented by a solid juniper core. It’s also grain-based, made with 12 botanicals: juniper, angelica root, aniseed, bitter orange peel, cardamom, cassia bark, orris root, orange peel, lemon peel, grains of paradise, cubeb, and coriander. Junipero’s stylish cobalt blue bottle and pear-shaped design only add to its sophistication. Because of its time-honored production process, this gin has my vote for the classic cocktails, like a martini.

    Speaking of martinis and in honor of this column’s theme, I’m re-sharing one of my favorite recipes for that revered cocktail (which some say was invented in Martinez). This version is from Emmy-award-winning actor and foodie Stanley Tucci (star of CNN’s great Italian food show, Searching for Italy):

    The Perfect Martini (from Stanley Tucci)


    l/2 ounce dry vermouth
    2–3 ounces high quality gin (or vodka)
    Lemon twist or olives (for serving)


    In Mr. Tucci’s own words: “Fill a glass beaker or cocktail shaker with ice and pour in the vermouth. Stir 15 seconds, then let sit 30 seconds. Stir again, then strain out and discard the vermouth. Pour the gin into the beaker and stir 30 seconds. Let sit 30 seconds, then stir again 30 seconds. Let it sit another 30 seconds, then stir again quickly. Strain the cocktail into a chilled glass. Garnish with a lemon twist or olives. Drink it. Become a new person.”

    Bits and Bites

    One of the Gay Gourmet’s favorites, STK Steakhouse (with outposts all over the country), is now open in San Francisco in the former space occupied by Rosa Mexicano. The address is One Market, but the actual entrance is on Spear Street (at Mission). The splashy and chic new restaurant describes itself as “vibe dining” and has an expansive outdoor patio, waterfront views and even a DJ. The menu features everything from the much-loved filet mignon to a Wagyu flatiron steak, as well as jumbo lump crab cakes, crispy calamari, and ahi tuna tartare. STK Steakhouse is open for lunch, dinner, brunch, and happy hour.

    Park Chalet Coastal Beer Garden in San Francisco hosts a “Parktoberfest” celebration on Friday, October 7, from 6–9 pm. Guests will be able to enjoy authentic live German music by Alpine Sound, a Steinholding contest (with a prize), dirndl and lederhosen clad partygoers, Oktoberfest t-shirts, and a full menu plus specials, including a Bavarian onion tart, sauerbraten sliders, bratwurst, and chocolate stout brownies.

    The Mill Valley Film Festival presents the world premiere of The Art of Eating: The Life of M.F.K. Fisher. It’s a feature documentary that traces the life of iconic California food writer Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher and explores the impact of her ideas on food, its meaning in our lives, and how her writing laid the foundation for modern food writing. The premiere takes place on October 11 at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

    Vital Farms’ new True Blues eggs (yup, they are pastel blue-colored!) come from hens that are pasture-raised with year-round outdoor access. They’re now available at local Whole Foods Markets throughout Northern California. Besides being festive, they have rich yolks, which make them tasty, too. Laid by an heirloom breed called Azur hens, they add a pop of color to brunch.

    Local author Yvonne Michie Horn’s new book, Unique Eats and Eateries of Sonoma County, is a food-centered journey into the nooks and crannies of the entire county. Along the way, you’ll get to know some of the best chefs, restaurants, and culinary treats, as well as the stories that made them so popular.

    Gray Whale Gin:
    Loch and Union Gin:
    Junipero Gin:
    STK Steakhouse:
    Park Chalet:
    Mill Valley Film Festival:
    Vital Farms True Blues eggs:
    Unique Eats and Eateries of Sonoma County:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: Or visit him online at:

    The Gay Gourmet
    Published on October 6, 2022