The Bellows

803 S. Twin Oaks Valley Road, San Marcos   |   (760) 290-3912   |   BellowsWoodFire.com

From the owner of one of the top 10 beer bars in the country comes a new farm-to-table eatery with a whiskey-focused craft cocktail program. Ivan Derezin, who owns the beloved Churchill’s Pub, brings The Bellows to San Marcos. Knowing Ivan understands a thing or two about beer, expect 20 beers on tap from all over the world in addition to an impressive lineup of bottled sour ales.

As far as wine goes, according to the quote atop the wine list: “The goal of The Bellows eclectic wine list is to offer a sense of discovery while exploring new, unique and interesting value-oriented wines from specialty producers which pair superbly with our cuisine. We strive to select wines of authenticity which convey a distinct sense of place and tradition.” Wow! Obviously they’ve put a lot of thought and care into both the beer and wine. Now let’s drink some cocktails!

An impressive lineup indeed! The spirits menu offers an impressive list of vintage cocktails such as The Pisco Sour, Sloe Gin Fizz and The Jack Rose all with the year they were created in print next to the name. The oldest is The Martinez (circa 1884).

Also available are the classics, contemporaries and aperitif cocktails. Premium whiskeys from Japan, Canada, Ireland and the good ol’ USA are served straight up or choose from a selection of classic pre-Prohibition-era and whiskey cocktails.

I met with Ivan, A.J. and Byron, who explained their approach toward the bar program at The Bellows, which is more classic cocktails done well than trying to reinvent the cocktail wheel.

Mixology Minute
Luxardo Maraschino Cherries: These  are the original Maraschino cherries. Instead of glowing red, Luxardo’s cherries are deep purple and burgundy. They’re suspended in thick cherry syrup. When you bite, they have a small pop. After, there’s a lingering sweet cherry flavor with absolutely none of the formaldehyde burn that mars the atomic grocery store versions.

The Bellows Forge
Their signature drink is composed of Elijah Craig 12-year-old bourbon, High West Campfire whiskey (a sweet, spicy and, yes, smoky whiskey which won Wine Spectator’s 2012 U.S. Whiskey of the Year), Campari, Coffee Heering (a blend of Caribbean rum flavored with an infusion of coffee cacao beans), black walnut bitters and a flamed orange twist, stirred and served up in a coupe. Sounds like it would be a tad harsh, but it is actually delicate and balanced with a little smoke and the orange bitterness of the Campari coming across nicely. I like to enjoy a cocktail before sitting down for dinner; I would go with this one!

The Opal
This one’s A.J.’s baby and it took third place at the San Diego Spirits Festival. But don’t ask him how to make it; he’ll tell you what’s in it but that’s about it. My favorite of the night starts with muddled sour cherries, Rittenhouse Rye Aperol, Boker’s Bitters topped off with Delirium Red, which is a nice sweet and sour beer. I love a cocktail that hits you with a nice aroma before you begin to imbibe. In this case the aroma you get comes from the Opal basil garnish. This one’s not on the menu. Find A.J. and tell him I sent ya!

The Green Machine
Another creation from one of The Bellows’ finest. My boy Byron placed fourth at the San Diego Spirits Fest with a vodka-based drink that a lot of the folks in the “craft cocktail” scene turn up their noses to. See, because vodka is a spirit distilled without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color. Screw that! This is a damn fine cocktail made with Rain vodka, lemon, basil, housemade simple syrup, an Absinthe rinse, housemade rosemary tincture, egg white for the frothiness and grated nutmeg on top. A lot is going on in this little coupe. The vodka takes on the flavors from above resulting in a top notch imbibing experience. Hey, this dude’s a Bio-Chemical Engineering major. He knows how to mix stuff!

The Blacksmith
The prettiest of them all and just as delicious! Mescal is surging and gaining popularity. No longer tequila’s ugly cousin, mescal is best used as an ingredient. Smokey and woody, it could be a little harsh to sip on straight. In this instance, A.J. combined Vida Mescal with Yellow Chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino, fresh lime juice, Sel Gris (which is a coarse granular sea salt), egg white for a little frothiness and Naga Chilli Bitters (made with the world’s hottest chili.; one drop is plenty as these bitters probably tip the scale at around 250,000 Scoville units). So to say this drink has a slight kick is an understatement, however it still works. Not overly spicy but well balanced. The rim is coated in Japanese chili flakes. The very inventive cocktail was created by a chef who knows what’s up not only in the kitchen but behind the bar.


The Bellows delivers a drinking experience that is hard to find in North County. As a matter of fact, impossible to find in North County. Drinks done well, that’s it. It’s just a matter of time until word gets out that these guys are doing what the others are doing Downtown, in North Park and in the Gaslamp but better. Nothing is pre-made. No cocktails on tap. Everything’s made to order with passion, creativity and pride. You can taste it; no, seriously, you can ask for extra passion if you want, make it a double! To boot, these are some great guys. Go see em’! The Bellows is open Tuesdays through Sundays.