Union Ale thinks big. And it prints big too. Its menu looks something like a Wild West Wanted poster and can be read across the room. It’s sweet potato fries come in a metal bucket. Its ‘mini’ pizzas could feed a family of 10 (and they make the dough on the premises). So we expected big things from our drinks.
Now, of course, Union Ale is known for its beer. Its Albino Python, for example, contains ginger, fennel and orange peel.
Matthew Christenson, one half of the brother team that owns Union Ale, has a long Santa Barbara tradition. He rattles off the places he’s worked: Chart House, Chad’s, Soho, Zelo. He owned City BBQ for a while. He also claims to be the first person to bring Red Bull into Santa Barbara bars, when it was part of the “legal smart drugs” movement. (Remember that? If you do, you probably took smart drugs.)
These drinks come from Christenson’s private recipe book with a few thrown in from his bar staff. The St. Germaine Sangria is a tall glass filled with fruit and ice and lightness. It’s fruity, as you might expect, with lemon, lime and orange juice running up alongside Sauvignon Blanc and vodka, with a St. Germaine float. The flavor is not as overwhelming as you might think.
However, the Union Manhattan delivers a sweet twist on the traditional cocktail. While we sampled it, we noticed several women at other tables ordering the same drink. Reason? Jack Daniels, Butterscotch Schnapps and a splash of — ready? — Coke and grenadine. Too much for us purists, but, as they say, the ladies know what they like.
The Key Lime Pie Martini is one of the better ones we’ve tried. No fancy rim here, but the dashes of Midori, Smirnoff Vanilla and the coconuttiness of the Malibu makes this a treat. But we reserve our Drink of the Week award for the Mississippi Swamp Water. When we decided in our mixologist scrum to choose this drink, Christenson broke out into smiles. We had chosen his oldest recipe, the drink that got him through many nights during the 1990s. Maybe it’s the mint puree and mix of Southern Comfort and vodka. Maybe it’s because it comes from a long history, part of Santa Barbara itself.
MISSISSIPPI SWAMP WATER
3 ounces Ketel One Vodka
1 ounce 7 Up
1/2 ounce Southern Comfort
1/2 ounce Mint and simple syrup mix
To make the syrup mix, blend 1/3 cup of mint with 1/3 cup of pre-made simple syrup.
Add all ingredients together, shake and serve over ice in lowball glass.
214 State St.