Obscure classics, new innovations (and a bacon-infused old fashioned) make the case for drinking here at home in the 6–5–0

Old school: The Brooklyn Cocktail at Original Joe’s of Westlake in Daly City. (Photo by Charles Russo)

Well, it’s whiskey season here on the Peninsula, that wonderful eleven-and-a-half-month window perfectly made for consuming myriad brown elixirs from Kentucky, Scotland and beyond.

On our wavelength….the chalk board at Timber & Salt. (Photo by Charles Russo)

And if our functioning alcoholism has taught us anything, it’s that the Peninsula’s cocktail culture (much like our breweries) has evolved by leaps and bounds in the past few years, to the point that our local libation-makers are creating some exquisite concoctions on par with what’s happening amid the Bay’s better known bar scenes (looking at you, Avocado Toast…er…SF).

So we gladly let our livers take one (well….quite a few actually) for the team in order to provide this handy list of a half-dozen locally-made whiskey cocktails that showcase all that is right with imbibing in the 6–5–0.

You’ll notice that we tend to err on the boozy side (or, spirit-forward, in industry speak) with our selections. But hey, surreal times warrant strong drinks. So pull up a bar stool and tell ’em your good friends at The Six Fifty sent you…..

….served since the 1840s…The Sazerac! (Photo by Charles Russo)

Barrel-aged Sazerac — NOLA

It’s only appropriate to start our list with a Sazerac, which is often believed to be the very first American-made cocktail; a sort of dawn-of-drinking-culture mainstay born of New Orleans booze halls by way of a French apothecary (who invented the key ingredient of Peychaud bitters).

So it’s with little surprise that NOLA in downtown Palo Alto has a Sazerac high up on their extensive menu and sticks to a traditional recipe made of high-end ingredients: Redemption rye whiskey, St. George absinthe (yeah, Alameda!) and a mix of the two classic bitters of the cocktail world—Peychaud and Angostura. As a bonus, NOLA batches and then barrel-ages the recipe to let the flavors soften and mature.

A solid take on a stiff cocktail, and one that has served as our after-work aperitif for ages now.

Nola // 535 Ramona St., Palo Alto; 650.328.2722

East coast character, west coast setting: The Brooklyn at Original Joe’s of Westlake. (Photo by Charles Russo)

The Brooklyn—Original Joe’s of Westlake

Heading up to the northernmost reaches of the 6–5–0 area code, let us introduce you to an obscure classic at a Bay Area institution—a Brooklyn cocktail at Original Joe’s of Westlake in Daly City.

A widely forgotten cousin of the cocktail world attention hog known as the Manhattan, the Brooklyn—with its rich flavor from Luxardo liqueur, orange-tinged amaro and dry vermouth—is every bit as worthy of your order. Better still, the old school East Coast atmosphere of Original Joe’s is really the place to have one.

And here’s the thing, if you ever want to gauge the aptitude of your bartender, see what kind of response you get for ordering a Brooklyn. Not only is the cocktail an often-forgotten obscurity, but the drink itself is a bit of a trick question, in that the key ingredient of Amar Picon (a French bitter orange aperitif) is no longer available in the United States. So your bartender must not only know the drink itself, but also how to find a suitable ingredient substitute within their inventory.

Thankfully, Original Joe’s has their Brooklyn dialed-in and featured as a regular (and very popular) fixture of their cocktail list.

Original Joe’s of Westlake // 11 Glenwood Ave, Daly City; 650.755.7400

Bacon…..meet bourbon. (Photo by Charles Russo)

Bacon-Infused ‘Hawg’ Old Fashioned—Waterdog Tavern

Readers of this list are likely well-acquainted with a whiskey old fashioned, the perennial gateway drink into the wide world of brown liquor. So we’re gonna steer you outside-the-box towards a variation that has recently commanded our attention—the Hawg Old Fashioned at Waterdog Tavern in Belmont.

The Hawg is concocted with Waterdog’s house-made smoked bacon-infused bourbon (yes, you read that correctly), maple syrup, orange peel and BBQ bitters. It is the sort of cocktail recipe that can go very, very wrong for amateur bartenders more attuned to concept than execution. Luckily, Waterdog is alert to the nuance of what they’re doing and their Hawg Old Fashioned is a destination cocktail worth seeking out: earthy, smokey and boozy, it boasts a flavor akin to when your waffles’ maple syrup collides with the nearby thick cut bacon. Factor in a hair-of-the-dog dose of bourbon, and it all adds up to a decadent kind of cocktail world heaven.

Waterdog Tavern // 1015 Alameda de las Pulgas, Belmont; 650.622.4642

Not exactly your grandma’s chamomile tea…(Image via Yelp)

Chamomile Sour—Barrelhouse

For a cocktail that is often written off within the bar world as sorely pedestrian, the whiskey sour actually has a ton of creative potential (especially when made with fresh sour mix rather than that toxic goop in a bottle). At Barrelhouse in Burlingame, their Chamomile Sour not only proves this point, but also quickly conveys the merits of their extensive cocktail program.

Composed of a homemade chamomile-infused scotch (yes, scotch is whiskey) egg white (give it a shot) and fresh sour mix (woo-hoo!), this cocktail is a frothy case study in how the 6–5–0 can compete with the best of them.

Barrelhouse // 305 California Drive, Burlingame; 650.340.8642

Miyagi aesthetic, LaRusso strength: The Wax On Wax Off at Martins West Gastropub. (Photo by Charles Russo)

Wax On Wax Off—Martins West Gastropub

Just thinking about the whiskey selection at Martins West makes our livers hurt. Showcasing a uniquely diverse and highly curated list of offerings, their menu is a Willy Wonka-like wonderland for whiskey drinkers.

And while there is no shortage of their whiskey cocktails worth featuring here, we’ve lately been enamored by the Mr. Miyagi-inspired nuance of Wax On Wax Off—a stirred masterpiece of blended Japanese whiskey, honey, Strega (sorry, Diddy, it is a digestif) and Cocchi Rosa (a fortified wine similar to Lillet).

It’s sublime stuff, which also proves that Martin’s has a lot more refined cocktail world know-how than merely stocking their shelves with high-end spirits….up and down….side to side.

Martin’s West Gastropub // 831 Main St, Redwood City; 650.366.4366

Nameless but notable: Timber & Salt’s To Remain Nameless. (Photo by Charles Russo)

To Remain Nameless—Timber & Salt

We’ve saved them for last, but Timber & Salt in Redwood City might very well be Exhibit A of why you don’t need to travel off the Peninsula for quality cocktails and serious bar world skills.

While their current (and — incidentally— Indiana Jones-themed) seasonal cocktail menu has its share of whiskey-based wonders (hey there, Marion Ravenwood), we thought we’d clue you in to their perennially popular off-menu and kinda untitled offering known as To Remain Nameless. It’s a spirit forward blend of bonded (potent and aged) bourbon, cherry herring (read as: brandied-cherry liqueur) and Amar Nonino (a very floral, far less-obnoxious cousin of Fernet), all adding up to a lush intersection of whiskey and autumn flavors which are….well, literally….intoxicating.

So don’t be afraid to keep your selections off the beaten path at T&S. As their nods to Dr. Jones imply—these folks are both knowledgeable AND adventurous in what they do. (Cue …Lost Ark theme music.)

Timber & Salt // 881 Middlefield Road, Redwood City. 650.362.3777

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More local eats from The Six Fifty:

The chef’s bucket list: 47 Peninsula dishes to eat before you die

Fruit Loop donuts and Double Doubles: Our gluttonous guide to late-night eats on the Peninsula

The 650’s 3-minute guide to the Peninsula’s best ramen

Plant-based Peninsula: the Six Fifty’s guide to vegan & vegetarian eats around Silicon Valley

Cure your hangover and crush your hunger with our 15 favorite brunches on the Peninsula — 2018

Charles Russo

Award-winning writer and photographer with extensive experience across mediums, including videography, investigative reporting, editing, advanced research, and a wide range of photography.

Author of Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America; represented by Levine Greenberg Rostan Agency.

Freelance clients include Google, VICE and Stanford University.

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