Wine profile: Spirits – both the drinks and spectral – abound at The Milias Restaurant
Gilroy restaurant boasts one of the area’s largest bourbon collections
Published in the January 6 – 19, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Lauren Newcomb
The Milias Restaurant has been a fixture in downtown Gilroy since it opened its doors in 1922. Since then, its collection of spirits has grown both in size and nuance. The Milias now boasts one of the largest and most eclectic bourbon collections in the South Bay, with more than 600 different varieties. Of these, the most unique are three bottles of Pappy Van Winkle, aged 12, 15, and 20 years. “We get what’s impossible to get,” co-owner Adam Sanchez said, “and our customers appreciate that.”
Bourbons are not the only spirits served at The Milias. The bar contains 30 different vodkas, 18 gins, and 10 scotches, among others. The most popular drink is the Manhattan, followed closely by their signature 6th Street Margarita. The restaurant and bar also acquired Orphan Barrel, which Sanchez describes as irreplaceable once they are gone. Orphan Barrel spirits are blends of rare and long-forgotten barrels discovered in old warehouses, distilleries and other such places. Because of this, Orphan Barrel cannot be replicated.
When asked about the ghostly spirits that are said by some to haunt the old hotel, restaurant and bar, Sanchez replied with a mischievous smile, “The drink ones or the dead ones? We’ve got plenty of both.” It’s true — The Milias shares a long history with its spirits, both the alcoholic and the spectral. The spirit of an old bartender named Gaspar is said to haunt the very bar he used to tend. He makes his presence known in various ways, such as rearranging the glasses on the shelves, tipping over empty glasses and randomly moving chairs. According to Sanchez, Gaspar’s most eerie manifestation is when he taps them on the back, like a bartender letting the other bartenders know he is behind them.
As fascinating as these stories of the paranormal are, co-owner Ann Zyburra is quick to return to The Milias’s true claim-to-fame — its collection of spirits (the drink ones, not the ghostly ones). With an intense look on her face, she explains that not only does such a collection require hard work to accumulate, but it also requires great care and passion.
“Spirits are not just some liquid you pour into a glass,” she says, “They’re so much more than that.”
The passion these two harbor for spirits is not confined solely to their horseshoe-shaped bar, but bleeds into other areas of their lives as well. Sanchez and Zyburra share a rueful smile as they recall various wine tastings and other such events concerning spirits that they have attended with their spouses, only to have to work. “We know what we like,” Zyburra asserts, “But it’s not just about us. We have to taste for our customers, too.” Both have taken great pains to listen to their customers so they may take their opinions into account when altering the menu.
These events help Sanchez and Zyburra create The Milias’s extensive and eclectic wine list and drinks menu, as well as maintaining their rotation of local wines on the menu. Although they consulted a master sommelier to ensure the quality of their wine list, they also make sure to include a good number of local wines such that no one is intimidated by a long list of unpronounceable French wines and feels, as they call it, “wine-shamed.”
Currently, the owners of The Milias are working on developing a bourbon flight as well as a gin flight, much like a wine flight. They understand that spirits can get expensive, and these flights will help customers figure out what they like. Sanchez and Zyburra hope that their customers will come to appreciate spirits as they do by tasting them in this fashion.
In line with their devotion to an elaborate collection of spirits and wines, Sanchez and Zyburra continually strive to expand their repertoires through experimentation. The inspiration for one of Zyburra’s recent creations came while in the garden upon spotting a redwood tree. Aptly described as “Christmas in a glass,” the drink incorporates the oils released from bruised redwood needles into a mixture of grapefruit juice and gin and tonic.
Sanchez and Zyburra take great pleasure in adding to their collection and to their menu, either through the acquisition of spirits that no one else can seem to get, or through the creation of new drinks. “It’s a tough job,” Zyburra says with a grin, “But someone’s got to do it.”