NoPa is a neighborhood in San Francisco, its moniker standing for North of Panhandle, the Panhandle being a thin strip of tree-lined park jutting eastward from beautiful Golden Gate Park. Nopa is also the name for neighborhood’s best restaurant and cocktail gathering place. We’ve dined there several times and have always enjoyed the excellent California “urban rustic” food and excellent wine list. On our last visit we delved a bit deeper into their cocktails and spirits and found that, as far as whisky goes, Nopa has a small but carefully assembled list of great drinks. Their lineup includes a handful of white whiskies (Death’s Door, Wasmunds, Tuthilltown), 30 or so bourbon’s and other assorted American whiskies (emphasis on small batches and craft distillers) and around 20 single malts including several Port Charlottes, several interesting independent bottlings and the black tower of Octomore 2.0.
Nopa also has a decent selection of sherry, and to start, we decided to give some serious thought to a glass of amontillado and a glass of oloroso. In the whisky world, much emphasis is placed on the use of sherry casks, and while I’ve tried sherry in the past, I’ve never deliberately tasted an oloroso with its relevance to Scotch in mind. There were definitely aspects of each that reminded us certainly of Speysiders and showed clearly the influence of wood on a spirit.
- Amontillado “Viña AB” González Byass – The nose had a very nutty – walnuts & almonds – tang, along with cocoa powder, a little coffee and a musty, tannic feel. The palate was rich, tannic, and almost biscuit-y with cherry caramel and raisin notes. There was a pleasant, slightly sour, buttermilk/cheese tone at the end that made us both think this would be excellent with food, especially strong aged cheeses.
- Oloroso “Sangre y Trabajadero” Gutiérrez Colosia – While the Amontillado was more complex this one was a bit cleaner and approachable. It had a much fruitier nose with dates, plums, prunes but also had great pecan/pecan pie notes. It was rich on the palate, nutty and at times reminiscent of black cherry fruit roll-ups. Very smooth and quaffable, this seemed a better aperitif or dessert drink.
Post dinner (I had the halibut, my girl [let’s call her Sherry Butts] had the lamb…both great), we couldn’t help ourselves, two things jumped off the menu and we had to have them. The first was a new liqueur made locally at St. George Distillery with Blue Bottle Coffee and the second was Ardbeg’s legendary Supernova.
- Firelit Coffee Liqueur is made from un-aged chardonnay brandy, distilled Blue Bottle coffee grounds and vanilla bean. It’s not nearly as sweet and cloying as Kahlua and has a higher proof (60%). This is truly fantastic stuff, just the right sweetness and just the right coffee bitterness make it fantastic to sip on its own. We haven’t tried it in a cocktail yet and are already scheming to get some to pour over ice cream one day.
- Ardbeg Supernova. I had not tried this before, but was well aware of its reputation. What a dram. While not as smoky and peaty as I expected at first, the nose was still an amazing head-full of wood smoke, green-grass smoke and peat. Some orange tones made their way through the smoke as did a bit of vanilla, but it was mostly all about the…smoke. Similarly, the palate was a little restrained to start, showing of all the same smoke and citrus of the nose, but it builds…and builds…and builds, getting smokier and smokier. It’s almost like a smoky star exploding and…uh..eh, never mind. I would describe the finish, but frankly, here I am a day later and it’s still not done. It goes on and on and on. All day long, kind firefighters look worried as I pass and ask if I’m all right. Of course I’m all right, I just had some Ardbeg Supernova.
Happy Birthday Beck!