Hanging Ten at Hanger One
Letters to the Editor
I Lunch for Living
Bay Crossings Journal
Port of Call: Aqaba, Jordan
Oakland Opens the Door to Its Waterfront
Marin County Supervisor Kinsey to Head Regional Transportation Agency
Bridges, Ferryboats and Gridlock
Oleta Adams to Star at PortFest 2003
Steve Kinsey on Congestion Management in Marin
Ferry News
"Play Ball! Package" At San Francisco’s Harbor Court Hotel
Bay Crossings Cuisine: Barclays
90’ Brigantine Irving Johnson
Working Waterfront
Boasting Calendar
Opening Day Parade 2003 on SF Bay
Pacific Sail Expo 2003
Boat Shows By Boat, Plane or Train
Hotel Housed in Historic 1909 Fisherman’s Wharf Warehouse to Open September 2003
WTA Transit Works
Paving the Way for Buses: The Great GM Streetcar Conspiracy
Bay Crossings Poetry
Sierra Grand Opening
Photo Unrealism

Hanging Ten at Hanger One

Most recently, Steve Smith was operating partner of Lapis Restaurant, the award-winning Embarcadero hotspot that is in the process of morphing into Butterfly, another top San Francisco eatery (they are merging in response to current economic challenges). Before taking on Lapis, Smith’s colorful career took him from the Mediterranean to the South Pacific, where he owned and operated nightclubs and restaurants in places like Ibizia and Bali. As current director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and as a confirmed gourmet, Smith will be a regular contributor to Bay Crossings, offering an insider’s view of the Bay Area’s food scene, from the ridiculously elite to the sumptuously sublime, and everything in between.

For my first adventure into the world of journalism, I chose to interview the partners at St. George Spirits, located next to the old naval air station in Alameda. I had the pleasure of speaking with Jorg Ruph, the founder of St. George Spirits, and his partner, Lance Winters, both distillers of fine spirits.

BC: What do you make here at St. George Spirits?

JR: Eau de vie and grappa, both of which I began distilling in the 80s. We added a single malt whiskey a few years back. Our latest addition is the vodka that we sell under the brand name Hangar One.

LW: Hangar One refers to the building that we are in, which was the repair shop for the Red Line trains.

JR: Plus, the whole building looks like a hangar and we wanted to capture the idea of this beautiful part of Alameda Island, so we went with the name Hangar One.

BC: You started with eau de vie in the early 80s. What brought this about?

JR: I first came to the U.S. in 1978 as a lawyer on a research program. When I returned, I decided to leave the law behind and start something else. So I went back to the old family roots. My family used to have a brewery and a distillery in the Black Forest.

BC: Hangar One is the new "in" vodka. How did it happen?

LW: Over the course of the past years, we’ve run into a lot of fruit that is very aromatic and very beautiful. Unfortunately, it won’t ferment in such a way that you can distill it and capture that essence and take advantage of the aroma and flavor. We found that if you took the fruit and looked at it from a perfume maker’s stance, using alcohol which perfume makers use as a volatile solvent to carry aromatic compounds, we could draw out their elegance and the aromas. We chose kaffir lime and kaffir leaves, Budda’s hand citron, and mandarin orange blossoms. We felt we could make a huge difference by actually starting with better quality new materials and distilling them off, instead of just adding a flavor.

That gives breadth of character. Citrus fruit is a natural for vodka because of the fact that most mixed drinks that you make with vodka feature a citrus in one way or another. The Budda’s hand has an amazing combination of lemon and jasmine aromas and went in a floral direction. The mandarin blossom, that was easy because we knew that orange blossom and orange peel work well together. The kaffir lime was the next easiest. I love Southeast Asian cooking and I knew the value of kaffir lime in giving breadth to green curries and to tom yum soup. It harmonizes and it carries the lime character and brings in this woody warmth.

BC: As I understand, you have a very unique distillation process.

JR: We use equipment which is specially made for eau de vie production. The stills are flexible in their usage. You can distill any raw material in them. And the trick is that they combine the old-fashioned pot still with modern technology that allow us to control the distilling process. The pot still process is simple and has one advantage. You distill at a relatively low alcohol and get more flavor than the continuous still process that’s used by all commercial distilleries. However, our still setup is really very sophisticated, inasmuch as you can treat each raw material in a different way. We feel that we are pretty good at getting the best out of the materials that we work with. With the wonderful fruit we use the viognier grape instead of just grain distillate or anything else. This grape is beautiful, floral, and tropical.

BC: Pardon me, this vodka is made from grapes?

LW: It’s a combination of wheat and viognier. Wheat provides some softness, a nice soft feel in the mouth as well as a neutral palette as in color palette. The viognier is allowed to have a little bit more of its way with the vodka because of the neutrality from the wheat and it brings in the beautiful, light, sweet, fruity notes.

BC: I imagine you need to taste-test for quality control?

JR: We start early in the morning.

BC: You’re drinking vodka first thing in the morning?

JR: Oh, not first thing, but after 10:00 a.m. I mean, it’s a totally different lifestyle. You have to choose your place in the world.

LW: Especially after 10:00 in the morning.

BC: Waiting for 10:00 o’clock to roll around can be a bit of a problem.

JR: Sometimes we have to start earlier.