The Point of Diminishing Returns for Adult‑Beverage Enthusiasts
Pear Brandy on Alameda Point
Through rusted hangers and wide, unpainted parking lots that used to be the Alameda Naval Air Station, I can barely make out the city’s skyline. A dense layer of fog is settled across the San Francisco Bay.
Once the fog deepens, nearly covering the western span of the Bay Bridge, the deserted base looks more like the abandoned movie set it was than the burgeoning home of alcohol innovation it has become.
On October 17, 2014, then-Alameda Mayor Marie Gilmore christened a half-mile stretch of Alameda Point “Spirits Alley,” home to two wineries, America’s first eau de vie distillery, the newest incarnation of Hangar 1 Vodka, and a brewery. This is why I’m here: to conquer the gauntlet of three tasting menus open to the public.
When I nearly moved to the island ten years ago, nothing about Alameda Point suggested it would ever become such a buzz-worthy spot to catch a buzz, or even to get satisfactorily wasted.
“It was a bit of a ghost town,” says St. George Spirits proprietor and master distiller Lance Winters. “The biggest change is the influx of life. We’ve gone from having a few people on weekends to close to 40,000 visitors a year to our tasting room.”
There are no tour limousines or grand road signs here. The grape vines, ornate drive ways, and pervasive pretentiousness of Napa Valley tasting rooms, which Winters feels can seem hollow in their pursuit of gravitas, feel more distant than the 45 miles that lie between us.
In 2004, St. George Spirits opened its doors in Alameda Point after 34 years due north in Emeryville, following which they released the first legal absinthe in America since the 1912 ban was lifted on its domestic production. Kent Rosenblum, known best as the man behind Rosenblum Cellars, now calls the neighborhood home for his latest venture. Faction Brewing and Building 43 Winery also set up shop before the ribbon-cutting ceremony back in 2014.
The first thing I notice inside the doors of St. George is a gigantic, terrifyingly life-size shark—used as a prop for Samuel L. Jackson’s finest work, Deep Blue Sea—sitting just beyond the tasting room’s glass windows across the main distilling floor. A multitude of stills sit in the background. Our energetic hosts welcome visitors to try the lineup of specialty distillations in the sleek, modern tasting room.
The spirits are many and mouthwatering, not to mention effective on this writer’s empty stomach. In particular, the Dry Rye Gin and Pear Brandy shine through as favorites.
Next door at Faction, the beer flights fly out from behind the wooden counter. The tasting room is half the size of St. George’s but opens up into the main hangar area, where the women’s restroom is a quick 100-yard dash across the building.
There’s an IPA or two, alongside a variety of other ales and specialty brews. At this point, though, even the most valiant of adult-beverage enthusiasts reaches the point of diminishing returns. Promises of winery visits just down the street ultimately go unfulfilled—promises that, according to Winters, should be made for a separate visit, depending on the “willpower of the individual” in question. Directions given to designated drivers trying to find their way to Alameda Point become less and less precise. The need for seared meat and buttered potatoes has never been more dire.
In the darkness, the fog settles on ghostly runways left to overgrowth, a reminder of Alameda Point’s past amid promising signs of its future.
“I enjoy the juxtaposition of being able to make these spirits in that sort of an industrial environment,” Winters says. “There’s a lot of beauty in having that kind of wasteland expanse and have the distillery be a part of it.”