When Comal opened up a year ago, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the bar program from the Bon Vivants, Scott Baird and Josh Harris. As opening delays for Trick Dog pushed along, it was a good place for the bar consultants to showcase some of the skills. Now that the duo is no longer directly involved with the program, it seemed like a good time to return to the downtown Berkeley spot to see how bar manager Matthew Campbell evolved the program.
While six of the original opening cocktails are still on the menu, all the favorites from both the staff and customers, there are now four rotating slots that Campbell says reflect more of a seasonal approach. These selections change four or five times a year, but the current selection we sampled was impressive.
The summery SPF 2020 ($9, Matusalem Rum, strawberry, blood orange, cinnamon-clove ancho pepper dram) not only refreshes, but also manifests the entire season. Order one, liberally apply a layer of to your inside, and feel the memories of warm sandy beaches flood your brain. The ancho adds depth more than heat, the blood orange strawberry fruit with the rum gives it a tiki bent, yet the drink still somehow grounds itself in Mexico.
Campbell came up with the SPF 2020 when some unusually hot spring days necessitated something beachy and refreshing. As for the name? "The working title was SPF 45, as that's how much sun protection I'd need to enjoy this drink on the beach I had envisioned. Scots burn easily," says Campbell. "Our manager Amy proposed 2020 instead, as it's our address, it's easier to say, implies clarity of vision, and would probably protect you even on the sun's surface."
Even the more unusual-sounding drinks, like the Beta Test ($10, Calle 23 Reposado Tequila, carrot, ginger, lemon, Avèze Gentian Liqueur) are well balanced and interesting without overwhelming you with novelty. The herbal and vegetal flavors are kept in check to let the tequila be the star, and having a second one is all you can think of while having the first.
This drink also shows how Campbell is equally inspired by spirits and what chef Matt Gandin has cooking in the kitchen. "We have a network of small farmers in the Salinas Valley that keep us inundated with local produce. My aim with most of the seasonal drinks is simply to make a strawberry cocktail taste just like a strawberry," he says. "It's hard for me to sit still and read a cocktail book, so pretty much all of my ideas come from walking through the kitchen and eating."
2 oz. Matusalem Rum
1 oz. Strawberry purée
¾ oz. Lime juice
½ oz. Blood orange juice
½ oz. Cinnamon/clove/ancho dram*
½ oz. Seltzer water
Combine rum, purée, juices, dram, and salt in a shaker with crushed ice. Shake to combine ingredients and pour into a Collins glass with the seltzer water. Garnish with fresh strawberry.
* Cinnamon/clove/ancho dram:
25 Mexican cinnamon sticks
25 Ceylon cinnamon sticks
7 ancho chiles, de-pithed and seeded
1 Cup cloves
5 bottles Matusalem Rum
In a large jar (at least one gallon in size) combine all of the ingredients and macerate for 3-4 days, tasting each day for desired extraction intensity. Strain out the solids, and use a coffee filter to remove any fine sediment from the tincture. Weigh the liquid and add two parts rich simple syrup (two parts sugar to one part water) to one part tincture, let rest for at least two days before using.
Comal, 2020 Shattuck (at Addison), Berkeley, 510-926-6300