Old Fashioneds are a tried and true cocktail that have stood the test of time, relying on the simple ingredients of sugar, water, bitters and, of course, spirits. That centuries-old instruction manual leaves loads of room for interpretation, and SF mixologists aren't afraid to veer off the beaten path (think cola syrup, chamomile, bacon or rum) while others opt to master the original. Side note: For November's Give Back the Bird program, Trick Dog, 1760, Smokestack, Elixir (pictured above), and Rye are whipping up their own Old Fashioneds to raise funds for the SF-Marin Food Bank. As always, feel free to add your favorites that may be missing in the comment section below.Read More
Taste These Old Fashioneds In S.F. Now
A solid sampling of some of the best--and most unique--Old Fashioneds in town.
Two Sisters Bar & Books
This tiny Hayes Valley haven brings a feminine touch to the classic via its worshipped Chamomile Old Fashioned, where dry chamomile flowers are infused in Old Forester 86 Bourbon. The chamomile's meant to take the abrasive edge off of the bourbon. The result? An approachable, aromatic interpretation that's been famous now for years.
Burritt Room + Tavern
Tucked into the Mystic Hotel, this Union Square lounge is a welcome respite from the chaos outside--as is its Old Fashioned. One barkeep tells us it's a destination drink that Burritt prides itself on. It's also somewhat of a secret; you won't find it on the cocktail menu. The standard order includes bourbon, Angostura bitters, a dash of simple syrup, orange and lemon peel, with Turbinado sugar sprinkled on top.
Many flock to this Duboce Triangle refuge for the Elote Old Fashioned, which will stay on the menu through December. It's been their second most popular cocktail, based on sales, says bartender Matt Grippo. The drink comes with roasted corn infused whiskey, chile de arbol and black strap bitters. The only negative feedback he's gotten is from those who think it's too spicy, thanks the integration of potent Mexican chili pepper. It does have a bit of a kick, he admits.
Hops & Hominy
Now over two years old, this Southern hot spot wedged in the Financial District has earned its chops. It's made a few tweaks since opening, like deleting the sprig of bacon once sticking out of its smoked-bacon Old Fashioned drink special. What's still the same is the bacon-infused bourbon you can get inside.
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Elixir proprietor H. Joseph Ehrmann added the Old Fashioned Pilgrim to the menu this week to create buzz for November's Give Back the Bird charity program, a partnership with Wild Turkey to raise funds for the SF-Marin Food Bank. Ingredients include 2 oz of Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Pilgrim Infusion; .5oz Clover Honey Syrup; two dashes of orange bitters; orange zest and cocktail cranberry garnish.
Bar Manager Christopher Longoria, also participating in the Give Back the Bird program, says his Old Fashioned 17 pops with color and gets an added dose of swagger from the Jelenik Fernet. Its marriage with Campari gives the cocktail "more viscosity that the classic recipe, and adds a fun modern twist," Longoria says. The Wild Turkey Rye's lighter body adds to the overall balance, rounded out with orange bitters.
Alembic may be undergoing a big makeover, but what's stayed consistently popular is its two types of Old Fashioneds. The Sazerac is an ode to the Big Easy, with rye whiskey, peychaud’s bitters from New Orleans, a bit of sugar and a glass "rinsed with a green bitter liquid that shall remain nameless," states the menu. The Bourbon Old Fashioned is nothing more than a slug of bourbon on the rocks with a couple dashes of bitters, a little sugar and lemon peel to take the edge off. On a weekday night by 7pm, bartender Mike Fleury says he had already whipped up a few of each.
Living up to its 2014 James Beard nomination for outstanding bar program, Bar Agricole invests the time--and money--to create outstanding Old Fashioneds. That means making their own bitters (you won't find any artificial flavors or colors in sight). The team also incorporates cognac--the original spirit of cognac in the Old Fashioned--which entails making trips every few years to handpick a new cask from France, mixologist Craig Lane says. The "California" version of Holland gin comes from St. George Spirits and stars in its Rye Gin Old Fashioned. For the cherry effect, Lane swears by the Leopold Bros. Maraschino from Colorado. Another detail sometimes overlooked: ice. When sister Trou Normand opened this year, the team splurged on a Clinebell machine. The Ferrari of ice making rewards drinkers with a new flavor profile as the single square-shaped piece melts.
Since Palomar transformed the Fifth Floor into a sexy oasis this summer, the Old Fashioned has been the only cocktail that's stayed on the menu this long. The hit relies on a nontraditional Old Fashioned spirit (Banks 5 Island Rum), swirled with velvet Falernum, allspice dram and angostura bitters. Get it while it lasts; the bartender says the Caribbean-inspired cocktail could be about a month away from floating off the menu.
This funky Asian eatery gets whimsical with its Old Fashioned, throwing in a house made cola syrup that pairs well with its play mates (bitters and James E. Pepper rye). Bar manager Danny Louie, who used to sling drinks at Alembic, let Eater try a separate taste of the sinfully sweet syrup. He just won't tell us what's in it.
Keeping in line with its name, this longtime legend in North Beach sticks to the original roots of the Old Fashioned. Once muddled sugar, cherry, orange, Angostura bitters and soda water meet with Woodford bourbon, let chemistry do its job and refrain from stirring, instructs the bartender; the bubbles are meant to rise by themselves to mix flavors together.
This 16-year-old handcrafted cocktail pioneer hidden off of Broadway caters to an old-timey crowd (no TVs here), so it's no surprise their Old Fashioned stays close to the first recorded recipe. (The first cocktail ever defined on paper had sugar, spirits, bitters, and water, notes the bartender, pointing to their own paper menu.) Its younger sibling Rye is more of a modern-day risk taker, offering gin and rum-based versions.
Waterbar's Bobby Boucher (Buffalo Trace bourbon, Heering cherry liqueur, benedictine, orange zest) is named after Adam Sandler’s character in the movie Waterboy. Beverage director Steve Izzo uses the Heering cherry liqueur instead of the standard Maraschino cherries and club soda as a throwback. Heering cherry liqueur--once super popular in the 80s and 90s--has since made a comeback (we can't say the same about Sandler). The benedictine is there to add a bit of an herbal aromatic, he adds.
The $20 Old Fashioned Flight at this upscale Mission eatery is an aggressive option for the indecisive or noncommittal. One flight will get you three small glasses of a wide variety: rye and demerara; bourbon and maple; and scotch and honey. Considering each is a one-ounce pour, $6.67 per taste is a deal, says bartender Daniel Bishop. On a busy weekend night, he says some 20 orders roll in (that's a quick 60 glasses and $400, in case you're counting). FYI: They do Negroni flights too.