Living on an island - Alameda - in the San Francisco Bay brings with it many things: a great group of friends, good elementary schools, a terrific indie bookstore, a distillery. And if we were playing that game, Which-of-These-is-Not-Like-the-Other, it might be easy to pick the distillery - but oh, how lucky we are.
St. George Spirits has been craft-distilling for more than thirty years. When they began, in 1982, I was in high school and Olivia Newton John was screaming about getting Physical. I didn't really know what she meant - let me hear your body talk? Really? - and like most Americans, I had no idea that craft distilling was even a thing.
We drank Metaxa in my house. Still do. But now I supplement that with whiskey.
Unfortunately, the luxury of a distiller in your back yard doesn't mean that you get to sample their wares all the time, more's the pity. St. George just released this years' iteration of their whiskey, the 13th Lot of this beauty of a single malt, but it's a difficult bottle to score.
Having been hailed as one of the whiskies you must try before you die, having been called phenomenal, unlike any other U.S. single malt - these well-earned words of praise ensure they never have a surplus. St. George distills, bottles, and ships it - then it's gone for another year.
This season I went all proactive and called two of my favorite spirits shops in San Francisco - Blackwell's and Cask. Cask already had a waiting-list and added my name to it. Blackwell's didn't have a list going, so they started one for me.
The following week, the shipments began arriving - I got a call from Blackwell's first. By that time they had lots of people interested in the bottles they had and they wanted to know if I wanted mine.
A few days passed, however, before I had the time to head across the new Bay Bridge - and on my first attempt, there was gridlock on the approach. As I fumed in my car, I received a phone call. Since I wasn't actually moving, even though I was on a freeway, I answered.
|New Bay Bridge in front, old Bay Bridge behind.
It was Blackwell's, tactfully inquiring if I still wanted my bottle of the St. George because many other people had expressed interest in it.
I explained the irony of my being in my car and that I was - in theory - on my way there right then, but that the traffic was making forward progress negligible. The next step, of course, to secure the Lot 13 under my name was simply to purchase it over the phone. And again, since I wasn't moving, I dug in my pocket for the little plastic card that would keep the St. George on hand for me.
When, finally, I got to the halfway point on the bridge - the old connecting with the new - I took the exit for Treasure Island and just turned around and went home with the knowledge that when I was actually able to drive to San Francisco, my bottle would be waiting.
The next day, I talked to my friend Nick - yes, we travel in packs - and since he's fond of mash and what it can become, he expressed interest in a bottle of the whiskey if another became available. Which is about when I got the call from Cask saying that they had a few extra bottles that hadn't been picked up and if I was interested I should call.
Except when I returned their call ten minutes later they were closed.
I began dialing thirty minutes before they opened the next morning. They didn't answer until one minute past the hour, but they finally did answer and I was able to add Nick's bottle to my bounty. But then I called Nick and told him to call Cask and see if they had any other bottles available.
You know, just in case.
I didn't see Nick until Saturday night when a group of friends met at the Punchline in San Francisco in celebration of his wife's birthday. I had just dropped off his bottle the day before - left it on his doorstep like a milkman delivering bottles, clink clink.
At the comedy club Nick told me that when he called Cask asking about the whiskey, they politely told him no, they didn't have any in reserve. Nick gently toiled ahead, saying that perhaps he had heard through the grapevine that there might be a few bottles that weren't spoken for...maybe?
The woman at Cask laughed and said, By 'the grapevine,' do you mean Nick Petrulakis?
And then they both laughed.
Turns out there were a few other Nicks already on the list so she may not at first have believed my Nick when he asked to add that moniker to the growing queue, but she obliged him the addition of his name, without, alas, being able to follow through any more than that.
But he has his bottle, I have mine. And the whiskey?
This version of St. George's Single Malt? Lot 13? It's splendid. It's a fruit-first whiskey that lets you discover chocolate and cinnamon as you enjoy your glass, then it finishes smooth. She's lovely to look at - light in the glass and bright on the tongue. Sip her - unless you want to make a helluva great cocktail.
I had my first taste from a pre-Prohibition shot glass because, yes, it does go down better that way. I like to imagine the San Francisco hands who slid this shot glass across bar tops more than a century ago. I like to imagine the people who accepted the shot, tasted the whiskey, set the glass down and twirled their finger in the air as they called for another round.
With this St. George, that's an easy thing to do.