By Liam Mayclem, the KCBS Foodie Chap
H. Joseph Ehrmann, better known as H., started his career in 1986 as a cook on the beaches of New Jersey, under New Orleans’ renowned chef Duke Locicero. He went on to cook, serve, manage and bartend in Boston, Orlando, Washington DC, Vail and Phoenix before completing an MBA in International Management from Thunderbird (where he also bartended). That degree landed him in Geneva, Prague and Madrid where he spent several years traveling and studying the flavors, agriculture and traditions (as well as the distilleries, wineries and breweries) of Europe. After the completion of his MBA, he worked in several countries, industries and positions, building small and medium-sized companies as both an employee and consultant. In January 2003, he left the corporate consulting world to return to his passion, the bar business. By November he had restored one of the oldest saloons in San Francisco and reopened it as Elixir.
“Cocktails to me are about pure Americana; blending of everything that is good, everything that is different and making it all one and wonderful.”
– H. Joseph Ehrmann, Mixologist
Since the heyday of the Barbary Coast years, San Franciscans have been whetting their whistles on the corner of 16th and Guerrero under several owners, and under this proprietorship, they’re doing it with some of the finest beverages in contemporary California. On that corner, the second oldest saloon location in this Wild West town, H.’s Elixir menu revives the pre-Prohibition cocktail culture of the Barbary Coast while incorporating a focus on utilizing California’s abundant agricultural resources and San Francisco’s infamous creativity and artistic vision. As the first Certified Green bar in the United States, Elixir’s expansive cocktail menu and spirits collection focuses on the vintage, the organic, the local and the original, all while remaining a friendly corner bar. The bar has won numerous accolades for its cocktails, marketing programs, and atmosphere.
H. and his cocktails have appeared in numerous media outlets including ABC-TV, TV20, KRON 4,Telemundo, Sirrius Radio, NPR, The Tom Leykis Show, GQ, Esquire, Martha Stewart Living, Men’s Health, Food and Wine, US Airways Magazine, American Airlines Magazine, Imbibe, Reader’s Digest, Sunset, 7×7, San Francisco Magazine, The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, Beverage Media, Benefit, Restaurant Industry News, Cheers, Food Arts, Sommelier’s Journal, MSNBC.com, and many more. In addition, he was listed in Food and Wine’s “Top Tastes to Try in 2008”, was featured in the June 2008 cover story for Nightclub and Bar Magazine, his “Bloody Elixir” was named “The 20 Best Cocktails in America” by 2008 GQ Magazine and Elixir was mentioned in the 2008 Esquire Magazine’s “Best Bars in America”. 2009 brought H. a Cheers Magazine Rising Star Award for his innovative work in mixology and his “commitment to the ‘greening’ of the cocktail and the planet, while still being on top of the importance of great taste and flavor demands by the guest”. He was a finalist for “Operator of the Year” in Nightclub and Bar (NCB) Magazine and Elixir was listed for the first time in the Food and Wine Top 100 Bars list. 2010 began with the first ever NCB Bartender of the Year award (with a cover photo in the March issue) and Elixir was listed in both Esquire Magazine’s “2010 Best Bars in America” in the June issue and “The Top 25 Cocktail Bars in America” in GQ Magazine’s August issue. 2011 began with Elixir as a finalist for NCB’s Cocktail Lounge of the Year award, continued with a second listing in the Food and Wine Top 100 Bars list and a mention in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Best Business Bars issue as “Best Bar to get Business Scoop from a Bartender”.
As Brand Ambassador and Mixologist for Square One Organic Spirits, LLC, he launched the brand and helped create the last three of its four products. He continues to grow the brand across the United States and Europe and was nominated twice for Brand Ambassador of the Year at the annual Tales of the Cocktail event in New Orleans (where he has also lectured, designed cocktail and meal pairings and competed in the 2007 Bar Chef Competition). In September 2008, he passed The Beverage Alcohol Resource training program as “Bar Ready”.
In 2006, H. founded Cocktail Ambassadors, a consultancy for bar and restaurant operators as well as the product and service companies that supply them. He has designed custom cocktails and beverage programs for hotels, bars and restaurants around the country and consults to several brands including, most recently, Don Julio, Cointreau and Oxley.
H. is a Co-Founder of San Francisco Cocktail Week, the Barbary Coast Conservancy of the American Cocktail, The Boothby Center for the Beverage Arts and The Bartender Relief Fund. He is a former Vice President of the United States Bartenders Guild San Francisco Chapter and a current National Ambassador. As a judge in the two most prestigious spirits competitions (Los Angeles International Spirits Competition and the San Francisco International Spirits Competition), he is a strong influence on the spirits industry. H. is also a West Coast Ambassador of The Museum of the American Cocktail and a Founding Advisor for Liquor.com and Drink Me Magazine. His cocktail catering businesses, Elixir Cocktail Catering and HMS Cocktails, provide quality cocktails on a mobile basis to the rest of California and he is currently in the process of designing his next beverage venue to be opened in 2011.
5 Tasty Questions with Mixologist H. Joseph Ehrmann
1. H., what is your earliest cocktail memory?
Sitting at the kitchen table with my mom and my grandma as they drank scotch whiskeys on Friday afternoons when my grandmother would visit.
2. What is your most prized bottle of booze?
H.: Compass Box Flaming Heart, 2nd Edition. It’s a bottle that I drank with my girlfriend the first time we went away and one that is now not available and I’ve gotten from John Glaser, the man who makes it.
Liam: Is it on the shelf here?
H.: Yes, I just got a bottle because I came back from Edinburgh where I could get it back.
3. What song or two, would be the song of your journey?
“Soulshine” by Warren Haynes. To me it’s a quintessential blues song. Every time I get frustrated or down, as any good blues song should do, it brings you back.
4. If you could come back in a second life and do it all over again, what would you come back as?
A retired young man.
5. It’s last call at the bar, what will be on the bar and who will be at your side?
It would be an Old-Fashioned with my father. He passed away in 1999, so he never saw this part of my career and knew what I did so I’d want to share it with him.
Liam: Great answers H., thank you. Cheers!
1.5oz Square One Cucumber Organic Vodka
1oz St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
2oz watermelon juice or 5 1” watermelon cubes
6 mint leaves
.5oz lime juice
.5oz agave nectar
In a mixing glass, add watermelon cubes or juice and 5 mint leaves, muddle and top with remaining ingredients. Fill with ice and shake well for ten seconds. Hawthorne strain tall over fresh ice and garnish with a slapped mint leaf.
Cucumber is a melon, so the natural fit with watermelon is brightened by mint and lime and lightened with the floral sweetness of the St. Germain. This is a fun summer cooler to sip by the pool (or anywhere…).
-Lighten it up a bit by getting out the agave nectar and adding a splash (1 oz) of a bright crisp white wine, like Sauterne or Verdejo.
(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)