Pioneering company in stainless steel water bottles still based in Chico

It’s hard to find someone these days without an insulated water bottle—at least in California.

A company that has been making these products for 20 years is based in Chico—Klean Kanteen. (Unfortunately, they don’t offer tours of the facility.)

Klean Kanteen’s special bottle after the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While these types bottles seem ubiquitous today, it wasn’t always the case.

“Back in 2002, there were no stainless steel water bottles for personal hydration, and the health and environmental issues linked to plastic use were not widely known. Seeing the issues early and clearly, Robert Seals, the inventor and founder of Klean Kanteen, began cobbling together the first prototype with things he bought at the local hardware store in Chico,” the company’s website says.

Klean Kanteen works with organizations to create environmentally friendly swag. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Klean Kanteen’s first BPA-free stainless steel bottles came to the market in 2004.

Siblings Jeff Cresswell and Michelle Michelle Kalberer bought the company a year later. Now it is an international success story.

It’s not just traditional water bottles, though, that the company makes. Cups for various uses, in various sizes—even baby bottles are available. They come with a variety of tops. Reusable straws are also for sale. Even food storage containers are available.

A few of their products are in our house. What I use the most is the stainless steel pint cup I got when I did the Wildflower Century bike ride a couple years ago. Pour a cold beer in it and the suds stays cold until the last drop. It’s perfect for taking into the hot tub because I don’t have to worry about it breaking.

Pre-flight ritual involves a stop at airport bar

When I hear “bloody Mary” I think travel, breakfast or a morning hot tub on a non-work day if someone else is making it.

(I don’t like making them; something about not measuring and therefore not tasting good.)

Kae, Cleo and Pam with a bloody Mary before a flight earlier this year. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s interesting how certain drinks are associated with certain times of the day or activities.

The travel part started eons ago when my sister, Pam, and I missed a flight. We went to the airport bar and ordered a bloody Mary, or two. We had to do something to pass the time.

From then on we would have one before nearly every flight. We introduced it to people we traveled with. Some took to it, others thought drinking alcohol at 6am was a bit much, and others just don’t like tomato juice and vodka. And some have it sans vodka.

To me, it’s a festive way to start a trip.

The Reno airport makes a good spicy bloody Mary—or at least last time I was there it did. I was so enjoying one that I nearly missed my flight. How could I tell people on the other end that the reason I was delayed was because I was drinking? Not good. Luckily, I didn’t have to have that conversation.

This month I had my first BM at the Palm Springs airport. While I look forward to a return trip to the desert, I am definitely going to pass on this drinking ritual. It had to be the worst bloody Mary I’ve ever had. I couldn’t even finish it. I should have known it was going to be bad when the garnish was a single olive.

I don’t seem to have that many rituals or traditions, but this is one of them. I doesn’t matter if I’m flying alone, I still stop at the airport bar on most flights.

Craft beer transforming the bottle v. can debate

Those of a certain age remember when the only beer that came in a can was cheap and watery. A generation or two later and the opposite is true. Today, craft beer is almost exclusively in cans.

This transition has been gradual over the last several years, with the pandemic accelerating the transition from bottles to cans.

“If you go back a decade, it was hard to find craft beer in cans. The share of cans continues to grow,” said Bart Watson, chief economist with the Brewers Association, a trade group for independent craft brewers. “It’s driven by a bunch of different reasons. Economics is one. Cans are lighter, so it’s cheaper to ship.”

He also points to the shift in consumer expectations.

“Cans were perceived as lower quality. But we’ve seen a shift and that has gone away,” Watson said.

“Most breweries don’t do both. They have to make a choice. If they are starting a packaging line, they are putting in a canning line.”

This is true for Solano Brewing Company in Vacaville which canned its first beers the last week of August. A mobile canner set up in the parking lot where the brewery’s top three beers were packaged in the inaugural canning.

“It’s a test run to see how it goes,” explained Mark Shaw, head brewer of the 4-year-old brewery. “Right now the trend is for cans. There is less chance of oxidation, it stays fresher longer. You can put a lot more artwork on the can; making for more cool marketing that way.”

Solano Brewing tries to distinguish itself on store shelves by using a metallic element on the can “so it will shine a little bit to help catch your eye and give it depth.”

Solano Brewing is starting with 50 cases of each of the three beers.

In 2022, more than 65% of independent craft brewers in the United States used cans, according to Circana, which studies consumer behaviors.

Lagunitas packages its beer in bottles and cans. (Image: Lagunitas)

Reluctant to change

Lagunitas Brewing Company, one of the oldest craft breweries in the Northern California, was resistant to jumping into the canning frenzy.

“If you look at the entire history of Lagunitas, everything was in a bottle. It was about holding the paper label in your hand and reading the story on there,” brewmaster Jeremy Marshall said. “There was a lot of reluctance to put Lagunitas IPA into cans. A lot was due to the tactile sensation of our label. It has vertical groovy lines and this papery feel that (founder) Tony (Magee) said was an inspiration from Maker’s Mark (bourbon). A can would take away that label.”

Today their flagship IPA is available in cans and bottles.

Magee started Lagunitas on a kitchen stove in Marin County in 1993 at a time when breweries were rare in the North Bay. Now based in Petaluma, the brewery has been fully owned by Heineken since 2017.

“Tony was vocal he would be the last large brewery to put beer in a can,” Marshall, who has been with the brewery since 2003, said.

That day came in 2016 with 12th of Never, a tropical pale ale, being packaged in a hard to miss purple can. Showing a bit of rebelliousness, a beer cap is part of the graphics to remind people of bottles.

“12th of Never instantly became a resounding success. This was when craft seemed unstoppable. I pinpoint it as roughly the same time cans were gaining acceptance,” Marshall said. “Cans were helping fuel the meteoric rise in craft’s popularity.”

Even with the can trend not letting up, Lagunitas plans to continue to package its beer in glass and aluminum.

“The can format continues to rise in popularity because of its versatility to multiple occasions that are a prominent part of the younger consumers lives. Particularly during the summer months when hiking, boating, beach visits and pool side chilling are some of the preferred activities to engage in—a can offers a convenient way to crack open and enjoy your favorite beverage,” Lagunitas’ interim CMO Hannah Dray said. “We can all agree that cans are now dominating the beer industry, but with that said we continue see a role for and have bottle loyalists, therefore we’ll always be listening to that consumer and doing our best to deliver the right formats for the right and range of occasions that our consumers demand.”

In a four-year period, Lagunitas has shifted from 70% bottles/30% cans to 46% bottles/52% cans.

Nationally, according to market research firm Nielsen, in this same time period all craft beer has gone from 49% bottles and 51% cans to today being 32% bottles and 68% cans.

Another Sonoma County  brewery that has been slow to embrace selling canned beer to the masses is Russian River Brewing Company in Windsor. In September the brewery began putting its two lagers in 12 ounce cans, and made them available at local stores in October and plan to release them to the broader market in the first quarter of 2024.

“We have a lot of demand for cans. The consumer likes the ease and convenience of cans,” Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner and president of the brewery, said. “It will give us different shelf placement in stores as well. Right now we are only in bottles (at stores).”

Russian River has put several beers in 16 ounce cans, with this fall being a first for 12 ounce cans.

At this time these are the only two beers that will be put in 12 ounce cans, and the only two cans available outside of direct to consumer sales.

“It’s interesting to see the sea of cans on the shelf in the markets and then our bottles,” Cilurzo said. “Our bottles stand out among all the cans. It’s one reason we wanted to stick with bottles.”

Bucking the trend

Nile Zacherle, owner and brewer at Mad Fritz Brewing Company in St. Helena, has no intentions of every canning any of his beers.

“It’s about how I think about our product and what we do, which is part of the ethos I subscribe to in our product,” Zacherle said. “I feel like cans the aluminum is outside, but you have a plastic liner. Different types of liners are used and sprayed in there during fabrication. If you subscribe to the concept nothing is inert, you are really drinking out of a plastic bottle.”

He doesn’t disagree that consumers like cans, that it’s easier to transport for distribution and to take to the beach, and that aluminum weighs less than glass. Still, Zacherle believes at the end of the day glass is a better product, and is willing to pay more for it than he would if he used aluminum.

“Cans can fail, liners have failed and breakdown over time,” Zacherle said. “Bottling gives us control. We do it all in house. We are about authenticity of our ingredients, but if we put in a can, it would devalue the product.”

Cans of craft beer fill grocery store shelves. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Content to be in cans

Plenty of other breweries are happy to predominantly or exclusively use cans for packaging.

“We do the majority of our beer in cans. Once or twice a year we do some specialty hand bottled stuff,” said Trevor Martens, who with wife Stephanie owns Pond Farm Brewing Co. in San Rafael. “Cans are ultimately better for beer. There is no possibility of degradation. They are lighter, so shipping costs are cheaper. They are safer. If we drop one during canning, it is no big deal.”

Pond Farm has been around for almost five years, with canning introduced in the fourth month of being in business.

Instead of incurring the expense of putting in a canning facility, the Marin County brewery hires a mobile canner for that part of the process. On average about 150 cases of 16 ounce cans are packaged every 2½ weeks, with 24 cans in a case.

Martens doesn’t see cans going away. He said people who came of age drinking beer during the craft beer boom expect cans, adding that those people don’t necessarily know anything else.

Fogbelt Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa made a concerted effort post-pandemic to focus less on bottles and more on cans.

“We had done seasonal canning from 2017-20. As soon as Covid hit, the owners started investing in buying a canning line. We received it Christmas Eve 2020 and have been using it nonstop sense,” JP Balatti, head brewmaster, said.We can do 80 to 90 cases of bottles a day. Now that we have our own canning facility, we do 300 to 500 cases of beer a day.”

Balatti echoes that over others when he says they are easier to transport, don’t get broken in travel by distributors or consumers.

“Cans don’t get lightstruck, it’s better for beer. With glass, most use amber to prevent lightstruck,” Balatti said. “Overall quality of beer goes up with canning of beer. We can reduce the oxygen levels a lot. And the shelf life in longer.”

When Balatti started at Fogbelt the brewery had five core beers that all came in 22 ounce bottles, or growlers. Now only specialty beers are in bottles, with the rest being in cans.

“I like to think cans are going to stay a while. We are investing more in our canning line,” Balatti said.

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the North Bay Business Journal.

Arizona olive oil mill a delicious, educational experience

Lunch at Queen Creek Olive Mill is three kinds of bruschetta. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Surrounded by olives as the harvest was just beginning, we were about to get a lesson in all things olive oil.

Queen Creek Olive Mill near Phoenix is Arizona’s only working and operating olive mill.

When Brenda and Perry Rea started the business in 2005 they did so with 800 trees. Now there are 11,000 trees (16 varietals) on the 100 acres.

On the tour it was stressed to look at the contents of the bottle of olive oil you buy. It should only say “extra virgin olive oil” (EVVO) unless something like garlic or lemon or some other flavor is added.

“Make sure the phrase ‘extra virgin’ is on the label. Extra virgin olive oil contains the most nutrients and is the highest grade of all olive oil classifications,” Queen Creek says.

If it says “olive oil” or “pure olive oil” or “light olive oil” then it has been refined and may only have a small percentage of extra virgin olive oil.

Olive harvest at Queen Creek in Arizona is in October and November. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The three positive sensory attributes to EVOO are bitter, pungent (peppery) and fruity. Whereas sensory defects include metallic, rancid, and musty.

Much like wine tasting, we were given a sample that we first smelled, then we sipped it—no bread involved—just pure EVOO.

This orchard-mill-restaurant-store is quite an attraction. Inside the sample of oils and vinegars seem limitless. Stuffed olive, tapenades, spices, sauces and other culinary delights are for sale.

It really is an experience—and that’s what the owners want it to be—agritourism.

Happy hour at an historic ‘adult’ bar in a college town

 

The Grill at the Diamond Hotel in Chico doesn’t feel like a college bar. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s always a good sign when people leave happy hour and they are happy without imbibing too much.

Such was the case earlier this month when for the first time I went to The Grill inside the Diamond Hotel in Chico. Joining me for cocktails and truffle fries were mom and Sue.

The hotel has a colorful history. When it opened in 1904 is was the premier hotel in town. Steam heated the 56 rooms, which all had private baths. Plus, each had gas and electric fixtures.

Twelve years later it burned. When it re-opened it was a travelers’ hotel, catering to those on a budget.

Those making decisions about remodeling the property in the 1940s thought stripping the original ornamentation was a good idea.

In the first half of the 1960s it was a women’s dorm for Chico State students.

By 1972, the building in downtown Chico was shuttered, becoming a bit of an eyesore. Historic lore is that locals called it The Pigeon Palace.

The Diamond Hotel first opened in 1904. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Then came Wayne Cook who bought the rundown building in 2001. He reopened the Diamond in 2005 with 43 rooms. Fifteen rooms and suites were added in 2021 when the neighboring Morehead Building were re-imagined by Cook.

In restoring the second structure, Cook had the original cupola on the corner of Fourth and Broadway streets restored.

Cook died in 2022 at the age of 79. His family continues to own the buildings.

As for The Grill, it opened this past summer with Jeff Dudum and Amanda Cramer at the helm. The restaurant Cook had opened was called the Diamond Steakhouse.

On a recent Friday night the bar was packed. This had a lot to do with Farmers Brewing Co. having a special event and it being parents weekend at the university. While it was loud, it wasn’t unbearable. And the service, well, it was great—really, it was exceptional considering how packed it was.

The happy hour menu comes with discounts on some of the cocktails (we had a Manhattan, margarita and lemon drop) as well as a few appetizers.

For a college town, this seemed like such an adult bar. I’m not sure the college students would have been there if it hadn’t been for their parents.

With a parking garage next door, we didn’t have to contend with street parking. It really was a happy hour, or two.

Gardens add a visual depth to wine tasting at Ferrari-Carano

Ferrari-Carano’s grounds are lush year round. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

My memory of visiting Ferrari-Carano winery years ago was more about the gardens than the wine.

Through the years I’ve come to appreciate what this Sonoma County winery puts in a bottle, but it was the gardens that made me want to return.

The website says, “What began in 1987 as a labor of love for gardener extraordinaire Rhonda Carano, took 16 months just to plan and complete the initial planting.”

While fall usually isn’t the best time for most gardens, there was still a lusciousness here. The September visit was like a tease in some ways. I know the spring and summer will full of even more color. I look forward to returning.

A secluded garden makes one forget she is visiting a winery. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even so, the Villa Fiore Garden closest to the parking lot is not like anything else I’ve experienced at other wineries. It’s like walking through a park, where you don’t even know you are on the grounds of a winery.

“… relaxed in design with an emphasis on color and texture, and featuring a mixture of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals” is how the winery describes it. There are water features, places to sit and a tranquility that begs one to whisper as if it were a sanctuary.

Oh, and the wines? So, good. I often think of whites when I think Ferrari-Carano. After all, one-third of their production is Fume Blanc. However, on this visit is was the 2021 Siena that captured my attention. It’s dominated by Sangiovese, with Malbec, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon the other varietals.

Tasting notes say it has “aromas of dried strawberry, blueberry, cardamom dusted graham crackers, and a hint of cedar spice. The palate is bursting with vibrant fruit flavors, strawberry-cranberry crumb pie and coffee nip lingering through the long, elegant finish.”

My favorite white was the 2020 Tre Terre. This Chardonnay is made from grapes grown along the Russian River.

While wine tasting is about the wine, it’s always wonderful when it’s actually more than that. Such is the case with Ferrari-Carano.

Alanna pours a taste at Ferrari-Carano winery in Healdsburg. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • Address: 8761 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg
  • Phone: 707.433.6700
  • Website

 

Little-known Gravenstein apples delicious whole, baked or juiced

Gravenstein—it’s not an apple that is often found in stores.

But most people who live (or have lived as is the case with me) in Sonoma County know all about them. These orchards once dominated the landscape more than wine grapes.

While the origins of how this orb first came to the North Bay are not 100 percent certain, it’s likely they arrived sometime in the 1800s, with Sebastopol’s cooler temps and sandy soil ideal for their proliferation.

Slices and whole pies available at the Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sonoma County in August. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This fruit tends to ripen in July, unlike other apples that have a fall harvest. This is why the annual Gravenstein Apple Fair is in August. This last one was the 50th celebration of this iconic fruit.

“Eventually they were shipped nationwide by the trainload and played a major role in Sonoma County’s commerce. In more recent years, Gravenstein production declined significantly due to suburban development, orchard/vineyard conversion, a global over-abundance of apples, and other factors,” according to the county’s tourism agency. “Today, Gravensteins are rebounding in popularity among consumers who are looking for more-tasty, more-local varieties of produce. However, because of their soft skin Gravs are now considered difficult to ship far and wide as raw fruit. So the best place to get Sonoma County Gravensteins is in Sonoma County.”

Some of those Gravensteins end up in liquid form. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

According to North Coast Organic, “There are only six commercial growers remaining (in Sonoma County) and, together, their crop totals just 6,000 tons of Gravenstein apples a year.”

Gravenstein was declared Denmark’s national apple in 2005. Considering I’m Danish, maybe I’m genetically predisposed to liking Gravenstein.

I picked up a bag at the fair, with the intent of turning them into a pie later this month for my birthday. Homemade apple pie really is the best breakfast.

Sparkling wine dazzles with its complexity of flavors

Bubbles, more bubbles, and yet even more bubbles.

What an education in flavors of Champagne—OK, sparkling wine because this was California after all. Call it what you want, an afternoon of tasting at Domaine Carneros in Napa was sublime.

Sue and I ordered different tastings (there were four to choose from) so we could share, and thus broaden our palates even more. We had the Sparkling Wine Sampler and Sparkling Chateau Tasting, with the 2019 Brut Rosé being in both.

The first one also had the 2018 Estate Brut Cuvée, 2019 Blanc de Noir and 2018 Verméil Demi-Sec, while the other included 2018 Ultra Brut, 2017 Late Disgorged Brut and 2015 Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs.

Still and sparkling wines are the same in that their flavors change with food, which was why it was fun to have a cheese plate to pair the bubbly with.

Champagne flavors are as distinct and varied as any varietal. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I’m not a big fan of rosé in any form, so I was not surprised this was not the first glass to be emptied. My favorite was the Verméil Demi-Sec, while Sue was partial to the Late Disgorged Brut. That one came in second for me.

What put one higher over another? For me it was flavor, which I realize isn’t saying much. Verméil Demi-Sec tends to lean toward being sweeter. The tasting notes say it has “aromas of lychee, cherry blossom, and honeysuckle ride on a delicate bead of bubbles that complement a long, creamy finish.”

The Late Disgorged Brut is aged six years, and could stay in the bottle longer. Tasting notes say, “This wine has profound richness expressed in aromatic notes of toasted almond and brioche with a plush palate of baked pear, honeysuckle, and tarte au citron.”

One thing that is so special about tasting at Domaine Carneros is that most of the bottles are only available there or they can be shipped to you from the winery.

I knew Domaine Carneros made some still wines and asked to try the Merlot. Oh my goodness, love, love, love it. If only it were on a store shelf  near me.

This grand estate at the southern end of Napa County in the Carneros region looks like a chateau out of France, which just adds to the grandeur of the experience. This French influence clearly has a lot to do with the founders being the Taittinger family of Reims, France.

This French influence continues with how the sparkling wine is made, which is by using the méthode traditionnelle. Wine Spectator describes this as a “labor-intensive process whereby wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, creating bubbles.”

The winery says, “Before a méthode traditionnelle sparkling wine earns the right to feature its vintage on the label, it must be aged in the bottle for a minimum of three years.”

From our outside table we looked upon acres of vineyards. Most of the grapes Domaine Carneros uses are estate grown. It’s not unusual to see CEO Remi Cohen walking among the vines.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are used for sparkling wine, with the former some of the first to be harvested each year. With a cooler summer than normal in Wine Country, it has meant the harvest started in late August, about three weeks later normal. It means soon there will be more sparkling wine to try.

Domaine Carneros is a distinctive building sitting on top of knoll in Napa. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

Address: 1240 Duhig Road, Napa

Website

To make a reservation: 800.716.2788, ext. 150

Deschutes more than a local Oregon brewery

Some Deschutes beers are only available at the two Bend and one Portland locations. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“Good beer brings people together.”

That was the sentiment of Gary Fish when he founded Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Ore., 35 years ago. And it remains the foundation of the family- and employee-owned beer manufacturer.

The odd thing is that I would have sworn Deschutes existed the summer I lived in Bend—1987. Wrong. It took going on the tour in July to correct my memory.

When Deschutes started, the thinking was to have a light (Cascade Golden Ale), medium (Bachelor Bitter), and dark (Black Butte Porter) beer.

The dark beer market was not what it is today. Fish was told it might be the route to distinguish his brewery from others. It worked.

Multiple scientists, who use this lab, are part of the beer-making team. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“Black Butte continues to be our flagship. Even though beers like Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Fresh Squeezed outsell it. Black Butte is the best-selling porter in America and a significant point of pride for our team. It has successfully dispelled the misconceptions of dark beer. It is particularly successful at that task with novice craft drinkers,” Fish says on the brewery’s website.

Apparently, I’m a slow learner because it took me yeeeaaarrrsss to figure out I like dark beer.

One of the great things about this tour is that I learned Deschutes has more options than Black Butte Porter.

The tour finishes in a bar of sorts where beers not found in stores are on tap and sold in four and six packs. There I enjoyed a glass of Black Butte XXXV.

“To celebrate our 35th anniversary, we sought inspiration from a rich and bold German confection—the Black Forest cake. Black Butte Porter lays the framework for a perfect fusion of flavors with cocoa, tart cherries, vanilla, and a hint of warm bourbon. Savor a special occasion with layered decadence,” is how the website describes it.

While my palate is not sophisticated enough to describe it this way, I will simply say it was yummy. It was also a good thing at 11 percent alcohol that I was not driving.

While this is a bottling operation, more Deschutes beer ends up in cans. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Plus, this was my second beer of the day because at the get-go everyone on the tour is given a choice to have one of four beers. It’s a wonderful way to start things off.

While I had the choice of a “regular” Black Butter Porter, I opted not to because I knew I could get it in most stores. So I went with the King Crispy pilsner. I had never heard of it, which intrigued me. Good, but not great.

While the components of most beer are the same—water, hops, some type of grain, and yeast—it is still a bit of a science project from start to finish. The Deschutes watershed, where the water comes from, brings a volcanic aspect to the beer. When zinc is added; this affects the texture, the mouth feel, according to Cody, our tour guide.

With there being hundreds of kinds of malts, well, that adds options for the brewmaster. Most are sourced in the U.S., with some coming from Germany. Most of the hops Deschutes uses come from within driving distance. One to 3,000 pounds of hops are used every day.

At the end of the day the left over grain becomes cattle fed.

All of this was part of the tour—and then some. It really was a great tour that I recommend to anyone—even non-beer drinkers. This is because there is so much to learn about the beer-making process. It’s part science, part innovation, a bit about entrepreneurship, it touches on climate change, economics and changing taste buds.

Stainless steel of various shapes and sizes are part of Deschutes’ facilities. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Today, Deschutes is the 11th largest independent brewery in the United States. (Sierra Nevada in Chico is No. 3.) What I learned is that an upside down bottle on the label indicates this is an independent brewery.

While Deschutes built a new bottling line in 2015, today 60 percent of its product is canned.

The brewery is constantly coming up with new “flavors” through its pilot program. Sometimes those are on tap at the brewery.

What I’m left with, though, is reflecting back on the founder’s original belief that good beer brings people together. My friend who took me on the tour, well, she and I have different tastes in beer—but had no problem finding a Deschutes (or two) to toast with. On this same trip to Bend I shared a meal with other friends at the original downtown facility and toasted with different brews. Then later I shared some of my purchases with another friend at her home in Sonoma County.

Good beer really does bring people together.

The Buena Vista continues to whip up incredible Irish coffees

“Rebel” makes multiple Irish coffees at once at The Buena Vista in San Francisco. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Sit at the bar. It’s the only way to fully appreciate the mass production of Irish coffees at The Buena Vista.

This classic hot alcoholic drink has been served at this San Francisco institution since 1952.

The café boasts of making the first Irish coffee in the United States.

While there is a full bar at Buena Vista, on a recent Sunday afternoon it didn’t appear anything but Irish coffees were being service. After all, about 2,000 Irish coffees are made there every day. Food is also served, though I don’t remember ever eating there.

Glasses are lined up and then filled with hot water so the final concoction is hot. Out goes the water and in goes two sugar cubes. This is followed by the coffee with little regard to spilling. Next up is Tullamore Dew—an Irish whiskey that is blended from column stilled and pot stilled whiskeys. The liquids are topped off with whipped cream—and not the stuff that is sprayed out of a can.

It’s a simple drink, but one that took a bit to refine.

This is the story The Buena Vista tells, “Jack Koeppler, then-owner of the Buena Vista, challenged international travel writer Stanton Delaplane to help re-create a highly touted ‘Irish coffee’ served at Shannon Airport in Ireland. Throughout the night the two of them stirred and sipped judiciously and eventually acknowledged two recurring problems. The taste was ‘not quite right,’ and the cream would not float. The restaurateur pursued the elusive elixir with religious fervor, even making a pilgrimage overseas to Shannon Airport.

“Upon Jack’s return, the experimentation continued. Finally, the perfect-tasting Irish whiskey was selected. Then the problem of the bottom-bent cream was taken to San Francisco’s mayor, a prominent dairy owner. It was discovered that when the cream was aged for 48 hours and frothed to a precise consistency, it would float as delicately as a swan on the surface of Jack’s and Stan’s special nectar. With the recipe now mastered, a sparkling clear, 6-ounce, heat-treated goblet was chosen as a suitable chalice.”

Once perfected, the recipe has not changed.

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  Deets:

  • Address: 2765 Hyde St. (at the corner of Beach) in San Francisco
  • Phone: 415.474.5044
  • Open seven days a week.

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