With a flip of a calendar page, it will soon be October. A morning nip in the air signals it’s time for a quick road trip up California Route 1 to Big Sur and beyond for fall colors, food and whisky.
Awesome coastal vistas through Big Sur, about 150 miles south of San Francisco, are made even more breathtaking by dramatic skies and palette-busting displays of flora. My first destination is Nepenthe Restaurant, hanging on the cliffs 800 feet above the Pacific. As a regular stop on my Big Sur drives, Nepenthe never disappoints. I look forward to absorbing a bit of the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright evident everywhere, in the spectacular setting, native materials, and an overall organic feeling of building to site. Rowen Maiden, an architectural student of FLW, was the architect of the congruous gift shop, café and restaurant complex. Lunch is the California Artisanal Cheese Plate – a collection of Monterey Jack, Humboldt Fog Goat, and Point Reyes Blue, served with quince jam, apple chutney with mint and lime, dried apricots and white grapes, paired with Talisker malt, from Scotland’s Isle of Skye.
San Francisco’s Whisky Shop, on Sutter Street, is another familiar destination. As a single malt Scotch whisky educator, one of the most frequently questions I’m asked is “Is there a double malt?” The simple answer is no; if a Scotch is not a single malt, it’s a blend. Therefore, I am quite surprised to see bottles bearing the label “Speyside Double Malt” and “Islay Double Malt” on the shelves. As Patricia McCray, partner in the Virginia Distillery Company later explained by phone, “Double malt” is the trademarked name for their vatted malts, consisting of only two singles, made and aged in Scotland. The first edition of the Islay Double is 60% Bowmore and 40% Caol Ila, and the first edition of Speyside Double is a 50/50 marriage of Longmorn and Glen Moray.
Across the bay, Oakland’s À Côté Restaurant, on College Avenue in the tony Rockridge District, is an intimate restaurant offering small plate, Mediterranean cuisine. Their beer, wine and spirits list includes dozens of offerings in each of about 15 categories of drink from around the world. I am astonished to find Bladnoch 13 year old single malt from the Scottish Lowlands on offer, considering the distillery has recently been in mothballs for many years. Duck Bolognese and Moroccan Beef & Lamb Sausages are two of the most popular entrees.
Driving south on Interstate 5 is, of course, infinitely more direct and efficient than the meander up the coast two days ago. It does, however, provide an opportunity to appreciate the Central Valley’s wealth of agricultural abundance and some thinking time about the next road trip.