St. George Spirits: Much More than Hangar One

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

One of the many treats of living in the Bay Area has to be its proximity to the Wine Country — with so many wineries so close by, there are a multitude of opportunities to learn more about wine varieties, the craft of winemaking and to determine which ones suit your tastebuds the best. But did you know that there are also opportunities to do the same with spirits?

I had never considered spirits tastings myself, but was introduced to St. George Spirits distillery in Alameda by a vodka-loving friend who was looking for a fun birthday adventure.

If you’re up for a great way to spend a weekend afternoon and you enjoy spirits, check out St. George Spirits, where $15 gets you a 30-minute tour of their distillery and complimentary spirits tastings. St. George is best known for its Hangar One vodka, which is also the name of their location — Hangar One in Alameda’s old naval base.

The tours take you through each step of the process of producing bottles of their famous vodka, in addition to their quality gin, eau de vin and even absinthe (yes, it’s real, and no, it doesn’t cause hallucinations).

The tour is fast-paced, lively and educational, too, and takes you through different parts of the hangar to illustrate the production process for each liquor. I didn’t know much about liquor before the tour, but now I can tell you the requirements for a vodka, gin, bourbon or absinthe without a beat.

After the tour, you move with your tour guide to the spacious tasting room to try out seven of their liquors, which rotate over time. I had the opportunity to try two vodkas, two gins (Botanivore and Dry Rye), B&E Bourbon, Raspberry Liqueur and Absinthe Verte and they were all very tasty (even the absinthe!).

Even the most skeptical drinkers out there may be converted to vodka or gin lovers. You may be wondering about the size of these pours, and they’re perfect: enough to get a couple of sips and a good sense of the flavor of each spirit, but not so much that you become drunk.

With all six tastings combined, I would estimate you drink a maximum of two shots over a one-hour period. For those liquors you find you just cannot live without, they have a store on-site where they sell each of their liquors.

An average-sized bottle costs somewhere around $30-$50, which is expensive for daily consumption but a fair price for a special spirit. On both visits, I’ve left with two bottles of something I didn’t expect to enjoy but couldn’t possibly leave without.

The reason why a visit to St. George distillery is so special is threefold: 1) the tour, 2) the tastings and 3) the location.

Getting to Hangar One is an adventure in itself: Take the San Francisco Bay Ferry to Alameda from the Ferry Building and walk roughly 20 minutes from the Alameda Ferry terminal to the hangar.

Both times I went, the ferry was quick and reliable and the walk was safe, and the weather was beautiful. Make sure to bring some food to enjoy after your tour and tasting so you can enjoy the amazing view of San Francisco from the hangar while snacking — there isn’t much food at St. George, and it can end up being an enjoyably long afternoon.

As an alternative, you can walk down the street two hangars down to Rock Wall Winery, which also does tastings and has a wider variety of snack foods.

To plan your visit to St. George, go to Reservations, at (510) 769-1601, are highly recommended; early afternoon is less busy for those willing to take an earlier ferry over. Take a look at the ferry schedules before you schedule your tour and make sure to leave plenty of time to get to the hangar. Don’t worry if there’s a long wait after your tour for the next ferry home, as you’ll have time for a picnic and a stroll over to Rock Wall winery.

All in all, a visit to St. George Spirits serves as the perfect backdrop to a beautiful day in the Bay Area.