Some People You Should Get a Drink From Before They Die

Who To Drink, Virginia Miller for the San Francisco Bay Guardian

Or, as Steven Liles put it, “4 Old Guys, and a Young Gal, You Should Get a Drink From Before They Die.”

I was honored to be included in the list of awesome bartenders! Here are the questions Virginia sent and some expansion on my answers.

Erik Ellestad first landed on the cocktail map in 2006 with his blog, Savoy Stomp — during his off hours as a tech engineer he began working his way through the classic Savoy Cocktail Book, one recipe at a time. This led to monthly gathering and demonstration Savoy Cocktail Book Nights at revered Upper Haight cocktail hotspot the Alembic since 2008, and bartending at chic SoMa Chinese restaurant Heaven’s Dog since its opening in January 2009. He’s an expert on classic recipes; his technically-minded side informs his precision and sense of balance.

I started getting involved in online cocktail related forums, including DrinkBoy and Webtender, in the early 2000s. Joined in 2005. In June of 2006, I started the Savoy Stomp topic in the Spirits and Cocktails forum on eGullet, documenting my efforts to sequentially make every single drink in the Savoy Cocktail Book. For a while in this period, I also served as one of the hosts of that forum. Later in 2006, I started a personal blog with similar content to the Savoy Stomp on Eventually, keeping both in sync got to be too much of a drag, and I moved the Stomp entirely to my personal blog,

1. Please list for me what bars you’re tending at currently and how many years you’ve been bartending.

I work at Heaven’s Dog and help host Alembic Bar’s monthly Savoy Cocktail Book Night. However, I am most well known for the blog project I began in June of 2006 to make and document every cocktail in the Savoy Cocktail Book. The Alembic staff and I have been doing the Savoy Nights together since November of 2008 and I’ve been bartending at Heaven’s Dog since we opened in January of 2009. I also work part time for the University of California, here in San Francisco, as a Unix Systems Administrator.

2. Where are you from and how does that influence your bartending style and taste?

I’m an honest hard working boy from a small town near Madison, Wisconsin. Other than developing my taste for beer, cheese, and Old-Fashioned Cocktails, I don’t think growing up in Wisconsin particularly affected my bartending. However, the 10 years I spent as a line and prep cook while living in Madison, definitely affected both the way I approach cocktails and how I prioritize tasks while bartending.

3. What is your area of expertise or obsession: a spirit, cocktail style, category or region of drink?

Pre-prohibition American beverages, bars, and taverns. Almost all my real favorite cocktails go back to the 19th, early 20th Centuries, or before, and most of the books I most enjoy reading are about that period as well.

4. What do you drink most during off hours?

To be honest, now that I’ve nearly finished the Savoy Cocktail Book Project, I’ve been taking a bit of a break from drinking cocktails. You’ll most often find me drinking beer or wine. I have a special interest in small producers and natural process products.

5. What cocktail are you making lately that is exciting you, whether your own or someone else’s, recipe?

Inevitably, people ask regularly for “bartender’s choice” or “something you have been working on”.

Since you can’t say, “Well, I’ve been working on being a more engaging host,” or, “I’ve been working on my wine service and knowledge,” I try to learn a new or classic cocktail a week, so I have an easy answer to the question.

This week I was inspired by Leopold’s Navy Strength Gin to perfect the Inca Cocktail.

Inca Cocktail

3/4 oz Leopold’s Navy Strength Gin
3/4 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
3/4 oz Carpano Antica Itailian Vermouth
3/4 oz Manzanilla Sherry
teaspoon Small Hand Foods Orgeat
1 dash Orange Bitters

Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a small cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist.

6. What are your current favorite off-hours hangouts for food or drink?

There are many awesome cocktail bars in this city, too many to list really. But, since I live in Bernal Heights, the places I get to most often are in my neighborhood: Gialina for pizza, Papalote for Burritos, Front Porch for Soulful American food, and Ichi Sushi, for, well, awesome Sushi. If my wife and I are splurging, we’ll go out to Bar Tartine, Bar Jules, or Commonwealth. Other than the bars I work in, you’ll find me at Rock Bar waiting for a table at Front Porch, Glen Park Station waiting for a table at Gialina, St. Mary’s Pub or Royal Cuckoo on the way to Ichi Sushi, and Wild Side West.

7. What musical style or band/musician keeps you pumped and motivated during those late bartending nights – or most encapsulates your bartending style?

I need to write up a whole post about how obsessed I’ve become about restaurant playlists! But the core of the playlist I’ve come up with for Heaven’s Dog is the box set of Stax/Volt Soul singles from 1959 through 1968. In addition, I like to throw in some Ska, Reggae, African, and Brazilian music.

I wish there was some way, though, that you could say pick from a certain set of songs from 5-7, another from 7-10, and a final one from 10-midnight.