It’s the end of the year, and that means lists. I love reading lists, but I love making them even more: they are both easy and self-indulgent. This cocktail list started when I read Derek Brown’s Top 5 Cocktail Experiences of 2010, in which he lists the most rewarding and satisfying drinks he had over the year. I liked his list (a sazerac by Paul Gustins in New Orleans, a zombie at Painkiller in New York, etc.), and it inspired me to create some myself. This first one will be my favorite cocktails of the year, in no particular order.
1. Pina Colada at Painkiller. I’m not sure exactly how they choose to make this frozen tiki classic, but they do it at such a high level that I am in awe. I thought I hated frozen drinks (okay, I still avoid them 99 percent of the time) but this one was delicious. It comes in a frozen, hollowed-out pineapple and tastes like it’s made with real, unprocessed, unpreserved fruit. It probably is.
2. Smoked Maple Collins by Justin Briggs at Applewood. Whiskey, smoked maple syrup, lemon juice, and soda.. As I wrote in late November, this brunch drink at the under-appreciated bar in Park Slope’s Applewood restaurant inspired me to buy a stovetop smoker to try to replicate the smoked maple syrup. This drink balances sweet and smoky so effortlessly.
3. Eleventh Hour at Clover Club. Reposado tequila, mezcal, aquavit, yellow Chartreuse, lime juice, and cane syrup. Ever since I tried this smoky masterpiece of aquavit and mezcal at Julie Reiner’s Brooklyn cocktail temple, I’ve craved smoky flavors. It’s a complicated mixture of flavors, dominated by smoke (mezcal) and sour (lime).
4. Crystal Skull at Lani Kai. Jalapeno-infused tequila, mezcal, dry vermouth, arrack, maraschino, absinthe, orange bitters. I didn’t intend to include two Julie Reiner bars on my ‘best of the year’ list, but this drink and this bar are excellent. Drinks like this show off the flavor of jalapeno peppers as well as the heat. I liked the hint of smoke, too. Another complicated set of flavors from another meticulously made cocktail.
5. Billionaire Cocktail at Employees Only. Baker’s Bourbon, lemon juice, grenadine, and absinthe bitters. A nice boozy mix of bourbon with strong flavors of both anise and pomegranate (the Employees Only-made grenadine). This is a strong and simple drink with strong flavors, undiluted with too many mixers or juices. I crave drinks like this all the more when I see too many fruity menus out there.
Next list: 5 favorite home cocktails.