Sacramento’s status as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital extends beyond restaurant meals and farms, as even Sacramento’s rising cocktail scene embraces using locally sourced ingredients. With spring here, now is the exciting time for new craft cocktails.
Midtown Sacramento’s Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Company is a restaurant and bar that opened last year with an emphasis on farm-to-fork food and drinks.
Beverage Director Chris Tucker is a native Sacramentan who spent a number of years working the cocktail scene in San Francisco before returning home in 2000, when he said his interest in using fresh, seasonal and local ingredients blossomed.
“We’ve got the best local ingredients, and it really makes a difference in the drinks,” he said. “A lot of places keep the same menu, and they’re getting lower quality produce because they’re keeping the same things year-round, whether they come from California, Mexico, Chile or somewhere else.”
Tucker works directly with the chefs at Hook & Ladder to see what local produce is available, and he crafts his artisanal cocktails with the freshest ingredients. Getting the ingredients at their prime allows Tucker to control the acidity and sweetness balance in the drinks, making sure that each drink served is exactly how he wants it.
“You definitely see produce as it’s becoming ripe, then as it hits its prime, and that’s when we change our cocktail menu,” he said, adding that the menu rotates quarterly. “Right now, we’re at the second peak of citrus season, and we’re heading into the spring harvest, so we will have strawberries, blueberries and those sorts of things."
“This is something more and more bartenders in Sacramento are doing,” he said. “Our cocktail scene is really on the rise.”
And that rise is gaining nationwide notoriety. Earlier this year, Imbibe Magazine named Sacramento one of the top cocktail destinations in the country, and The San Francisco Chronicle gave a nod to the drinks scene.
For Tucker and the others, the increased interest in quality local ingredients is gaining traction, and it’s a leap forward from the mentality when he got his start in the early 1990s.
“I cut my teeth in a nightclub setting,” he said. “We certainly weren’t using anything local or seasonal, and sometimes not even fresh – it was coming out of a packaged container with an expiration date seven months away.”
It was when he returned from the Bay Area, working at Midtown Sacramento’s Centro Cocina Mexicana, that his passion for seasonal ingredients took off.
Sacramento’s bartenders had been working with local ingredients, but Tucker said he sees it as an evolution. First, there was an emphasis on fresh ingredients. Then that expanded to using seasonal ingredients, and it has now evolved to using local ingredients.
“I think the overall cocktail culture has improved and developed in conjunction with the overall food scene, including drinks into the food scene, because people are drinking these drinks with food and in restaurants,” Tucker said. “They’re not just drinking them at bars.”
The handcrafted cocktail scene has been slow, but steady to evolve, Tucker said. That slowness, however, didn’t turn out to be a drawback.
“This is something people believe in,” he said. “It’s not trendy, and it’s not the flavor of the week. It’s what we do, and it’s what we’re passionate about.”