Sunday, January 1, 2017

:: fred's picks for the top cocktails of 2016 (out) ::

At the end of 2010, someone challenged me as to what my favorite drink of the year, and I was flummoxed for there were so many good options to chose from. As I sat down to compose my thoughts, I divided my list by whether I had them out at a bar or in at home, and I subdivided each of those by month. My choices were influenced by two factors -- tastiness and uniqueness; it had to be both memorable and worth repeating. Each month was selected for when the drink post appeared and not when they were had. Without further ado, here is the seventh annual installment for drinks I had out on the town for 2016 with a runner up or two listed.

January: For best drink out, I opted for Luc Thier's Ferrari Colada for merging the Fernet-Campari hybrid with the classic Piña Colada at Backbar. Runners up were the amaro-Tiki riff on the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club at Sarma called the Adriatic Yacht Club and the Manhattanesque 4 Devils at A Wink & A Nod.

February: With the help of David Wondrich, Yvonne's finally solved how to make the Ward Eight not a horrible drink due to the whiskey-orange juice combination (they added sherry!), so for that, I give February's top honor. For runners up, I rather enjoyed the tropical wonders of the Estragon's cachaça Chachalaca and No. 9 Park's agricole spice riff on the Royal Bermuda Yacht club called the Vielle Daquiri.
March: One part flavor profile and one part garnish theatrics garnered Sichuan Garden II's Baldwin Bars the month's pick with their Nose Dive. Backbar's Gilligan's Isle meets Little Guiseppe in the Little Buddy and Highball Lounge's rum- and spice-laden Full Sail Swizzle were also worth the mention.

April: I split the honors for best drink of the month with Stoddard's sherry bomb, the Palomino Sling, and Backbar's amaro-tropical Pinwheel Swizzle.

May: Tropical notes feature in two out of the three drinks this month including the winner, Sichuan Garden II's tribute to Privateer Rum distiller Maggie Campbell in the Campbell Town Rock. Also worthy of a nod or two are Trina Starlite Lounge's Dengue Fever and Ames Street Deli's mashup of a Rob Roy with a Red Hook and a Green Point in the Charles Roy. RIP Ames Street; we did get one more visit after drinking the Charles Roy before it closed less than a week later.
June: The month was a tough one to give an order to, but the Hawthorne's elegant Holy Molé took the Penicillin and swapped banana liqueur for the honey. I was also impressed by Green Street's Double Entendre both for the name and the elegant use of sherry and amaro in a gin drink and Citizen Public House's split rum-tequila drink Waking Up Ain't Easy.

July: Despite taking a week off to go to Tales of the Cocktail (those drinks are next), the remainder of the month yielded a lot of great drinks. After a bit of decision, I gave the month's top billing to Ames Street Deli's complex Rusty Nail riff, the Bitter Nail, that I had less than a week before they closed. For honorable mention honors, Estragon's bitter-fruit-spice M.N. Roy and Sichuan Garden II's entertaingly named The Adventures of Peat & Peat. Somehow I opted for three Campari drinks this month!

New Orleans & Tales of the Cocktail: I was rather impressed again by Cane & Table's drink program and their elegant yet funky Death & Sundries gets my pick as a great Sherry Cobbler riff. For seconds, Joaquin Simo of Pouring Ribbons not only crafted a great Martini variation Sweet Valley High, but the story he emailed me when he got back was excellent; and Latitude 29's Jungle Bird tribute to Paul Gustings, the Paul of the Jungle, was also memorable.
August: First place for August would have to go to the juice-free Stiggin's rum curiosity at Brick & Mortar called the Jungle Stirred. Tip of the hat to two heat busters, Russell House Tavern's Hoti Hoti and Sichuan Garden II's Summertime Sling.

September: Picking the top three drinks was easier than ordering them. Estragon's Bootlegger's Breakfast had a medley of flavors that lure me back mentally enough to give it the nod. Craigie on Main's Pastry War and Area Four Ink Block's Any Other Name were worthy competitors.

October: With the cooling weather, Tiger Mama's Manhattan riff, the Kan Shibuya, hit its mark for October. Definitely noteworthy were Backbar's mezcal Buck, the Magical Mezcal Mystery Cure, and Estragon's strange Sidecar variation, the Abricot Chevalier.
November: Top billing for the month was another tough one to call, but Brick & Mortar's Everything Nice hit fruit and spice notes with a sexy Cognac backbone. Definitely delights to drink were two Tiki offerings: one from Backbar called the Passport Painkiller, and the other from Sarma called the Merchant's Fog Cutter.

December: All three drinks I selected for the month were amaro-containing Tiki from a trio of newcomers to the scene, and all three I would have again. A tough call, but Bar Mezzana's Dutch Totem that took a Genever route was pretty novel. Also delightful were The Automatic's Devil's Left Hand and Benedetto's Maitalia. I look forward to what else these three can conjure up in the upcoming year!

So there are my 35 best drinks in Boston for 2016 with a trio from Tales of the Cocktail and New Orleans thrown in. From the local talent, those drinks stem from 22 different establishments across town (and some just outside of town). For trends, I would say that amaro-containing drinks are still king although they are being used less abrasively than in the past; the point is not so much jarring the palate but to combine and synergize with other flavors. One of those ways is in Tiki, and regardless of ingredients, Tiki, Swizzles, and other tropical styles are on the rise. Along with that, presentation has increased with garnish eloquence taking a step forward. Finally, lighter drinks especially ones that focus on more aperitif and fortified wines than spirits such as in Cobblers and Collins are also catching my note. So cheers, and I look forward to what 2017's list will bring!

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