Thad Vogler at Venus Spirits
Dining Reviews

Thad Vogler Brings His Liquor Vision Quest to Santa Cruz

Global spirit chaser celebrates the rare and sublime at Venus Spirits

Thad Vogler, creator of San Francisco’s Bar Agricole and Trou Normand, and author of a new book about spirits, visits Santa Cruz on Feb. 8. PHOTO: ALANNA HALE

There are foodies. And there are flavor nerds. And then there’s Thad Vogler, a man possessed when it comes to the rarified demimonde of hand-made liquors.

Vogler, creator of such highly hip pitstops as San Francisco’s Bar Agricole and Trou Normand, is a one-man vision quest who has traveled the world tracking down the most rare and exotic tipples on the planet. A Santa Cruz native, Vogler went to Yale before he began pursuing a career that evolved from bartender to high proof anthropologist, working in bars in Cuba, Ireland, Paris, Tokyo, Belize—you get the picture. Think Anthony Bourdain perpetually attached to a shot glass. For nearly two decades Vogler worked at top Bay Area venues before opening his own trendsetting restaurants. Why am I telling you about this double-distilled fortune hunter? (Poetically speaking). Because global spirit chaser Vogler is coming to town next Thursday, Feb. 8 for an event sponsored by Bookshop Santa Cruz and held off-site at Venus Spirits Distillery. That got your attention, didn’t it?

Vogler is nothing if not passionate about tracking down spirits—mezcal, rum, single malt—to their agricultural roots, and stocks his restaurant bars exclusively with little-known, small-batch selections drenched with a strong sense of history and place. For example at Trou Normand, patrons can sample myriad artisanal cognacs and calvados—many made from named and handpicked barrels in France, paired with a menu of exotic craft meats. Bar Agricole, the contemporary tavern long on industrial chic and farmhouse distilling, was the south-of-Market venture that launched Vogler’s rapidly expanding reputation. Essentially he has taken the small, local, handmade concepts and fused them with authentic liquors of far-flung regions. If you shun box store products and industrial labels such as Seagrams, Smirnoff and Bacardi, and if you’re devoted to local and seasonal, then Thad Vogler is speaking to you. He’s doing for booze what Alice Waters did for food. So what he’ll be doing at our very own handmade artisanal distillery (thank you Sean Venus!) is sharing his many drinking tales from years of road trips, as well as sipping and analyzing some of Venus’ greatest hits—with you, the intrigued mixophiliac—perhaps? But here’s the real reason Vogler will be with us on Feb. 8: By the Smoke and the Smell: My Search for the Rare & Sublime on the Spirits Trail. That’s the name of Vogler’s new book that takes readers on the road to meet the fantastic and obsessed artisans who produce handmade spirits, from the mountains of Mexico to the wilds of Scotland. Join me next Thursday, Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. at this free event at Venus Spirits, 427 Swift St., Ste. A. Plan to get there early, and stay for the reading and discussion which will end at 7 p.m.  The way you think about what you drink will never be the same.

 

Wines of the Week

The White: the crisp, complex, and mineral-laden 2015 Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Vineyard, from Birichino ($22). We are hopelessly smitten with this gorgeous white wine. The Red: Windy Oaks’ Terra Narro, one of the suite of sumptuous fruit and spice-laced estate Pinot Noirs created by alchemist/winemaker Jim Schultze that is in our price point ($29).

 

Peanut Butter Elegy

If, like me, you cannot imagine life without the possibility of peanut butter, then you’ll be cheered to know that last Wednesday, Jan. 24, was not only the birthday of Fiona the Hippo and Frank Galuszka, the painter, but it was also Peanut Butter Day. Thank you, George Washington Carver.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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