Meet San Francisco's "Ginnoisseur" and her Epic Gin Collection

When she's not mixing drinks at SF bar Whitechapel, Keli Rivers is busy collecting all kinds of gin in her home.
Keli Rivers' gin collection is so massive, it takes three photos to showcase it.
Keli Rivers' gin collection is so massive, it takes three photos to showcase it.

There's hobbies, and then there's passions. There's part-time collecting, and then there's museum-quality curating. Keli Rivers falls into the latter. Rivers is the Gin Sommelier at SF's Whitechapel, which is akin to being a Da Vinci devotee working at the Louvre. Located in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood, Whitechapel is a London tube stop-meets Steampunk Oasis bar and restaurant celebrating all things gin. The elaborately themed bar currently has the largest collection of gin in North America, with more than 400 varieties. But Rivers might have more.

How did you first get into gin and gin collecting?

My grandparents are Southern, and during the day you drank gin and at night you drank whiskey! I started collecting gin about 15+ years ago when I started collecting cookbooks from the 50's and 60's. I decided I wanted to be a proper hostess and wanted my guests to want for nothing. It started with odd liquor, vermouths, and crazy defunct ingredients, and then moved to a "What's This?" phase. When I moved out of my SF apartment three years ago, I moved 120+ cases of just non-gin into my storage unit. I currently own over 700 labels of gin — not including multiple bottles of one brand and the eight cases of Tanqueray Old Tom under my bed.

Keli Rivers is the ultimate "ginnoisseur"

How many bottles would you estimate you have...and how and where do you store them?

A few over 700 bottles of gin that pretty much take over every counter and floor space of my one-bedroom Oakland apartment.

Do you have to worry about any of them going bad?

Luckily gin doesn't go bad. It will oxidize once open — not like a wine or vermouth, but more with the softening of botanicals. I have a few vintage (30+ year) bottles that have lost almost all citrus notes, which is fun to try. I keep the bottles out of direct sun and away from heat sources like the stove.

Where do you shop for gin?

Everywhere! When I travel I always look for a curated spirits store — this happens so often my Yelp app suggests them right off the bat! I always find that asking a local bartender where they shop is a good place to start. In SF, I'm a huge fan of Cask and Bitters & Bottles. For gin not available in California, I go to DrinkUpNY, Astor Place, or have been known to spend my entire paycheck at Master of Malt for those European gins that we just don't get.

Rivers' spirit collection includes more than 700 different labels of gin.

What's on your gin wish list?

I want ALL the gin! There are so many gins I get super excited about and just want to put them all in my mouth. It would be a very long list. But off the top of my head...any of the Monkey 47 Distiller's Cut, Audemus Dive Bar Gin, Hendrick's Orbium, Lockhouse Sakura, defunct Port of Barcelona, Tarquin's Seadog, etc. etc. etc.

What's your favorite gin cocktail to make at home / order out?

I do love sipping on gin neat! But a well-made 50/50 Martini is amazing or a citrusy Cloister Cocktail with a floral gin like Monkey 47 or Martin Miller is my jam! A French 75 with Jensen Old Tom gin on crushed ice with a horseneck of grapefruit can win any gin naysayer over.

Will there ever come a day when you'll stop buying gin?

Such a loaded question! I don't foresee any time in the future where I won't want to drink all the gin. I tell my parents that some of the rare and no-longer-made gins (like first release of Tanqueray Malacca or late 1800 Genever) are my 401(K) plan!

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