As the capital of Silicon Valley, and with a population that tops even San Francisco itself, San Jose is no stranger to cocktail ingenuity. The Iron Bartender competition has been introduced to show off the skills of local mixologist talent, proving that in and around the university towns of Palo Alto and Santa Clara, there’s something brewing besides braininess and beer. Check out some of the most creative cocktails in South Bay.

The Grill on the Alley
172 S. Market St.
San Jose, CA 95113
(408) 294-2244

Bar Manager David Sizemore has great credentials, as evidenced by his highly appropriate surname and as a Hennessy expert both in the straight up pour and in the art of mixing. His bar’s GrandMa Honey cocktail evokes pure genius in its makeup. It combines the richness of Grand Marnier with a great bourbon label, homemade honey syrup and fresh lime juice, all topped with a sprig of fresh mint.

Sizemore’s staff has created a popular cocktail for which the jury is still out on a name, so just ask for the special vodka grapefruit. The unnamed concoction begins with muddled fresh basil, then Belvedere vodka and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. Add handmade simple syrup and St. Germain elderflower liqueur, crafted from flowers picked in the Alps. Let visions of Julie Andrews dance through your head while being served in plush New York steakhouse-style surroundings at the Fairmont Hotel. And, by all means, do inform management if you’ve come up with a name for this one.

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Fahrenheit Ultra Lounge & Restaurant
99 E. San Fernando St.
San Jose, CA 95113
(408) 998-9998

Manager Troy Hutchens explains that master mixologists at Fahrenheit have created some high-demand cocktails that have patrons returning with special requests. Hutchens says that the blend of fresh ingredients in some cocktails tastes so special, “that you’re going to remember that drink.” Three of the most creative cocktails are inspired by far-flung destinations: a modern Asian-fusion Honolulu, the white-fenced grassy fields of equestrian Kentucky and the melancholy haunts of 19th century Paris.

Fahreheit’s signature drink is a fun Lychee Martini from Honolulu, inspired by soft breezes and sunny Pacific islands. A special blend of the juices from other fresh tropical fruits is combined with Parrot Bay Rum, served in a martini glass and garnished with a curled slice of sweet, translucent lychee fruit.

Ginger Julep is a twist on the old Kentucky Derby classic. Begin with fresh muddled mint and then add two ounces of Woodford Reserve Bourbon and three ounces of chilled ginger beer poured over crushed ice. It’s ginger beer that creates the chemistry. It is simple, southern style and a sure bet at $10.

When feeling flush, fabled and French, go for the bar’s most expensive cocktail, a Branded Sazerac crafted with absinthe, priced at $14. Famous absinthe drinkers include a tortured Vincent Van Gogh, the quotable Oscar Wilde, authors Charles Baudelaire and Guy de Maupassant of mid-19th century Paris. The cocktail uses Angostura orange bitters, absinthe, Templeton Rye and burnt orange.

San Jose’s Iron Bartender competition, conceived, judged and staged at Fahrenheit, has seen four bartenders come up with very different drinks using the same alcohol base. According to Hutchens, some are rather dumbfounded by the challenge while others have the experience to competently create recipe magic on the spot. One of the South Bay’s stars is Lee Johnson, a master mixologist based at Fahrenheit on Thursdays and Saturdays and at Mountain Charley’s Saloon, upstairs at 15 North Santa Cruz Avenue in Los Gatos, on Friday nights.

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Laurie JM Farr is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. A transplanted New Yorker, she has traveled throughout the world as the Big Apple’s official tourism representative. She served as organizer for three Royal Visits to America. As an international relocation consultant, Laurie assisted more than 400 families with overseas moves and is a proud mother of two, thoroughly bi-cultural children. Her work can be found on