David Steinberg is an enthusiastic guy, and his enthusiasm is contagious. He’s been the bar manager at Lowbrau since July 2013 and has slowly been making changes. His background is in biochemistry – he moved here from LA originally to study medicine – and he uses his knowledge of perception and sensation to mix his drinks. Smell makes up an important component of taste, after all. I look forward to nerding out with him about the brain on a future visit.
Lowbrau = beer, so I hadn’t noticed the changes to the menu until I spied this row of homemade bitters at the bar. I LOVE savory cocktails, so I asked for the celery with St. George “Terroir” gin. (I’ll do another post eventually about this bomb ass distillery in Alameda). Delicious. I closed my eyes and thought I was in Portland(ia).
The other bitters pictured above are Meyer lemon/basil, 5 spice (great for wintry cocktails if we actually had winters now), ginger peach, fennel thyme, and root beer. He calls bitters “the salt and pepper of the cocktail world”.
David made me a second cocktail with the Terroir gin, this time with Meyer lemon/basil bitters. I asked him if he thought the flavors of the bitters would clash with this strongly botanical liquor. He replied that botanicals can both impart flavor and round flavor out. He uses the bitters not to overpower the gin, but to make it last on the palate. I can testify that the gin flavor shone through and that the bitters were mild, with the barest hint of basil.
Over in the space that houses Block he had a milk crate of fruit stewing in 110 proof everclear: Gala apple bitters in-the-making.
He’s also got a witches brew of exotic herbs, spices and other foraged goodies like wild cherry bark. Mad scientist shizz! He even uses a Buchner funnel to separate out solids. Brings me straight back to chem lab.
He is constantly experimenting – the ginger peach batch took him 4 attempts to get right. The road to his root beer bitters is paved with ingredients including (but not limited to) sassafras, sarsaparilla, spearmint, orange peel, caraway, wild cherry bark, dandelion root, juniper berries, and did I hear him right when he said devil’s club root? He uses a “really old recipe”. He blew my mind by giving me a straight taste of the root beer bitters, which were INTENSE, and then mixing it with soda to magically transform it into something that tasted…just like root beer. Albeit delicious, complex super root-y root beer. This is like the Jaguar to A&W’s Ford Fiesta. The Breaking Bad of bitters vs. A&W’s NCIS: Miami.
Block Butcher Bar is going to be mostly about wine and “brown cocktails”. “We’re go crazy with the cocktail menu. It’ll be a small, curated list of cocktails with fresh herbs, made with scotch, bourbon, and rye. We’re going to get specific – like which island in Scotland needs to be featured”. I personally feel that fine scotch should never be blended into cocktails, and he said it’s a challenge but that he thinks Early Grey tea, pepper and blackberries can bring out and complement the smokiness.
So there ya go, David Steinberg is clearly killin’ it.