The Riff-Raff


On Sunday, a select and very lucky group of us were granted access to the top-secret(ish) and charmingly industrial premises of Raff Distillerie. A craft distiller, long-time vintner, and bartender, Carter Raff founded his company in 2011. Having occupied the former Navy Brig on Treasure Island, Carter has a (probably haunted) gem on his hands – from the solitary-confinement-turned-storage rooms to the yard with basketball lines still painted on the ground. Here the craftsman produces batches of his outstanding gin and absinthe (“the best absinthe in the world,” according to the man himself) in a hand-machined and -built still. The passion and dedication evident in the fabrication of both his tools and his product is remarkable. With scrupulously-sourced ingredients and meticulous construction, his spirits are exceptionally good.

We followed Carter from the yard that houses his still through heavy metal doors into his bottling room, where stacked cases lay framed by a row of little rooms at the back, former solitary cells with little windows along the wall. The ambience was eerie at first, but the clever conversion of the building’s features mirrors Carter Raff’s approach to every aspect of his business. A master craftsman in every sense, with his handmade filling machines lined up on the counter, Carter explained how he modified existing tools and built his own machines to process and bottle his spirits. Carter is eminently knowledgable about all forms of alcohol, so we were treated to an explanation of both his distillation techniques and the methods used to make all of our favorite forms of the hard stuff: from bourbon and scotch to the more obscure rhum agricole. He also explained the story behind his labels. Drawing on his deep roots in San Francisco, the iconic figures that adorn the labels evoke tales of a past that feels both equally unconventional and more delightfully innocent. We found this to be an unequivocal testament to Carter Raff’s devotion to producing the most authentic and the purest product.

Amid the excitement of our tour, we began to plan a gin-based cocktail to make when we got home. What better to pair with this floral gin than a tart citrus in gorgeous sunset colors? Having scooped up a bag full of juicy blood oranges at Berkeley Bowl, we pulled a bottle of simple syrup from the fridge and set to work. A couple of ounces of jewel pink juice, a jigger of the herb-y alcohol, and dash of sugar were topped with sparkling water for a sweet twist on the gin we’d spent all day dreaming of.


The Riff-Raff
Makes 1 cocktail

We highly recommend you try some of Carter Raff’s Bummer & Lazarus Gin as well as his Emperor Norton Absinthe.  Click here for a list of bars & retailers where you can find Raff Distillerie products.

  • 2 1/2oz Bummer & Lazarus Gin
  • 1 1/2 oz Fresh Squeezed Blood Orange Juice
  • 1 oz Simple Syrup
  • 4 oz Fizzy Water

Combine the Bummer & Lazarus Gin, blood orange juice, simple syrup and one ice cube in a cocktail shaker and shake gently a few times. Strain into your serving glass and top off with fizzy water and a slice of blood orange for garnish. Enjoy!


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