Food & Drink

How to sip and savor like a Sacramentan

The Sacramento summers are sweltering, while the winter mornings tend to be bathed in fog and chilly air. That means locals are often reaching for a cup to help cool down or heat up, and given the amount of choice local ingredients, we’ve got plenty of great sipping options.

In other cases, local folks are forging their own creations – be it cocktails, coffee or soda – and leaving their own stamp of Sacramento in the glass.

So, read on if you’re feeling a bit parched or just looking for something cozy to drink. Here’s a list of Sacramento’s signature sips:

Cider from Apple Hill: Every fall as the air starts to crisp, many locals head to the section of El Dorado County known as Apple Hill. The parking lots get packed on those autumn weekends, for the orchards and farms are bearing its signature fruit.

This stretch of the Sierra Foothills, about an hour east of Sacramento, is renown for apples. These high-altitude orchards, at about 2,000 to 3,000 feet elevation, offer the ripe combination of sunny days and chilly nights with adequate soil drainage on the hillsides that equates to excellent apples. And those apples can take many forms in Apple Hill: pies, jams, sauces – and, of course, cider.

Cider can be found in both pasteurized and unpasteurized versions around Apple Hill, boasting a natural sweetness instead of that cloying Tree Top stuff.

And even if you can’t make a trip up the hill, these local ciders can generally be found at grocery stores and farmers markets around the region. Look for local brands including Barsotti and Rainbow Orchards, and then take a nice, sweet sip.

White Linen cocktail: New York City may have birthed the Manhattan cocktail, and New Orleans is home of the sazerac, but Sacramento can claim its own signature cocktail. That would be the White Linen, a blend of gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, a bit of simple syrup and lemon juice that’s garnished with thin slices of English cucumber.

The drink was created by Rene Dominguez, who currently serves as head bartender at Capital Dime, during his previous stint at downtown’s Ella Dining Room & Bar.

The White Linen has since become a fixture of local watering holes that specialize in craft cocktails, such as Shady Lady Saloon, especially during the summer. The drink takes the adage of “cool as a cucumber” to a cocktail glass, a refreshing libation that fits perfectly with sunny outdoor brunches that Sacramentans crave.

The White Linen also brings just the right amount of kick and fresh flavors to add extra cheer to happy hour and beyond, like a liquid Delta breeze after a triple-digit day.

Clarksburg chenin blanc: For those who love the grape, how great it is to live in an area surrounded by so much wine country. The Sierra Foothills to the east has its longstanding traditions with zinfandel and is emerging as one of the state’s hot spots for Rhone varieties, while Napa and its world-class cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux-styled blends are a quick day trip to the west.

But let’s not forget Clarksburg, situated approximately 10 miles south of downtown Sacramento. Its expansive farmland and aging buildings from sugar production and other crops make it look like a local version of the Rust Belt, but in terms of wine grapes, the region harkens to the Loire in France.

The white grape chenin blanc has thrived in Clarksburg’s sandy soils for more than 40 years and is undergoing a renaissance of appreciation from local wine lovers and experts alike. Clarksburg chenin blanc encompasses a range of styles, from bone-dry versions with bracing acidity to sweet late-harvest versions with a honey character.

Look for chenin blanc from Clarksburg Wine Co., Revolution Wines and Bogle, which planted the area’s first chenin blanc vineyards in 1968.

River City Root Beer: Ah, sometimes there’s nothing like a little root beer to get the taste buds tingling. And one of our favorites comes from Sacramento via Blue Dog Beverages, a distributor that also crafts its own beverages (in addition to root beer, they also offer a sweet River City Blueberry Lemonade).

These folks certainly know their root beer and carry more than 60 of them in their beverage portfolio. But River City Root Beer stands apart because it’s like a greatest-hits drink, featuring the tasty properties found in some of the country’s best root beers.

Take a sip of River City Root Beer and you’ll find a creamy drink with lovely licorice overtones and lots of fizz. It’s a no-brainer for a root-beer float to pair with a take-out burger from, say, Nationwide Freezer Meats.

Silk Road sodas: Speaking of sodas, the Sacramento-based Silk Road Soda company has quickly become a local favorite for the thirsty and mix-minded alike. Silk Road specializes in a global kind of beverage with nods to Persia, India and the Mediterranean.

Flavors include pomegranate mint, cucumber mint and original mint – and all are sweetened with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. The sodas are refreshing on their own – light, zippy and not too sweet – and also work well as a cocktail mixer.

Ruhstaller Hop Sac: Beer has played big historically in Sacramento, from the Buffalo Brewery of the late 19th century to the craft beer boom of today. The greater Sacramento region now hosts more than two dozen breweries, making it easy to find a locally sourced pint around these parts.

But no proper beer can be brewed without hops, which once reigned as a signature Sacramento crop. The bulk of the hops production has ceased over the decades, but the reinvigorated local beer culture has also brought renewed interest in growing hops.

While it will be many years before Sacramento can once again call itself an epicenter for hops, some local brewers have planted their own crops and are creating truly local beers.

The Hop Sac line of beers from Ruhstaller exemplifies this trend, with hops grown on its farm near UC Davis. Look for the bottles wrapped in a little burlap sack, take a sip and be reminded of why Sacramento ranks as a great town for beer lovers.

Tomato soup: I mean – hello – this is “Sacratomato”! Sacramento’s hot summers make this area ripe for tomato crops and play host to dozens of varieties.

Neighboring Yolo County annually harvests more than $100 million of tomatoes geared toward food processing, while the heirloom varieties are especially prized among the culinary inclined.

Even during the heat, Sacramento menus don’t seem to be complete without some form of tomato soup. They’re abundant and juicy during the summer, making for perfect chilled tomato soup, gazpacho or simple soup to go with a grilled cheese sandwich. Just embrace the tomato – it’s the Sacramento thing to do.

Locally roasted Ethiopian coffee: If the vibe around midtown always seems to be upbeat, it might have something to do with the proliferation of high-quality coffee houses, which have made their way into other area neighborhoods as well.

Make no mistake, Sacramento isn’t a Sanka kind of town. And several local roasters have recently earned national accolades.

When respected online coffee publication Coffee Review released its Top 30 Coffees of 2013, Sacramento’s Temple Coffee and Tea topped the list, earning the No. 1 slot for its Ethiopian Yirgacheffee.

Old Soul has also received exceptionally high marks from the venerable coffee buying guide for its “Aramo Natural” coffee that utilizes Ethiopian beans.

Ethiopian beans, meanwhile, have clearly become a favorite for local coffee roasters and baristas. Unlike the high-octane dark roasts favored a decade or two ago, or the muddy cup o’ joe that perked up our parents, Ethiopian beans are beloved for their fruity character, bright acidity and medium body.

And yes, they will provide a proper caffeine buzz, too.

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