Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with bars and restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations.
"We've been bunkering whiskey for the last ten years," says bar manager Erik Adkins of the Slanted Door group's latest project, a whiskey bar at Pier 3 on the Embarcadero. Before you even get to cocktails, Hard Water's whiskey menu is two pages long, including 1- and 2-ounce tastes of rare allocated and out-of-production bourbons and ryes (there's a vertical of Old Forester Birthday edition going back to 2002, for example, and a flight of Pappy Van Winkle aged 12 to 23 years.) The team went down to Kentucky recently to taste and purchase a few individual barrels from Willett and Buffalo Trace, as well as a non-chill filtered barrel of 12-year Elijah Craig.
There's a menu section dedicated to small-production craft whiskeys, as well, including whiskeys from Clear Creek, House Spirits, and Big Bottom in Oregon, Dancing Pines and Leopold in Colorado, and others from New York and West Virginia. "We want the list to drive a conversation about American whiskey," says Adkins. "These craft distilleries are the future of American whiskey."
Adkins says the bar is really a personal project for Slanted Door partners Charles Phan and designer Olle Lundberg. "Charles always wanted to do Southern food, New Orleans-influenced food," notes Adkins, "and the two of them pretty much only drink whiskey." Bar snacks include boiled peanuts and cornmeal crusted alligator. There's a raw bar and an assortment of baked oyster preparations, as well as heftier dishes including fried chicken, okra etouffee, and seafood gumbo, plus banana-butterscotch fried pies for dessert.
The whiskey-driven cocktail menu is concise, with just five drinks, but Adkins encourages starting with an unlisted Old Fashioned. "We can make that with anything we have," he says, recommending the bonded whiskeys as a starting point. "This is the 1806 definition of an Old Fashioned. No muddled fruit, no soda. We also make a great Sazerac."
Adkins sees focusing on—and improving upon—classic cocktails as something akin to the Slow Food movement: "You're talking about regionality, about the way things used to be done; that has heart and soul to it. It's the same idea with making traditional drinks," as opposed to coming up with cocktails from scratch.
Not every drink will be familiar, though: the menu features lesser-known concoctions like the Dixie Cocktail, circa 1917, and the Roffignac Cocktail, which was popular in the New Orleans in the 1890s.