Autumn on the Amalfi Coast
Autumn on the Amalfi Coast. Photo: Risa Nye

When we entered Build on the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Bancroft Way in Berkeley, we decided to bypass the pizzeria side and make a beeline for the bar. We had heard great things about Build’s bar program, and wanted to see for ourselves where the magic happens.

The bar menu has a decidedly Italian flair. We had a hard time choosing, but ultimately we were swayed by the allure of the Autunno a Costiera Amalfitana (Autumn on the Amalfi Coast), made with vodka, Buddha’s hand citron, Campari, lemon, grapefruit, basil and prosecco.

Actually, the entire cocktail menu makes for an entertaining read. While we typically choose our drinks based on the components, we are sometimes tempted to try something with a clever name. (Unlike betting on a horse using this same logic, we are more likely to pick a winner at the bar. It should be noted, however, that our companion for the evening chose to order a Bitter Old Man, made with bourbon, rye, bitters and a blend of vermouths.)

So we set aside our curiosity about the Angry Russian Mule, A Short and Beautiful Cuban Woman with a Big Mouth (Build’s take on a mojito), and the Drunk Monk… until next time.

Although we have never visited the Amalfi Coast in autumn, our cocktail — a cool combination of citrus and spice — made us feel as though we’d taken a well-deserved vacation: refreshed, revived, and ready to return.

Which we did. On a subsequent visit to Build, we had the pleasure of sitting at the bar in the company of Bay Area mixologist and bar chef Scott Beattie. We were able to observe first-hand how our drinks were prepared, and learned a few tricks about egg whites and stenciled bitters.

You may already be familiar with Beattie’s influence on cocktails in other locations in the greater Bay Area. He is in high demand as a consultant in the field, and the drink menu at Build carries his signature: seasonally driven cocktails, featuring locally grown fruits and flowers. For example, small Bachelor Button blossoms garnished the Pisco Sour we enjoyed at the bar.

We also commented on the rather large and magically crystal-clear ice cubes in drinks served over ice. We learned from Beattie and bartender Jay just how these cubes take shape: it’s a rather labor-intensive process, all done by hand, and the result is cubes that melt very, very slowly and keep the drinks cold.

Many of the cocktails feature locally distilled spirits and locally grown lemons, limes and oranges. Beattie spoke about his early days as an experimenting mixologist, when he would forage fruits and berries from trees and bushes in his neighborhood — a locavore in the making.

Asked for his philosophy about creating and improving cocktails, he paraphrased Thomas Keller: When you combine the best techniques and great ingredients, you produce delicious drinks. We wholeheartedly agree.

The bar at Build features an Italian-inspired tapas menu offering warm olives, bruschetta, truffle arancini, and other tempting plates to accompany their cocktails. And if the lure of the pizza takes over, it’s easy enough to fill the bill on the pizzeria side.

The drink: Autumn on the Amalfi Coast and Albicocca-Prugna Sour (Apricot-Plum Pisco Sour).
To try next time: Mulo Russo Arrabbiato (Angry Russian Mule), or the mojito
The crowd: The joint is jumping, with a mix of students, non-students, families and celebratory gatherings of friends.
Next to us at the bar: Mixologist and bar chef Scott Beattie
The Deets: Build Pizzeria Roma, 2286 Shattuck Ave., downtown Berkeley, 510-898-1839

Risa Nye, aka Ms. Barstool, is a freelance writer based in Oakland. She writes the blog Zero to Sixty and Beyond

Are you a cocktail aficionado? Read previous Ms. Barstool reviews of SidebarBoot & Shoe ServicePicànHopscotchFiveRevival and Flora, and check Berkeleyside Nosh’s Guide to Drinking around Berkeley.

Sneak peek: Build, Berkeley’s ambitious new pizzeria [04.05.13]
Thin-crust pizza restaurant to open in Rockridge [01.10.13]
Benchmark: Wood-fired pizza comes to Kensington [12.11.12]
New Roman-style pizzeria to open in downtown Berkeley [11.16.12]
The best pizza in Berkeley? Our readers have decided [06.10.11]

Bookmark Berkeleyside NOSH for East Bay food news and stories, and follow Berkeleyside NOSH on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Freelancer Risa Nye is a Bay Area native. She was born in San Francisco and grew up in the East Bay. She spent many happy years on the UC Berkeley campus, both as a student and as an employee. She has...