Danny Ronen, founder of beverage consulting company DC Spirits and partner in cocktail kit service Shaker and Spoon, mixes a cocktail at The Legionnaire Saloon in Oakland, Feb. 2, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Danny Ronen, founder of beverage consulting company DC Spirits and partner in cocktail kit service Shaker and Spoon, mixes a cocktail at The Legionnaire Saloon in Oakland, Feb. 2, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

‘You can’t be wrong about what you like’: This Bay Area consultant likes to shake things up  

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

When Danny Ronen was a kid, his parents occasionally would pull out a bottle of banana liqueur for guests at the end of a meal. That same bottle is probably still sitting in their house, he jokes.

Foreshadowing, it was not.

Ronen, 48, now educates people about wine and spirits as the founder of DC Spirits, a beverage consulting company originally established in the nation’s capital but now based in Oakland, where he lives. He’s a partner in Shaker & Spoon, a cocktail kit subscription service. And he’s run a holiday pop-up Dreidel Bar in San Francisco for the past six years with punny names such as “Would it Te-Kill-Ya to Call More Often?” and “I-Rish I Were a Richman.”

He fell in love with Northern California more than three decades ago when visiting Bay Area friends he met at Ojai’s Camp Ramah. He attended UC Berkeley and became best friends with the daughter of the wine and spirits editor at Bon Appétit magazine. They’d often visit her home in San Francisco.

The “whole garage was bottles. I had zero interest in alcohol then, but the more her dad talked to me about it, the more I found it interesting,” he said. “As an 18-year-old, I had no business tasting some of the stuff I was tasting.” These were top-end labels, not the typical beverages of college students.

His interest grew from there, first with wine and then with spirits.

Ronen adds three drops of chicken bone broth concentrate to his Jewish Penicillin cocktail. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Ronen adds three drops of chicken bone broth concentrate to his Jewish Penicillin cocktail. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

“I still wasn’t really a drinker,” he said. “How things were made was more what interested me. And then how to make people happy — that became my focus. When you are hosting people, it’s important to figure out what they like as opposed to what you like and forcing it on them.”

Ronen grew up speaking Hebrew at home in Placentia in Orange County, where he was “immersed in Jewish life,” he said. His Israeli father met his American mother in New York on a blind date.

Both sets of his grandparents fled Europe on the eve of the Holocaust, one from Germany and the other from Poland. One set sailed to America, and the other made it to British Mandate Palestine.

While Ronen was growing up near a large Vietnamese community, his family loved to go on outings to find the best Vietnamese food in the area. His interest in less mainstream fares and flavors may have started there. But also since childhood, he said, “I always liked to taste things. I loved creating weird flavors and making crazy sandwich concoctions.”

Ronen started DC Spirits in 2000 after realizing that average consumers were often mystified by the language on wine menus. His business now focuses mostly on consulting with restaurants and hotel chains, but always with educating consumers in mind.

The intent behind teaching people about wine and spirits was “not to dumb it down, not to bash people over the head with what’s right and wrong,” he said. “Taste is subjective. You can have bad taste, but you can’t be wrong about what you like.”

A Shaker and Spoon cocktail kit at The Legionnaire Saloon in Oakland, Feb. 2, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
A Shaker and Spoon cocktail kit at The Legionnaire Saloon in Oakland, Feb. 2, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Nine years ago, he was invited to become a partner with Shaker & Spoon, a Brooklyn-based cocktail kit subscription service that delivers nationwide and was founded by “two cocktail nerds.”

“We met very early on when they were still doing everything out of their apartment,” he said. “I knew this needed to be connected to a global community of bartenders and drink people.”

The company sends a $50-$59 box in the mail each month focused around one liquor. The box arrives full of syrups, bitters, shrubs and garnishes, plus three recipes. Each recipe makes four drinks. The subscriber buys the alcohol. The recipes come from mixologists known in the industry. Each box also comes with a recommended music playlist and plenty of information about that spirit. There are videos to assist with the more elaborate drinks. 

I brought a complimentary mezcal kit to a friend’s house recently, and the cocktails we made included ingredients like artichoke heart syrup, chocolate bitters and orange oil. The kit was a real conversation starter. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, one of Ronen’s favorite things happened: One person who said he didn’t like mezcal realized he liked it in one of the cocktails we made.

“We curate the box so each recipe will be very different from the other,” he said. “Whether this is the first time someone is making cocktails at home, or they’ve made drinks before, it’s going to be fun for them. It’s not dumbed down — but easy to execute.”

Ronen’s hope is that customers learn enough that they can walk into a bar “and the menu won’t look like hieroglyphics anymore,” he said. “They become more familiar with the different spirits. The growth of the company is great, but people coming to us to learn new things and discover that they never thought they liked this thing, that brings me the most glee.”


Jewish Penicillin

Drink

  • 2 oz. of 4 Copas Reposado Organic Tequila (kosher for Passover)
  • 1 oz. Shaker & Spoon ginger-turmeric syrup
  • ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice

Garnish

  • 2 sprays Shaker & Spoon Oaxacan Walk Mist
  • Expressed lemon peel
  • 3 drops chicken bone broth concentrate or Bitter Truth celery bitters

Add ice. Shake vigorously until very cold. Strain over fresh ice in an old-fashioned glass. Add garnish.


Small bites

Kristina Costa, the pastry chef of Loquat, a bakery in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood, was nominated this week for a James Beard Award as best pastry chef.

Costa, who has some Greek-Jewish heritage, came up at Tartine and is known for her babka and other desserts with Mediterranean and Jewish influences.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."