Commissary kitchen concept comes to SF cocktail world 

click to enlarge Bar owner Jon Gasparini mixes gin and bitters at a newly established commissary kitchen used to prep components for his bar service. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.f. Examiner
  • Bar owner Jon Gasparini mixes gin and bitters at a newly established commissary kitchen used to prep components for his bar service.

When people think of a commissary kitchen, they often envision a space for caterers to prepare food for an upcoming event.

Lo and behold, the commissary space has come to the bar world in the form of spaces used to prep the components for an event's liquid libation.

For owners Greg Lindgren and Jon Gasparini of Rye, 15 Romolo, Rosewood and cocktail service Rye on the Road, a commissary space serves a variety of purposes. Potential clients can come into the flagship space in South of Market and see commercial juicers pressing out grapefruits, big blocks of ice being cut and bartenders using the space to create. And since most bars don't have the extra space to crank out the product for three bars and an on-the-go cocktail service, a commissary space is necessary.

"It's more cost-effective, it's interesting, it's delicious, noteworthy, and interesting for our guests," Gasparini said. "When you come into our space, all that should be very transparent and evident."

Sarah Shaw, who runs the commissary space at the bottom of Rickhouse, has to keep track of more than 100 products that include syrups, tinctures, infusions, fruit garnishes and seven seasonal bitters for Futurebars' five bars and the upcoming Devil's Acre set to open soon in North Beach.

When coconut water is on the menu, Shaw and her team are husking, cracking and draining coconuts that morning to be delivered for the evening service.

And when the weekend hits, they are juicing some 1,000 limes.

Before the commissary opened in May of last year, prep staffs were hired for each bar, which created some inconsistencies.

"Now we've consolidated everything, which is great knowing that I'm a little neurotic when it comes to consistency" Shaw said. "With the commissary, we can keep up with a consistent product and volume."

At Alta in Mid-Market, bar manager Ashley Miller is even going as far as to replicate the green and yellow alcohol Chartreuse, the recipe for which is a highly guarded secret. Since accepting her role with the Daniel Patterson Group, Miller's bar stock must match the Michelin standards of sister restaurant Coi in North Beach.

When you step into Alta, you will see that almost no major liquor brands are used to create the cocktails. They make their own version of Campari edged with chamomile. Their own Chartreuse. Their own orange liqueur, that takes the place of Cointreau and Curacao.

"There are a bunch of things we've been experimenting with, and that's where the dedicated space at Plum Bar is needed," Miller said. "We don't have any of that space here at Alta, so even trying to think of having 50 ingredients out at the same time while you're trying to make two different types of bitters, and this and that, syrups and a cordial is mind boggling."

I stopped by one afternoon to speak with Miller, who poured me a shallow puddle of her version of green Chartreuse, which wasn't meant to mimic it exactly but has a similarly rich spice and herbal depth that the Carthusian monks of France have been guarding for nearly 300 years.

The only secret she would reveal is that they colored the green chartreuse with a case of spinach. This type of experimentation could only be done through a dedicated commissary space in Oakland to work on such projects.

The elevated production of elevated drinking.

About The Author

Rhys Alvarado

Rhys Alvarado

Bio:
Rhys Alvarado is a cocktail enthusiast and sucker for soul and sweet reggae music. A food and drink blogger since 2009, Rhys has sipped his way from Hawaii to Santa Barbara and up the coast to San Francisco, where he's found a glorious wave of craft concoctions and expert drink-makers.
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