California cocktails, fresh ingredients, and the four elements

By John Pomeroy
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“Though the problems of the world are becoming increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”-Bill Mollison (coined the term “Permaculture” in 1978)

California produces amazing amounts of fruits and produce used for making great drinks.

California produces amazing amounts of fruits and produce used for making great drinks.

According to Brian Palmer of Earthwire, “California produces a sizable majority of many American fruits, vegetables, and nuts: 99% of artichokes, 99% of walnuts, 97% of kiwis, 97% of plums, 95% of celery, 95% of garlic, 89% of cauliflower, 71% of spinach, and 69% of carrots (and the list goes on and on).” Logically, the freshest ingredients come from California, so starting with California-grown is incredibly advantageous. That being said, how these items are being grown inevitably affects the quality of the end product. Conventional agriculture leaves a lot to be desired, and the polar opposite of conventional—biodynamic—exemplifies the ideal. With regulations for certification far beyond organic, biodynamic agriculture must utilize a comprehensive approach to production.

Biodynamic farmers are constantly harnessing the forces of nature to help them grow vibrant, healthy food. All life basically depends on and grows toward the sun. There are micro and macro forces at work with the sun’s influence that define the polarities at work on earth. Energy follows the sun: when the sun is on the other side of the earth from where we are, energy is being drawn downward. Think of dew settling in the evening or leaves falling in the autumn, as the earth takes a big breath inward. This downward force is known in biodynamics as the earthly polarity; it is directly related to the water and earth elements. The opposite polarity, known as the cosmic force, relates to the fire and air elements and is seen in the upward expansion of heat and gas. This force can be seen in the sunrise, rising dew, and bursts of growth in the spring. It is the earth exhaling as energy streams up toward the sun.

Californians look to organic and biodynamic farmers for high quality ingredients for cocktails.

Californians look to organic and biodynamic farmers for high quality ingredients that work well in cocktails.

Naturally, ingredients grown with these forces in mind are of significantly higher quality. Conversely, mono-cropped, petroleum-laden, GMO-riddled, industrially-farmed agricultural produces items which are not only of less value nutritionally, but additionally harmful to the earth and its systems. Earth, Wind, Fire and Water—the elements as most people know them—have been studied and engaged by humanity for millennia. The Babylonians, Egyptians and Greeks all philosophized on these four elements, and farmers have known of their importance and relevance in the production of food for eons. Among other contributing factors, politics, marketing, advertising and convenience have significantly encouraged reliance on a different type of agriculture; one relying heavily on petroleum and petroleum-based products. We know the devastating effects that petroleum reliance is having on our environment and we know that there’s a finite supply of it, so why are we so resistant to returning to a more sustainable system?

“We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.”–anonymous

While finding wines that are produced biodynamically has become much easier in recent years, spirits are not quite there yet. California cocktails, however, are a different story. Cocktails are definitely trending toward using the freshest, most sustainable products available, and this trend doesn’t appear to be waning anytime soon. As more and more bar managers seek out relationships with local farms, more and more consumers revel in being able to have conversations with their bartenders about the biodynamic, sustainable and/or organic produce being used on their drink menus. The following Air, Fire, Earth & Water cocktails, from the four corners of the bay area (SF, North Bay, East Bay and South Bay) are sure to impress.

One such menu where one will consistently find the best ingredients around is Spoonbar (219 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg), where bar manager Tara Heffernon brings ‘”local” to a whole new level, featuring locally produced spirits and organic, homegrown herbs, fruits and vegetables in her cocktails. Tara draws from Spoonbar’s vast collection of spirits to concoct stunning and deeply flavorful drinks, such as the “Air” cocktail pictured here, its effervescence clearly tying it to the air element:

Bitter Spritz Cocktail

Tara Heffernon's Bitter Spritz from Spoonbar. It Features locally produced ingredients and spirits.

Tara Heffernon’s Bitter Spritz from Spoonbar. It Features locally produced ingredients and spirits.


.5 oz Charbay Blood Orange Vodka

.5 oz Aperol

.5 oz Baska Snaps

.25 oz blood orange infused gomme syrup

1 oz prosecco

1 oz seltzer

1 dash Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters

1 dash Lactart lactic acid


From Tara: “The Bitter Spritz is the first tap cocktail I created with an empty keg and an unused tap, and I knew I wanted to do a complex play on an Aperol Spritz, and that I wanted to use Charbay Blood Orange. It added an unbelievable flavor layer—rich and fresh—so I didn’t need to do any infusing on my own in this particular cocktail; [Charbay master distiller] Marko [Karakasevic] has done the magic for me. The earthy notes in this spirit are perfect with the multiple bitter elements. The prosecco/seltzer combo gives it the length and aperitif flavor it needs. It is subtly sweetened with a house-made gomme syrup (thickened for mouth feel using gum Arabic) that we infuse with a blood orange essential oil (made by Liberty Naturals). Lactart is the perfect acid to add to this cocktail, as it’s super tart with a slightly creamy mouth feel. The drink is tart and bitter, perfect for negroni drinkers who need something zesty and refreshing, and we fondly call it our ‘service industry soda’.”


Jenny Schwartz makes Fanny Tallier's Toddy with local California ingredients at Hopscotch.

Jenny Schwartz makes Fanny Tallier’s Toddy with local California ingredients at Hopscotch.

Fanny Tallier’s Toddy Cocktail

Jenny Schwarz developed numerous programs at restaurants in San Francisco, namely Yoshi’s SF, Moose’s, and Zuppa before becoming owner and general manager of Hopscotch (1915 San Pablo Ave. @ 19th St. in Oakland). There, her cocktails are designed with attention to seasonality and balance, using only the best ingredients available. Since Hopscotch opened its doors, her constant creativity has yielded a highly acclaimed bar menu. Under Jenny’s leadership and superior service at Hopscotch, food critic Michael Bauer awarded a Three Star review of Hopscotch: “Setting the service standards and managing the daily operations of Hopscotch isn’t all Jenny handles. She’s also responsible for the beer, wine and cocktail programs. The service is incredibly friendly and hits all the right notes of being casual without being lax; helpful without being solicitous.” Particularly mindful of local and small batch products and quality ingredients, all of Jenny’s cocktails are intended to elevate one’s dining experience. Her “Fire” cocktail, Fanny Tellier’s Toddy, is absolutely delicious in its simplicity and is no exception.


In a warmed glass, place a dehydrated lemon wheel studded with cloves. Add:

2 oz hot water

1.5 oz Germain-Robin apple brandy

.5 oz fresh lemon juice

1.5 oz honey syrup (3:1 honey:hot water)


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Carrot is a signature drink by Caitlan Laman at Trick Dog.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Carrot is a signature drink by Caitlan Laman at Trick Dog.

On the other side of the bay, San Francisco’s critically-acclaimed Trick Dog (3010 20th Street) may be best known for its creative menu designs (they’ve had menus on Pantone Swatches, 45 Record Albums, Zodiac Wheels, SF Tourist Maps and most recently, a Chinese restaurant-styled menu) but bar manager Caitlan Laman also continually impresses with her creativity and hospitality. She handles day-to-day operations at Trick Dog, and their “Earth” cocktail (carrots and tequila’s terroir!) is sure to amaze with its complexity and creativity:


卧虎藏龙胡萝卜(Wò hǔ cáng lóng húluóbo)

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Carrot” Cocktail


1.5 Tapatio Blanco

.75 La Garrocha Amontillado

.25 Aveze

1 Carrot Syrup (1:1 carrot juice and sugar)

.75 Lemon Juice

4 dashes Vieux Pontarlie Absinhe


Shake, double strain, serve in a coupe glass. No garnish. Sonya Yu photo credit.

About the inspiration for the drink Caitlin says, “One night I was eating a salad that had carrots on it and drinking a glass of amontillado. The two were so perfect together that I wanted to make a cocktail from it. There were pumpernickel croutons on the salad, so I was trying to make the drink with rye but it wasn’t working. Morgan [Schick] came in a made it perfect by using Tapatio instead of rye and then adding Aveze and a bit of absinthe. We learned with our first menu that people like healthy things in drinks (Pantone 7621 had beets in it). This town still has a little hippy in it, so we decided to work on improving the town’s eyesight by putting a carrot drink on the menu.”

The Rail Club's take on the iconic Stork Club cocktail.

The Rail Club’s take on the iconic Stork Club cocktail.

Rounding out the “four corners” of the Bay Area, The Rail Club, with its iconic sign and historical location on the peninsula (612 El Camino Real, San Carlos), takes on the water element with its local rendition of an equally iconic cocktail, The Stork Club. The rail, like the stork, is a waterfowl with long legs that wades in marshes in search for food, and both the speed rail (from which a bartender works) and the club’s proximity to CalTrain further tie it to its name. Bar owner John Lee (also of peninsula restaurants Rangoon Ruby and Burma Ruby), made a very conscious decision to support local, artisanal and unique beer, wine & spirits when designing this high-end sports bar, and locals have relished in being able to taste and learn about the very best products California has to offer.


Rail Club Cocktail

1.5 oz Anchor Old Tom gin

1 oz fresh orange juice

.25 oz fresh lime juice

.25 oz Calisaya orange liqueur

.25 oz gum syrup

Dash of 5 by 5 Tonics’ Aged Citrus Bitters

Whether your element is Earth, Air, Fire or Water, these cocktails will surely delight. Whether the cosmic force lifts you upward or the earthly polarity pulls you toward the earth, California has something for you. Supporting bars, restaurants and companies who embody the philosophies you believe in will encourage others to follow suit. Every dollar you spend is a vote for the direction we’ll go. Think globally, drink locally!

For more information on Biodynamics, check out

1 Comment
  1. Spirits Society 4 years ago

    Just received the care package, thank you so much for the generous gift. Tipsy the Owl is now an honorary member of Spirits Society Impact Hub Oakland, and we look forward to further collaboration in the near future. We sip and wave to those who seek and display Spirited Wisdom, as well. Cheers!

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