East Bay buzzing with booze boom

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The Bay Area is overflowing with innovation and not just in technology. With the local economy now on the rebound, some folks have been pouring their extra cash into another industry in the East Bay -- alcohol.

Steve and Marilee Shafer run Urban Legend Cellars, a family business you might expect to find in Napa, or Sonoma, but this winery is in Oakland.

"We actually think that being in a city, being in that food scene, gives us an edge," Marilee Shaffer said.

With a forklift named after Gertrude Stein, and wines inspired by local neighborhoods, Urban Legend is among the more than 20 budding wineries that have sprung up in the East Bay.

"It's nontraditional wine country, but there's really, really top-flight people making wine here," Marilee said.

Despite every appearance of being the next big thing, making wine in the city isn't a new idea. In fact, it's a very old idea.

"This is really the old school way of making wine," Steve said. "Up until prohibition, about 85 percent of wine was actually made here in the East Bay for the entire state of California."

The reason was simple -- hauling grapes into the city is easy, but transporting finished bottles is tough. Winemakers make the wine where the customers are and get to meet them in the process.

But the East Bay's buzzing alcohol scene doesn't end with wine. In Berkeley, The Rare Barrel makes one kind of beer... the sour kind.

"The best way to describe sour beer, if you haven't had it before, is to first forget what you think you know about beer," Rare Barrel co-founder Alex Wallash said.

The beer is aged in barrels for about a year; it's another unconventional piece of the East Bay's beverage renaissance.

The location is no accident. Sour beer is made with the same bacteria cultures as sourdough bread. That kind of bacteria that loves the fog.

"During the summer, it never gets too hot, during the winter it never really gets too cold, so that's exactly where our barrels want to be," Blending and Brewing director Jay Goodwin said.

Wallash says the result is "acidic like a fine red wine. It's tart like a handful of strawberries."

With two gold medals, they can barely keep it on the shelves.

In Alameda, there's more bottles and barrels, but for whiskey, rum, gin and vodka, from the towering copper stills at the old airplane hangar that's now Saint George Spirits.

"Beer's only going to last for so long in the bottle once you've made it," St. George president and master distiller Lance Winters said. "We've made products here that can potentially outlive every one of us. This the best shot that any of us has at immortality."

St. George is best known for Hangar One vodka, but St. George doesn't actually make Hangar One vodka anymore. They sold it to a company that's moving in next door, leaving some extra room in the St. George distillery for some brave new experiments.

"There are a lot of crazy things on the shelves in here," Winters said. "We've distilled crab. We've distilled seaweed."

"That entire wall are bottled mistakes that I'm terribly proud of," St. George distiller and vice-president Dave Smith said.

And every so often something works, like their newest product -- green chile vodka.

Just the crazy idea the Bay Area might be craving.

(Source: Bay Area Brewery Tours + some of our own research)

The Rare Barrel - Berkeley - therarebarrel.com
Ale Industries - Oakland - aleindustries.com
Drake's Brewing Co. - San Leandro - drinkdrakes.com
Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse - Berkeley - triplerock.com
Linden Street Brewery - Oakland - lindenbeer.com
Faction Brewing - Alameda - factionbrewing.com

(Source: California Artisanal Distillers Guild)

St. George Spirits - Alameda - stgeorgespirits.com

(Source: East Bay Vintners Alliance)

Aubin Cellars - Oakland - aubincellars.com
Campovida - Oakland - campovida.com
Carica Wines - Alameda - caricawines.com
Cerruti Cellars - Oakland - cerruticellars.com
Chouinard Vineyard & Winery - Castro Valley - chouinard.com
Dashe Cellars - Oakland - dashecellars.com
Ehrenberg Cellars - Livermore - ehrenbergcellars.com
Eno Wines - Berkeley - enowines.com
Irish Monkey Cellars - Oakland - irishmonkeycellars.com
Jeff Cohn Cellars - Oakland - jeffcohncellars.com
Lusu Cellars - Berkeley - lusucellars.com
Mead Kitchen - Berkeley - themeadkitchen.com
Periscope Cellars - Oakland - periscopecellars.com
R&B Cellars - Alameda - rbcellars.com
Rock Wall Wine Co. - Alameda - rockwallwines.com
Rosenblum Cellars - Oakland - rosenblumcellars.com
Stage Left Cellars - Oakland - stageleftcellars.com
Two Mile Wines - Oakland - twomilewines.com
Urban Legend - Oakland - ulcellars.com
Urbano Cellars - Berkeley - urbanocellars.com

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