Articles in Cocktails
I first tasted St-Germain in 2010, while attending a wine and spirits trade show in London. There, amid hundreds of booths offering samples of every conceivable alcoholic elixir, a statuesque Belle Epoque bottle caught my attention. Once I tasted the delicate elderflower liqueur inside, I knew I’d stumbled onto something truly different.
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St-Germain is made in France, but the idea for the liqueur was born in England. While visiting London on business in 2001, a young American named Robert Cooper tasted a cocktail made with elderflower syrup, and became intrigued by its unique flavor. As it happened, Cooper was in charge of marketing for Chambord, the French raspberry liqueur, which was developed for the U.S. market by his father.
Cooper returned to the States with the idea of creating an elderflower liqueur, but soon found that the process was more challenging than he’d imagined.
“I began vigorously working on the project in 2003, and it was not in marketing until early 2007,” Cooper said. By then he’d left the family spirits business to launch his own operation, Cooper Spirits International. “It was quite difficult to make the macerations from something as volatile as a fresh flower.”
St-Germain is made from the blossoms of wild elderflowers that bloom on the hillsides of the French Alps for just four to six weeks in early spring. Once the flowers have been hand-harvested, the race is on to process the fresh blossoms before they lose their delicate aroma and flavor.
They’re immediately macerated to preserve their freshness, and each day’s macerations are successively combined until the blooming period is over.
“We make the maceration once a year, much like a wine, surrounding the elderflower harvest,” Cooper explained. That means there’s only one chance each year to get it right.
The ‘bartenders’ bacon’
Cooper’s dedication has resulted not only in a wonderfully delicious liqueur, but something of a cocktail revolution.
In the six short years since its release, St-Germain has become a key player in U.S. artisan cocktail movement.
“St-Germain came on the market when the whole mixology and cocktail scene was really starting to catch fire,” said mixologist Mike Henderson of Root Down, an upscale Denver restaurant known for its creative cocktails.
“I think one of the reasons it’s been so successful is that it’s got a unique ability to go with just about everything,” he said. “It works equally well with vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, scotch and Champagne. It’s joked about in the cocktail community as being ‘bartenders’ bacon’ – it just makes everything a little bit better.”
Henderson includes St-Germain in three of Root Down’s signature drinks, including the Hummingbird (with Prosecco and sparkling water), the Spanish Estate (with rum, sherry vinegar and bitters) and the Pepper Blossom (with vodka, jalapeño syrup and citrus juices).
The complexity of St-Germain’s flavor, he said, is the secret to its versatility. “When you taste it, you get a lot of notes of lychee, pear and tropical fruit, and there’s some citrus in there,” Henderson said. “Because it’s got that depth and variety of flavors it has the ability to bring out whatever flavors it’s mixed with. For example, if you make a cocktail that’s got pear in it, St-Germain has this ability to bring out more pear. If you make a cocktail with kiwi in it, it has this weird ability to bring out more of that kiwi flavor.”
Global domination on the horizon
The wild popularity of St-Germain among cocktail devotees on both sides of the bar led liquor giant Bacardi to buy the brand from Cooper Spirits earlier this year, with the intention of turning it into an international brand “icon” à la Grey Goose vodka, purchased by Bacardi in 2004.
Although Cooper continues to work with Bacardi as St-Germain’s “brand guardian,” I can’t help wondering if global domination will mean a compromise in the liqueur’s artisan production process.
“I have been working diligently for the past three or four years on growing our capacity,” Cooper told me. “So long as we can procure the flowers in sufficient quantities, we can make more St-Germain.”
This spicy-sweet cocktail was created by Mike Henderson of Root Down, in Denver.
1¼ ounces vodka
1¼ ounces St-Germain
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce grapefruit juice
½ ounce jalapeño-infused simple syrup*
2 basil leaves
Combine all ingredients except basil in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously for 10 seconds.
Strain liquid into a lowball glass and garnish with basil leaves.
*To make jalapeño-infused simple syrup, add 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water and a fresh jalapeño (cut in half with seeds removed) to a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Let syrup cool and remove pepper before using. Will keep in the refrigerator up to four weeks.
Top photo: Elderflowers bloom in the French Alps for only four to six weeks each spring. Credit: Cooper Spirits International
Sangria is a simple concoction of fruit, sugar, water and wine and a staple in sunny, tapas-minded Spain. Grown-up fruit punch, it’s refreshing and versatile, taking on more savory lemon and lime tones if that’s the fruit you choose, or slightly sweet if peaches are your preference.
But if you can’t be bothered to make your own, increasingly bars are making inventive versions, and good bottled versions abound.
Eppa SupraFruta is a bottled sangria, available in both red and white versions, made from organically grown Mendocino County wine grapes.
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Slices Sangria is the new creation of Mike Kenton, the founder of OFFbeat Brands. Kenton spent much of his career at Codorniu in Spain, where he fell in love with the traditional drink.
He uses wine made from Spanish grape varieties such as Tempranillo and Verdejo, blended with fruit juices such as orange, lime and blackberry (for the red); or lime, lemon and pineapple (for the white).
“Sangria has been on my family’s dining table for as long as I can remember,” said Slices’ Spanish winemaker, Miguel Gúrpide.
Gurpide also makes a sangria rosé (the fruit used includes lime, lemon and strawberry) and two sparkling sangrias, one rosé and one white.
Relatively light in alcohol (usually under 9% alcohol by volume), sangria is an easygoing cocktail to make for one or for a crowd, doused in club soda or given a couple of cubes of ice.
Courtesy Eppa Sangria
2 to 3 cardamom pods
½ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce simple syrup
1 ounce fresh pineapple juice
2 ounces Eppa SupaFruta Sangria
Pineapple leaf, for garnish
1. In a tin, muddle the cardamom pods.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients.
3. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
4. Double strain over ice in a wine glass.
5. Garnish with a pineapple leaf.
Courtesy Tara and Les Goodman, Adafina Culinary
2 onions, Spanish or sweet, sliced ⅛-inch thick
6 to 7 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
2 cups Spanish olive oil
6 large farm eggs
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1. Place the onions and potatoes in a medium mixing bowl, and toss with a couple pinches of kosher salt.
2. Place a 10- to 12-inch nonstick pan over medium-high flame, adding the onions and potatoes.
3. Pour in the olive oil and stir to coat.
4. When oil begins to bubble, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, turning frequently, until potatoes are fork-tender but not browned, about 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Remove pan from heat and strain the oil from the onions and potatoes.
6. Set aside oil and reserve for another use.
7. Cool onions and potatoes to room temperature, and adjust for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.
8. Beat the eggs and add them to the cooled potato mixture.
9. Return pan to medium heat and stir the tortilla mixture as it cooks until eggs are slightly set.
10. Spread mixture out evenly and reduce heat to medium-low.
11. Cook until bottom is golden brown and eggs are set, about 10 to 12 minutes (you can place pan under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes if needed to set the top).
12. Remove pan from heat and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
13. Place a plate face down over the pan and flip tortilla over — bottom side up. Let cool for a half hour or so, and slice into wedges.
14. Serve with Spanish pimenton (paprika) aioli, crunchy sea salt, and a glass of chilled sangria — or a sangria cocktail.
Top photo: Sangria. Credit: iStockphoto
Cinco de Mayo is a pretty straightforward holiday — no gifts, no elaborate rituals — but that doesn’t mean you have to succumb to the same old margarita. Instead, try a couple of variations with festive flair.
The first combines the standard one-two punch of tequila and Cointreau, plus helpings of lime juice and sugar syrup. But it provides a jolt to the tongue with the addition of muddled jalapeño. (Unless you like your heat register set to high, remove the seeds.)
The second is closer to the traditional: tequila, lime juice and Cointreau, with a clever combination of lemon and lime juice mixed with sugar to taste. The addition of salt around the rim and ice make it the perfect drink to enjoy poolside or at the beach, a tangy elixir of savory and sweet.
Created by Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Rosewood Resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
1 muddled jalapeno, seeds removed
1½ ounces tequila
¾ ounce Cointreau
1 ounce lime juice
¾ ounce sugar syrup
Lime slices to garnish
1. Muddle the jalapeno.
2. In a margarita glass rimmed with salt and filled with ice, add muddled jalapeno, tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and sugar syrup.
3. Garnish with a fresh slice of lime.
Silver Coin Margarita
Created by Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, New Mexico
1½ ounces tequila, preferably El Tesero Platinum
½ ounce Cointreau
2½ ounces fresh lime, lemon and sugar mix
Lime slices to garnish
1. Combine fresh lime and lemon juice with sugar to taste.
2. In a rocks glass rimmed with salt and filled with ice, add the Tequila, Cointreau and lime/lemon/sugar mix.
3. Garnish with a fresh slice or two of lime.
Top photo: Silver Coin margaritas. Credit: Courtesy of Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe
There are many opinions about what to drink when eating a dish laced with vinegar, from Lambrusco with Balsamic to Muscadet with a cider vinegar mignonette to accentuate raw oysters. But using vinegar in a drink is all the rage right now, as the fermentation craze extends to mixology.
Chefs and bartenders are increasingly turning to vinegar, even making their own, to add another level of flavor to their drinks. They might barrel-age certain cocktails, essentially fermenting them twice.
“Vinegar is another flavor dimension to play with,” said Liz Grossman, the managing editor of Plate magazine, which devoted its entire winter issue to the subject of fermentation, including cocktails. “It adds a creaminess.”
Drinking vinegar spans styles
Cleveland-based chef Jonathon Sawyer of Greenhouse Tavern makes his own vinegar to go into barrel-aged cocktails; Andy Ricker in Portland, Ore., founder of the popular Pok Pok restaurant, came back from a trip to Thailand a few years ago inspired to mix tartly sweet vinegars with club soda, which he considers an ideal pairing for spicy Asian food.
Ricker sells a line of drinking vinegars in apple, honey, tamarind, pineapple and other flavors called Som Drinking Vinegar (pokpoksom.com). Only organic cane sugar and natural flavoring are added to the natural vinegar; he recommends a 4:1 ratio of soda water to vinegar to help cut the acidity of the honey and apple varieties in particular, which tend to taste less sweet than some of the others.
The notion is not that far off from the idea of shrubs, drinking vinegars made by macerating fruit in vinegar, then cooking it with sugar or honey.
Bartender Carlo Splendorini, who heads the Michael Mina Group of restaurants, prefers to work with balsamic vinegar, finding that the warm flavors of these vinegars from Modena bring depth, nuance and a hint of sweetness to his cocktails. Here is one of his spring-inspired creations.
Created by Carlo Splendorini, Mina Group
1 sugar cube soaked in good quality balsamic vinegar
½ ounce rum
Orange peel for garnish
1. Place the sugar cube at the bottom of a Champagne flute.
2. Add the rum and slowly top with Champagne.
3. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.
Top photo: Spring Sparkle cocktail. Credit: Courtesy of Mina Group
Spring is officially here, and year after year that means ordering a mimosa or a gin fizz. But it’s the season of the egg, so why not mix an egg white with Pisco, a grape-based spirit native to Chile and Peru?
The countries’ history with Pisco dates to the 1500s when Spanish missionaries started planting grapes to make wine. That led to the creation of Pisco, which, like cognac and other brandies, is distilled from wine in copper alambic pot stills, fortifying it to last longer and travel farther.
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The traditionally accepted varieties of grape used most to make Pisco today include several kinds of Muscat, Torontel and Pedro Jimenez, with the vines typically grown at fairly high elevations. The grapes are harvested in February through April, the seeds and stems removed and the rest crushed into juice. Fermentation follows, using only native yeast.
The distilled Pisco must then rest for at least 90 days in neutral vessels (no oak). After that, it’s ready to enjoy, with nothing added: no water, sugar, caramel, oak extract or glycerin.
In Chile, Marnier Lapostolle, a spirits producer in France famous for producing Grand Marnier, makes Kappa Pisco in the Elqui Valley. A lush, sunny valley in the country’s northern reaches, the Elqui is home to the pink and Alexandria Muscat used in Kappa Pisco. The name Kappa comes from the Kappa Crucis star cluster, within the Southern Cross constellation, which is culturally significant in Chile and other cultures of the Southern Hemisphere.
Although its native roots are in South America (it’s named for a port in Peru), Pisco also has a long legacy in California where even before the Gold Rush it became a staple spirit in the wilds of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. It was there that the Pisco Punch, a loose and powerful commingling of Pisco, pineapple, lime juice, sugar and water, was born.
A collection of San Francisco-based bartenders and friends make Campo de Encanto in the Ica Valley of Peru, working with local distiller Carlos Romero to blend small-batch eaux de vie from five types of old-vine grapes. The result a smooth combination of peaches, almonds and mint. The Comision Nacionel del Pisco recently named it best Pisco of Peru.
Bartender and Encanto partner Duggan McDonnell, who refers to Pisco as the “grand eau-de-vie of the tropics,” says the true test of the spirit is to swirl it before drinking, making sure the bubbles dissipate quickly. If they don’t, it means the spirit has been diluted, and thus isn’t real Pisco, which never allows added water.
Enjoy Pisco neat, with a twist of lime, or in a range of cocktails. The most famous of these, of course, is the Pisco Sour, which includes a shaken white of an egg.
2 ounces Pisco, such as Kappa Pisco
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 egg white
3 half dashes of Angostura bitters
1. Combine Pisco and rest of ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice.
2. Shake vigorously and strain into a small Champagne flute.
3. Top with half dashes of Angostura bitters to create the shape of the Southern Cross.
Top photo: Kappa Sour. Credit: Courtesy of Marnier Lapostolle
At the end of the 19th century, Irish whiskey was the gold standard around the world, but World War I changed that as shipping across the war-torn seas became a fool’s errand, both dangerous and expensive.
At the time, the influx of Irish immigrants into the United States had helped make North America the No. 1 export market for Irish whiskey. Indeed, a 1886 book, “The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom,” listed 28 distilleries in Ireland. Only two of those stand today.
After the war put the first nail in the Irish whiskey industry’s coffin, Prohibition hammered in the rest. Between 1915 and 1933, many Irish distilleries shut down.
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In the meantime, Scotland’s distilleries, financed in part by the English, ramped up. By the time American soldiers returned from England after World War II, Scotch had replaced Irish whiskey in American hearts, bars and liquor store shelves.
Today, it seems that all types of whiskey, from Scotch and Canadian (which both drop the “e” in whisky) to Irish and of course, American bourbon, have a wide fan base.
Irish whiskey is typically made from malted or unmalted barley, corn, rye, wheat or oats and then triple-distilled and aged for a minimum of four years in casks previously used to age stuff like sherry, rum or bourbon.
Scotch whisky is typically made from only malted barley, dried over peat fires to give it a smoky flavor. Canadian whisky is often a blend of rye, corn, wheat and barley that is wood-aged for three years, while bourbon is usually made from corn and aged in new oak for at least two years.
The oldest licensed whiskey distillery remains in Ireland: Bushmills of Ulster, opened in 1608. In the early days it wasn’t unusual for a bit of bread to be added to a glass of whiskey for flavoring, helping to take the edge off the less refined aspects of ancient brewing and distilling practices.
The bread eventually led to the ritual of verbal toasting before a drink, the etiquette of which traditionally involved raising your glass with the right hand, a symbol that you had come in friendship and were not concealing a sword. It was then equally important to maintain eye contact before taking a sip.
As steeped in history as the rite of toasting is the oft-whispered rumor that Bushmills is the preferred whiskey of Protestants, and Jamesons the brand favored by Catholics.
Portland, Oregon-based bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler puts those rumors to rest.
“The widely accepted Irish-American version is that Jameson is Catholic whiskey and Bushmills is Protestant whiskey,” he says. “But that’s based merely on geography.”
Bushmills is made in Northern Ireland; Jameson is from Cork, a predominantly Catholic enclave.
“According to everyone I’ve spoken with on the subject, you only really find this debate in the States, where Irish-American support of the Republic can sometimes be blind and often fueled by the very product we’re speaking of,” Morgenthaler says.
I say don’t let religion or politics get in the way of a good drink. Regardless of your leanings, try Bushmills 16-year-old, which is matured in separate bourbon and sherry barrels for 16 years, then blended together into a port-infused cask for another six to nine months. It’s a whole lot of wow in one glass. Up another notch is the 21-Year-Old Bushmills Malt, a hedonistic swirl of pure honey.
Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey is reclaiming some history of its own by making its whiskey at the Cooley Distillery, named for one of the oldest continuously licensed distilleries in the world, rescued and restored in 2007 by the Teeling family. Kilbeggan makes an 18-year-old and a reserve malt whiskey, but its standard bottling is preferred for cocktails like the Irish Insider, below.
Kilbeggan Irish Insider
Created by Martin Meade, head bartender of the Clyde Court Hotel in Dublin.
1 cube brown sugar
2 dashes bitters
1 ounce Irish whiskey, such as Kilbeggan
1 lemon zest knot
Brut Champagne, chilled
1. Place the brown sugar cube into the bottom of a Champagne flute.
2. Add the bitters.
3. Add Irish whiskey.
4. Muddle to break down the sugar and combine the ingredients.
5. Drop the lemon zest knot into the glass.
6. Quarter-fill the glass with Champagne and stir the ingredients together to infuse the flavors.
7. Top with Champagne.
Top photo: Irish Insider whiskey cocktail. Credit: Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey
Every now and then I come across a new culinary trend that leaves me wondering, “Why mess with something that’s already a success?” Such was the scenario with aging cocktails. Then I tried a barrel-aged Manhattan at the Driftwood Room in Portland, Ore. After sipping that smooth, velvety libation, I stopped asking why and started considering whether I, too, could produce such richly complex drinks.
I’d been in the right town to talk aged cocktails. Portland was where it all began, in 2010, when Clyde Common bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler introduced his Madeira wine cask-aged Manhattan to the public.
Morgenthaler’s inspiration for this drink came in the fall of 2009 in London. There he tried Manhattans that had been aged in glass bottles. Created by 69 Colebrooke Rowe bartender Tony Conigliaro, these subtly matured drinks prompted Morgenthaler to wonder how pre-mixed, single-spirit cocktails would fare in a different vessel, such as a small, used oak keg.
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The thought behind aging a cocktail is that, left inside a wooden cask for six to eight weeks, the drink would absorb some of the flavors and color of whatever was previously housed there. The resulting libation would be more developed and multifaceted than the original. The question, though, is how would it taste.
The answer is quite good. In Morgenthaler’s case, his Manhattan took on the flavors of both the oak cask and the liquid — in this case, Madeira wine — that it had previously contained. Mellow and sweet, his beverage flew off the shelf.
Today, along with aged Manhattans, Clyde Common does a brisk trade in bourbon barrel-aged Negronis and Tridents matured in single-malt whiskey kegs.
Morgenthaler’s offerings have motivated others to age their own drinks.
Without leaving Portland, I sampled an array of aged cocktails, including Negronis, Tridents and Glass Feathers. In some bars, such as Liberty, which ages spirits and bitters along with cocktails, I could even make requests.
Aged cocktails as a DIY project
Inspired by these innovators, I decided to try aging at home. For $23, plus shipping, I purchased a new, pre-charred, 1-liter oak barrel. As a byproduct of the caramelized sugars in the wood, a charred keg gives off a mild caramel flavor. Liquids placed there will pick up this pleasant taste. Thus why I chose charred.
After unpacking my little cask, I filled it with warm water, placed it on my kitchen counter and let it rest for a day. During this time the wood expanded, decreasing the likelihood that the barrel would leak and unleash my cocktail everywhere.
With my cask primed and set to go, I mixed together my first drink. Although an avid home mixologist, I’m completely green when it comes to aging spirits. With this in mind, I opted for the tried-and-true classic, a rye-based Manhattan.
When mixing my batch of Manhattans, I withheld the ice so it wouldn’t dilute my concoction. I also left out the cherry garnish. Leaving out the cherries was a wise move. Fruit and fruit juices will spoil in the cask. The same applies to dairy. I’d also avoid adding club soda and any other effervescent, for they will lose their carbonation in the barrel.
Once I had filled and sealed the cask, I stored it at room temperature in my pantry. That’s where my liter of Manhattans remains, waiting until it hits the right state for me to enjoy.
Professionals advise aging cocktails anywhere from five weeks to three months. Drinks stored in smaller barrels, such as mine, will mature more quickly than those in larger ones. The key is to sample the batch each week to see how it’s progressing. That’s exactly what I’m doing. Once I find a flavor profile I like, I’ll just strain the cocktail through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth to remove any sediment that’s collected. Then I will transfer the Manhattans to glass bottles, where they’ll stay until I’m ready to serve them.
Needless to say, I no longer scoff at cask aging cocktails. One small but luxurious drink made not only a believer but also a practitioner out of me.
Photo: A barrel at the Driftwood Room in Portland, Ore. Credit: Kathy Hunt
Does the arrival of hop vodka mean we are becoming obsessed with hops?
First there was Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey, a whiskey maker’s infusion of Racer 5 IPA beer into an alambic-pot-distilled whiskey aged in French oak barrels. It was the partnership between two Northern California craft artisans, the distiller Charbay and the brewery Bear Republic.
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Continuing the trend is San Francisco-based Anchor Distilling, the spirits extension of world-famous Anchor Brewing, whose staffs have quite naturally figured out a way to use the goodness of the hops they could smell wafting around their shared building space to make the world’s first hop vodka, Hophead.
These fun new drinks capture our increasingly fervid love affair with hops, exemplified best by the six- to eight-hour waiting times endured the first Friday of February along the sidewalks circling Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, Calif.. This is when and where brewer Vinnie Cilurzo releases his once-yearly Pliny the Younger, a triple-hopped version of his already maniacally sought after double IPA Pliny the Elder.
This year the lines grew longer than ever before, signaling a seriously intense devotion to the pursuit of good hops by hops lovers the world over. Many are hoping this will bode well for the burgeoning return of hops to Hopland, a small town in Mendocino about a half-hour north of Healdsburg along Highway 101.
Hop vodka revitalizes Hopland
The Hopland Brewery is thought to have been the first post-Prohibition brewpub in California. Opened in 1933, its operation created a renewed chance to use all the hops that were being grown about the place around then. But over time fruit orchards and wine grapes took over and the demand for hops went into decline.
Locals are trying to reignite the currency for hops, at least on a small scale, with Oakland-based brewer Adam Lamoreaux of Linden Street Brewery leading the way. Lamoreaux has partnered with Gary Breen, who bought the old Haas Hops Ranch, (also the former site of the Fetzer Valley Oaks Ranch), outside of Hopland a few years ago and has recently opened Piazza de Campovida in town, a place to find a fair few small-batch Linden Brewery brews.
Adding to that town’s momentum is the new Hopland Ale House a few doors down, where the Mendocino Brewing Company once stood, with 8 beers on tap and the hope to further interest in locally grown hops.
Until that day, this spring enjoy a double helping of hop flavor with this blend of hop vodka and single-hopped beer into one hyper-hopped Shandy and contemplate the possibilities.
San Fran Shandy
Created by Russell Davis, 2012 National Bartender of the Year, for the launch of Hophead.
2 ounces Hophead vodka
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce ginger liqueur
½ ounce honey syrup
½ ounce egg white
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3 ounces Anchor Brewing Brekle’s Brown Ale
Half on orange wheel
1. Combine Hophead, lemon juice, ginger liqueur, honey syrup, egg whites and bitters in a shaker and dry shake to emulsify egg whites.
2. Add ice and shake vigorously until proper dilution.
3. Strain into a chilled fizz glass.
4. Empty ice out from the shaker and fill it with ale to create a froth
5. Pour this froth over the drink in the chilled fizz glass and garnish with half an orange wheel.
San Fran Shandy. Credit: Courtesy of Anchor Distilling Company