Bay Area Bottled Brandy-Fruit Infusions
Article and Photos by Virginia Miller
San Francisco Bartender Bret Sylvester has done the somewhat impossible: created a line of fruit-infused brandies to please the spirits and non-spirits drinker alike. I recently tested out his sparkling line on visiting family and friends.
(photo source: drinkverbena.com)
My wine drinking and even some generally teetotaling family members all loved Drink Verbena, while I and other spirits drinkers found the line complex as it was refreshing. Granted, we each had different favorite flavors but the universal appeal is the bubbly balance of these dry, bright infusions. With convenient Zork corks to reseal and maintain carbonation, Verbana comes in small 187 ml bottles ($7) or larger 375 ml ($14). At 13% ABV, it’s low alcohol, ideal to take out on picnics, usable in cocktails but each perfectly lovely on its own.
Playing off his years of experimenting with infusions at bars, Sylvester sources an unaged brandy as the base, then infuses with a range of ingredients, including fruits all sourced from Nor Cal farms, from Fresno to Sebastopol. In the case of the Meyer Lemon Infusion, for example, he works with lemon, lime, green cardamom, coriander seeds, lemongrass, juniper berries, allspice, black peppercorn, lemon zest, agave, gentian root, weaving all together into a seamless whole.
Impressively, Sylvester is a “one man show” since he launched in March 2013, making and bottling everything himself, currently just for the Bay Area. He continues to experiment with and test out a range of infusions. Of the few I’ve tried, my favorite is the dry tart of the Cherry Infusion, balanced by vinegar, pineapple, vanilla bean, lime, lemon zest and gentian root.
The bottles don’t need to be refrigerated, although being bubbly, they taste best chilled. Citrus-based infusions can keep up to 5 months, while some, like Pineapple Infusion, can last up to 10. One of my longtime favorite restaurants, Brenda’s, serves the Cherry and Meyer Lemon Infusions, as does Grub. In San Francisco, bottles are sold at Whole Foods, Liquid Experience, Noe Valley Wine Merchants, Swirl on Castro, and now also at SoMa StrEat Food Park, to name a few (more locations for purchase here).
I suspect expansion will be in Sylvester’s future as demand for Verbena continues to grow.