Once again, 7x7.com has asked me to put together The Big Drink: 50 Cocktails to Try in San Francisco Before You Die, except this year we're more accurately calling it 50 Most Iconic Cocktails in San Francisco. Much better.
I've done this list for several years now - it was a spinoff of their popular Big Eat list from way back.
Looking back over Alcademics history, it appears I first put together the list in 2012, and boy were times different then. Not so much in the quality of cocktails, but in the quantity of quality bars.
As the years progressed doing this list, I increasingly struggled to try to meet three demands: to have all the great modern bars in town on the list as well as many of the great classics (Buena Vista, Tommy's, Zam Zam, etc.); to have bars in most every major SF neighborhood (always a struggle out in the Avenues); and to have really notable/well-known drinks at each spot.
By the time we'd reached 2016 (the last time I did the list), I was struggling to include all the great modern cocktail bars while also covering all the neighborhoods, and it didn't feel right to have a mediocre drink on the list because the bar was in a needed region while leaving off excellent bars/drinks in popular areas like the Mission or Downtown. So in 2016 we expanded the list to 75 bars and drinks.
This year, we didn't want to do that - not only are there too many quality cocktail bars to include overall, but to keep expanding the list didn't feel right because we're trying to talk about the most iconic drinks rather than be all-inclusive. So after discussion with my editor we decided the approach: focus on the drinks first, neighborhood coverage next, great bars third.
I no longer tried to get every modern great cocktail bar on the list if those bars don't have an iconic drink. This meant that some good bars came off the list including Trick Dog (where the menu changes every six months so people trying to follow the list a year from now wouldn't be able to find the drink) and Benjamin Cooper (where it's mostly a dealer's choice situation; impermanence and customization is what the program is about). Some bars like The Tipsy Pig went onto the list because of they sell like a jillion Strawberry Fields a week.
It's fun that we can also track the change in popular flavors- even though mezcal has been trending for what feels like forever, there seem to be more mezcal drinks that have finally reached the 'iconic' status than in previous years. Also, there are a lot more rum drinks and those with passion fruit I was considering for the list; a couple of them made it.
Anyway, I hope you'll take a look at the list and take a spin around San Francisco to try about 49 of these drinks. Because, you know, if you try all 50 of them you'll have to die.
Get the list of the 50 most iconic drinks in San Francisco here.