H. Joseph Ehrmann: On San Francisco's Cocktail Culture Past and Present
Chef Salad takes a detour this week to interview some of the leading beverage industry experts in the country -- all of whom have been participating in the second annual AZ Cocktail Week. Seminars were held at the Hotel Valley Ho. If you missed yesterday's interviews with Tony Abou-Ganim and Adam Seger, read them here.
AZ Cocktail Week
Here's what H. Joseph Ehrmann had to say about San Francisco as a drinking town (past and present) and the changes he's seen as America's cocktail culture has evolved.
H. Joseph Ehrmann
Courtesy of H. Joseph Ehrmann His pals call him "H"
H. Joseph Ehrmann -- or "H" to his friends -- is probably best known for Elixir, the avant-garde San Francisco bar he opened in 2003, reviving pre-Prohibition cocktails in one of the city's oldest saloons. H. and his award-winning cocktails have appeared in dozens of media outlets, including ABC, NPR, GQ, Esquire, Imbibe and Martha Stewart Living. He is brand ambassador and mixologist for Square One Organic Spirits and co-founder of San Francisco Cocktail Week.
Can you give us a short history lesson on San Francisco's Barbary Coast cocktail culture back in the day?: The Gold Rush era was right at the heart of the evolution of cocktails. They had been slowly evolving over 50 years but were really hitting their stride around mid-century, and there is nothing to fuel innovation -- especially in entertainment -- like an economic boom. San Francisco was a sleepy little port until the Gold Rush and with the incredible wealth came incredible dining and drinking as well as headline entertainers from around the world. The rough and tumble tent saloons and shoddy makeshift saloons of western expansion became refined. Mahogany bars, carved in Europe, were shipped by boat to San Francisco. And when Prohibition finally hit, we were so far from the federal government that it was less strictly enforced and easier to evade problems. All of this made for an incubation center for good cocktails and great cocktail culture that survives to this day.
When, where and how did SF's current cocktail culture get started?:
We all credit Dale DeGroff and Joel Baum for changing the game in the 1980s in the US, and people like Peter Dorelli and Salvatore Cabrese in Europe, but it really didn't catch fire in the U.S. until around 2006/2007 -- when people started noticing what we were doing in San Francisco and New York. That was the first time I went to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and it was like a small club meeting. I opened Elixir in 2003 as a shot and beer, local saloon and evolved my program once I was off the ground and running. I was competing with several other similarly priced and targeted bars and decided to take a chance on my culinary ideas by creating my first menu, firing three quarters of my staff and raising all of my prices in 2005. It took off in less than 6 months and I was off to the races.