Innovative Drinks at a San Francisco Restaurant

Gibson SF dining room
Gibson SF dining room

Photo Credit: Kane Andrade

A Visionary Bar Manager Combines Spirits & Wine… in the Same Glass

BY VIRGINIA MILLER

On the gritty edge of the Tenderloin near Union Square, Hotel Bijou houses the modern-meets-Art-Deco Gibson. When it opened in 2017, Chef Robin Song (now at The Vault) put Gibson on the SF dining map. This August, Louis Maldonado came on as executive chef, his resume including Bay Area greats like The French Laundry and Mourad Lahlou’s Aziza.

Gibson's Bar Manager Adam Chapman
Gibson’s Bar Manager Adam Chapman

Photo Credit: Kane Andrade

Since day one, Adam Chapman has been pushing boundaries on the drink side, quietly doing things you haven’t seen yet … anywhere. As I’ve travelled to literally thousands of the world’s best cocktail bars, I’m continually impressed with Chapman’s unique vision.

Think cheese rinds steeped in Armagnac, paired with a cheese course for an earthy, funky-elegant finish. Or a house white wine blend served in a wine glass with drops of mezcal, tasting like a pitch-perfect white with intriguing grassy, slate notes. Blasphemy to wine purists? Maybe. But a mind-blowingly fresh take for drink lovers.

Cherry Kola cocktail with Anejo rum, Brooks cherry extract, kola and bay nuts, roasted cherry pits, bitter almond, pretzel, seltzer and lime oil.
Cherry Kola cocktail with Anejo rum, Brooks cherry extract, kola and bay nuts, roasted cherry
pits, bitter almond, pretzel, seltzer and lime oil.

Photo Credit: Kane Andrade

He combines Santa Barbara Pinot Noir with an earthy whisper of Fidencio Pechuga mezcal and sotol (desert spoon plant spirit from Mexico). In these wine-spirit combinations, the wine’s structure gains spirit complexity. It’s a bold new category of drink pairing, one that only works in the hands of someone with a nuanced palate and impeccable sense of balance.

Carpano Antica vermouth steeped in the sun on the rooftop with fig leaves, then stirred with a blend of five whiskeys (rye and bourbon), all brown butter fat washed.
Carpano Antica vermouth steeped in the sun on the rooftop with fig leaves, then stirred with a blend of five whiskeys (rye and bourbon), all brown butter fat washed.

Photo Credit: Virginia Miller

Chapman obliges with drinks thoughtfully intended to pair with food. He has suffused sake with rare, shade-grown tea, steeped lamb skins in a rice whiskey hot toddy, or emboldened house cucumber shiso-lemongrass kombucha with shochu and koji yeast. Sourcing blueberries from the Maine farm where he picked them as a child, his blueberry sparkling wine has no sugars added, except for natural blueberry sugar. Mixed with fermented quince juice, Spirit Works vodka (from Sonoma County), and bergamot oil, it tastes like a dry red wine and pairs beautifully with Maldonado’s dill-apple-cucumber-horseradish beef tartare. Chapman riffs on a classic Bijou cocktail, mixing sweet white vermouth and gin infused with in house “chartreuse,” an herbaceous mix of toasted cardamom, bitter dandelion root/greens, and saffron, then dotted with orange oil. The Bijou sings with Maldonado’s duck confit saffron ravioli.

A variation on a classic Gibson cocktail with house-steeped pink peppercorn gin, pink peppercorn oil and pickled baby leek garnish.
A variation on a classic Gibson cocktail with house-steeped pink peppercorn gin, pink peppercorn oil and pickled baby leek garnish.

Photo Credit: Virginia Miller

Layered wonders continue: Fuji apples are freezer-distilled into pure juice, mixed with 5-year Calvados (French apple brandy), juniper, grains of paradise, white Armagnac, and topped with extra dry brut cider for a brightly intense Gascon play on a French 75. Since Gibson opened, Chapman’s signature clear Bloody Mary has evolved with the silkiest of Early Girl tomato juice married with a range of rare shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) in matsutaki mushroom, black garlic, cherry blossom, and barrel-aged fish sauce versions. Drying fig leaves in the sun on the rooftop, he steeps them in Carpano Antica vermouth for a lovely bitter profile, then stirs vermouth with a blend of five rye and bourbon whiskies, giving it all a brown butter fat wash for a lush Manhattan variation.

You won’t find a similar marriage of food, wine and spirits together anywhere else.

Gibson SF Bar
Gibson SF Bar

Photo Credit: Kane Andrade

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