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Great Bottle Shops For Rare Booze 

Wednesday, May 6 2015

Even the least observant among us would find it difficult to ignore the meteoric ascent of craft spirits in our modern era. Every week, it seems, a new product hits the shelves of local liquor stores, promising a reserve of "small-batch," "handcrafted" artistry within its alluringly-sculpted glass exterior. Yet there's a finite amount of space on those shelves. As with anything else, a good outpost for alcohol is marked more by quality than quantity. In an impossibly crowded field of competitors, here are San Francisco's finest.

Celebrating its 50th year in Nob Hill, The Jug Shop (1590 Pacific Ave., 415-885-2922) predates the craft boon by several decades. Lining the spacious aisles with everything from rare, imported Japanese rice wines, to Polynesian-inspired rum from farmlands of the central California coast, its inventory is lengthy enough to include over a 100 whiskeys from Kentucky to Tokyo. And the Jug Shop's knowledgeable staff is an invaluable asset. You probably don't know the difference between a carboxylic ester and an ethyl acetate. But staffers do, and it will make all the difference in matching your palate to a lesser-known spirit.

Cask (17 Third St., 415-500-2276, and 101 Spear St., 415-500-2276) offers an exhaustive array of bottles that are difficult to find elsewhere. But to solidify its standing as a mecca for mixology, it zeros in on whisk(e)y with an almost unnerving acumen. Library-like stacks of brown spirits cover the walls of the Third Street location, its top level requiring a rolling ladder to access. Here you'll find the award-winning whiskeys of Asia alongside a collection of Scotch that demands regional categorization. If you are unfamiliar with, say, the differences between a Highland and an Islay (peat!), head here for a crash course. If you already know the difference, then you're likely already a big fan of this stately shop.

Great booze is worth a great deal of travel. Connoisseurs comb the globe in search of fine spirits. Here in San Francisco, you'll be amply rewarded for making your way to West Portal to peruse the shelves at the San Francisco Wine Trading Company (250 Taraval St., 415-731-6222). Don't let the name mislead you; SFWTC houses a heady list of artisanal spirits from near and far. In this refreshingly unpretentious environment, $17 bottles of (delicious) rye are as comfortable as $160 bottles of rare añejo tequila. Leave the passport at home, and satisfy your worldly wonder one bottle of booze at a time. 

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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