One Fine Day at East Bay Distilleries
Spend a day visiting a local distillery—and its neighbors.
Guests at St. George Spirits are greeted by a row of massive stills.
Photo by Ben Krantz
Alcohol-focused excursions to Wine Country are nothing new, and beer-based adventures are gathering steam, but the latest trend in beverage tourism is exploring the spirits scene at a distillery. Head to these nearby cities to visit some of the region’s best distilleries, taste their products, and make a day of it by wandering the surrounding communities.
One of the pioneers of the area now known as Spirits Alley, St. George Spirits introduces imbibers to a Willy Wonka–esque wonderland of alcohol at its Alameda distillery and tasting room. Experience the company’s wide array of products—which includes vodka, gin, whiskey, and even absinthe—with a guided tasting of six spirits of your choice. It’s worth trying the fruit-based brandies that gave St. George its start, as well as its brightly flavored liqueurs, to get a true taste of the brand. Weekend distillery tours (reservations recommended) also end with a tasting, but they offer a more in-depth exploration of craft distillation and artisanal spirits. You’ll learn the history of the distillery, get the lowdown on the copper stills on the production floor, and discover the story behind the portfolio of spirits. stgeorgespirits.com.
Make a day of it: Elsewhere in Spirits Alley, sample distiller-exclusive vodkas at Hangar 1, get your hop fix with an IPA or ale at Faction Brewing, or sip some zinfandel at Rock Wall Wine Company—then soak it all up with comfort food at Scolari’s at the Point. For prime shopping, time your visit to the Alameda Point Antiques Faire, a sprawling 800-plus-stall display of antiques, collectibles, and vintage wares that takes place the first Sunday of every month.
Livermore may be known for its vineyards, but Sutherland Distilling Company is helping put the Tri-Valley spirits scene on the map, too. The first craft distillery in the area, Sutherland focuses on “soil to spirit” alcohol, prioritizing sustainability and locally sourced ingredients in the production of its vodkas, grape-based gin, whiskeys, brandies, and rums. Tasting flights of six libations—including the award-winning (and best-selling) Navy Strength rum—come with a complimentary glass, and the staff will often let you peek at the production floor and its giant copper stills. In addition to the always-available flights, weekends highlight two specialty cocktails made with liquor produced on-site. sutherlanddistilling.com.
Make a day of it: Embrace Sutherland’s off-the-beaten-path location by checking out the nearby family-run brewery Eight Bridges, hitting balls at Las Positas Golf Course, or channeling your inner child with go-karts and bumper boats at Boomers. A short drive away, Shadow Cliffs Regional Recreation Area boasts miles of hiking trails and a scenic 80-acre lake. On the food front, Wente Vineyards’s newly reimagined restaurant, Vineyard Table and Tasting Lounge, features a menu loaded with shareable plates that incorporate ingredients sourced from the property’s gardens.
Oakland Spirits Co. has built a reputation for being, well, a little quirky. The distillery bottles a small number of straightforward gins and an amaro, but it really made waves with its spice-imbued brandies, Sea gin (crafted with nori foraged from Mendocino), and Halfshell gin (distilled with whole oysters—shells and all—from Tomales Bay). Produced in Uptown, Oakland Spirits’s inventive offerings are poured in the brand’s tasting room, which it shares with a winery, gallery, and artist studios. On First Fridays, the whole area transforms into a jam-packed celebration of live music, food pop-ups, art, and Oakland spirit (both literal and figurative). oakland.ventures.
Make a day of it: Uptown has no shortage of attractions, but consider keeping the creative vibe going with a day of indie entertainment and great eats. The rest of 25th Street is prime art-perusing real estate, with galleries such as The Fourth Wall, FM, Manna Gallery, Slate Contemporary, and Mercury 20 all within strolling distance. One street over, The New Parkway Theater screens new releases, second runs, and cult-classic films, with community-focused programming involving cartoons and cereal, bingo and beer, and drinking and drawing. Head across Broadway for the generous happy hour at Mua restaurant and bar. Rotating works from local and national artists hang on the black walls of the upstairs dining room.
It’s hard to think of a better way to spend a beautiful day than at Treecraft Distillery’s outdoor tasting room. Within view of the 500-gallon custom still, the tasting experience includes sniffing jars of the various botanicals infused into the company’s gins and sipping from mini beakers, as distillers Nate Byerly and Gordon Rempel deliver a rundown of the spirits and their “grain to glass” ethos. The tasting covers rum and whiskey, but the real standouts are the flavored gins, such as a lavender-hibiscus version made with honey from the building’s rooftop beehives and a corn-based Earl Grey option. Chase a tasting with a cocktail featuring your favorite spirit, whether you double down on the honey with a Tree’s Knees or opt for the spicy Whiskey Ginger Smash. You can purchase up to three bottles from the tasting room or get an ongoing liquor fix by joining the Spirits Club, which includes free tastings and admission to special events. treecraftdistillery.com.
Make a day of it: The monthly party known as TreasureFest brings an influx of visitors keen to shop, eat, drink, and play on the island, but other weekends offer plenty of worthwhile diversions, too. Plan a trip to Woods Island Club for pints and a beanbag toss game on the “beer beach,” or explore two local wineries—Treasure Island Wines and Sottomarino (which serves vino inside a pseudo-submarine). Don’t miss the buzzy restaurant Mersea. Housed in repurposed shipping containers set around a bocce area and boasting unbeatable views of the San Francisco skyline, it’s the prime place to split a bottle of wine, ceviche, and fish tacos as you watch the sun set over the Bay.
Geoff Harries, the owner of the historic Buffalo Bill’s Brewery, decided to expand Hayward’s offerings beyond beer by opening Russell City Distillery, located just steps from the brewpub. The 3,200-square-foot production area includes an almost-18-foot-tall Arnold Holstein still (viewable from the front window) for producing small-batch vodka, gin, rum, brandies, and an agave spirit made with water from Yosemite snow melt. While most of the spirits are still in the works, you can sip the brand’s flagship RCD vodka at the adjoining 400-square-foot dog-friendly tasting room, where you can try it straight or in cocktails that change weekly. Look for distillery tours, an expanded tasting selection, and an additional retail outlet as the distillery evolves. russellcitydistillery.com.
Make a day of it: For daytime recreation, wander through the lovely Hayward Japanese Gardens, or take a step back in time by perusing the Hayward Area Historical Society’s four exhibits, which include an interactive children’s gallery. Get another blast from the past playing classic arcade games at High Scores, or pop next door for scoops, sundaes, and other treats at the charmingly vintage Charlotte’s Ice Cream and Cafe. Still hungry? Swing by Plāyt for Southern-inspired dishes (and a full bar) from the team that brought Picán to Uptown Oakland.