‘Google’ the word ‘grappa,’ and San Francisco’s Bar 888 comes up second in search results – a somewhat remarkable feat, as grappa is a centuries old uniquely Italian product. But, having established itself as the nation’s premiere grappa-focused bar, offering more than 100 grappas for tasting, Bar 888, located in the swank lobby of San Francisco’s InterContinental hotel, has earned its ‘Google’ search results spot.
Nowhere outside of Italy will one find the variety of grappa offered at Bar 888. Lead bartender Ron Armstrong has curated a collection that includes well-known producers such as Nonino, Berta, Sibona, Nardini, Jacopo Poli, Domenis and Bepi Tosolini, as well as smaller local and regional grappas, all with distinct character.
While few Bar 888 guests pull up a bar stool specifically to order a grappa cocktail, a few minutes under Armstrong’s tutelage generally turns skeptics into believers. Armstrong and his team have created popular grappa-based cocktails such as the ‘Italian Mojito’ with Marollo honey infused grappa, mint sugar, lime juice and soda. Or the ‘Grappa’s Bay’ with Grappa Nardini Bianca, blood orange bay leaf infusion, maple syrup and lemon juice. The ‘Cable Car’ is Bar 888’s twist on a classic featuring Arzente brandy, triple sec, lemon and lime juice.
And if you are lucky, Armstrong will deem you worthy of his secret, off-menu ‘Farewell to Arms’ (a mix of Dimmi grappa, lime juice, maraschino liqueur, and grapefruit peel), a drink inspired by his recent reading of Hemingway’s masterpiece, in which several grappa references are found.
So what exactly is grappa? The word means grape stalk, and the drink is made by distilling grape residue that is leftover after the winemaking process. The result is a fragrant grape-based pomace brandy of between 30% and 80% alcohol by volume, from 60 to 160 proof. Like wine, the flavor depends on the type and quality of the grape used as well the specifics of the distillation process.
Most grappa is clear, indicating that it is an un-aged distillate, though some may retain very faint pigments from their original fruit pomace. Aged grappas are becoming more common and these take-on a yellow or red-brown hue from the barrels in which they are stored.
Armstrong believes that grappa can replace tequila or rum in most cocktails without losing the integrity of the drink. He is happy to help guests experiment with the use of grappa in their favorite cocktail, and he and his team are adept at leading grappa flight tastings. He may or may not make a grappa believer out of everyone, but at the least, patrons will leave having experienced something fun and new.
Bar 888, InterContinental San Francisco, 888 Howard St, San Francisco, CA 94103