building on edge of cliff over water
Photo by Kodiak Greenwood, courtesy of Post Ranch Inn
Photo by Kodiak Greenwood, courtesy of Post Ranch Inn

Drink on Top of the Clouds at This California Bar Worth Traveling For

It’s like Big Sur pine, fog, and sunset in a glass.

A thousand feet above the Pacific, a series of tranquil villas—nestled between redwood groves—dangles atop the clouds. Widely regarded as one of the country’s premiere luxury lodges, there’s no denying the Post Ranch Inn exists on an entirely different level. As majestic as it is secluded, it’s no wonder this hidden gem of Big Sur beckons to both Hollywood A-listers from down south and tech titans of the north for the views—and for the cocktails.

Regardless of your personal net worth, a night here is bound to make you feel like a million bucks. In fact, it’ll probably be an experience you’ll never forget. But for Reylon Agustin, it’s just another day at the office. As the Post Ranch Inn culinary director, he oversees food and drink operations at the property’s sole restaurant and bar, Sierra Mar. The space makes the most of its heavenly setting with floor-to-ceiling windows and an ample outdoor patio. Backdropping the bar at sunset, billowing masses of moisture roll in from the edge of the earth as the sky skews towards supernatural pinkish-purple.

hotel interior looking out at water
Photo by Kodiak Greenwood, courtesy of Post Ranch Inn

With Agustin positioned behind the stick, you might find yourself wondering if he’s running a beverage program or piloting a spaceship. The backbar, for its part, is aimed towards the stratosphere, with bottles of whiskey soaring above $300 a pour—such as the WhistlePig Boss Hog VIII: Lapalapu’s Pacific. “Personally I prefer ryes,” explains Agustin, whose careful curation of spirits leans heavily towards the spicy-grained category of American whiskey. “Also, there tends to be too many cocktails—particularly in the summer—that are a little more on the sweeter side. Rye evens the playing field.”

His predilection is evidenced along a glass shelf that allocates nearly half its available real estate to distinguished examples of rye. Included are labels from Kentucky Owl, High West, Buffalo Trace, and the rarest releases from the aforementioned WhistlePig distillery out of rural Vermont. All of it is particularly well suited to an evening sipping experience atop the terrace. Hold a tumbler-full of the tipple to your nose here and it’s hard to tell where the earthiness from the glass ends and the ambient air—replete with pine needles and redwood bark—begins.

man in chef outfit
Photo courtesy of Post Ranch Inn

And yet when it comes time for cocktails and Agustin’s signature preparation, the bar man reaches for that other style of American whiskey. He builds the Sierra Mar Smoked Old Fashioned using bourbon. Not just any bourbon, mind you, but a friendly serving of Kentucky Owl Confiscated, a sturdy small batch offering that typically retails for around $125 a bottle. So before any modifiers are introduced, you know you’re beginning with a top-tier foundation.

“This is our interpretation of an American classic,” he openly admits. “But here it’s intended to help our guests settle into the ‘Big Sur Way’—and for that we need a little fog, of course.”

smokey cocktail
Photo courtesy of Post Ranch Inn

Naturally. And how does one furnish fog tableside? We’re glad you asked. At Sierra Mar, it requires a purpose-built device that pipes out the smoldering essence of whatever organic matter is inserted into its business end. This includes natively sourced wood chips and perhaps even the occasional splintered pine cone or two. The drink arrives before the guest in a rocks glass, obscured by clouds, beneath a massive bell jar trapping it all in place.

“The smoke is fed directly into that jar,” adds Agustin. “So there’s still a lot of movement in the glass. It immediately evokes the fog crawling up the coastline during golden hour.”

steaming sauna on hillside
Photo by Kodiak Greenwood, courtesy of Post Ranch Inn

But it doesn’t just look like the surroundings; the drink echoes the calming aromas of the cliffside as well. The jar is removed and it’s an almost therapeutic release. In any other setting, you might even be tempted to label it as transformative. Here it’s actually re-affirmative, confirming your underlying suspicions that this setting might indeed by some dreamlike trance.

It’s okay. Take a deep breath, followed by a steady swig from the glass. What you’ll taste is a seamless fusion between smoky, sweet, and spirit. Then there’s a slight unctuousness in the finish, kicked up by the addition of black walnut bitters. Perhaps it’s only the jaw-dropping sunset speaking, but this might just be the most satisfying Old Fashioned you ever sip.

hillside terraced garden
Photo by Kodiak Greenwood, courtesy of Post Ranch Inn

“We just try to use ingredients that are local to Big Sur—specifically from our garden,” Agustin offers modestly. “That combined with high quality spirits is what gives us an edge.” Though it’s easy to go over it here. The Sierra Mar Smoked Old Fashioned itself clocks in at $50 per sizzle. Which isn’t exactly out of proportion on a property where suites start at $1,350 per night—in the off-season. Cocktail enthusiasts might even prefer the quieter months here, anyway. Agustin’s selections rotate with the weather, and his egg-white sour spiked with pecan orgeat and amaro is a perennial crowd pleaser over the winter holidays.

While you don’t have to be a hotel guest to experience Sierra Mar, you will need a reservation to walk through the door. Arrive in time to enjoy their Old Fashioned at sunset, and there’s a good chance you’ll be floating back out on a cloud.

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Brad Japhe is a freelance journalist with a wicked case of the get-up-and-gos. He’s usually found at the junction of food, booze, and travel. Follow him on Instagram.