Wednesday, January 1, 2020

:: fred's picks for the top cocktails of 2019 ::

Towards the end of 2010, I was challenged to pick my favorite drink of the year, and I was overwhelmed due to the vast number of great options to chose from. I decided to break it down by month with a runner up or two, and I based by choices on two factors -- tastiness and uniqueness; they had to be both memorable and worth repeating. I used to divide up this list by drinks had out on the town and drinks made at the home bar, but as life changes, I decided to combine the two last year to make up for my inability to be an overactive barfly. Without further ado, here is the 10th annual installment of my best drinks for the year (by the month the post appeared).

January: For top pick of the month, I opted for Sam Treadway's Black Magic as a mezcal Negroni meets a Revolver at Backbar. For runners up, I selected two richer drinks: the first one was an Scotch-Cynar Egg Nog with maple and coffee notes called the Barnaby Jones from the Cocktail Codex book and the other was a Cognac-mezcal Manhattan of sorts with raisiny sherry and quinquina called the Nobless Oblige from Nick Desoto at London's Experimental Cocktail Club.

February: I gave the nod to an elegant rum-Cognac Old Fashioned-styled number called the French Connection at the Baldwin Bar. Notable February recipes were the Serious Moonlight as a honey-Chartreuse Pisco Sour crafted by Nick Elezovic for the David Bowie cocktail biopic and the Italian Buck from the Canon Cocktail Book as well as Brad Parson's Amaro.
March: My three picks for the month were all amaro-driven recipes with the winner being Dan Greenbaum's Remember the Alimony with its simplicity of gin, Fino, and Cynar. Frank Cisneros' Margot Tenenbaum as a Gold Rush with Zucca/Sfumato and Liam Odien's Frankie Panky as a tequila riff on the Savoy's Hanky Panky but named after a burlesque performer.

April: Sahil Mehta's Double Dutch at Estragon was a delightful Genever-Batavia Arrack Sour that got the top honor for April. Shannon Mustipher's Muertito Vivo as a Zombie riff with Jagermeister donating Tiki spices and Brian Kane's National Treasure as a Boulevardier-like drink were also pretty cool tipples.
May: I was impressed by the Boulevardier-Brown Derby mashup, the An Englishman, a Frenchman, and an Italian Walk into an L.A. Bar, crafted by a Boston amateur mixologist, James Wallace, who I met at Thirst Boston this year. The No. 2 Fleet Street as a gin-based Mr. Bali Hai of sorts and the Showdown as a Daiquiri meets a Trinidad Sour were worthy of runner up status.

June: For June, I opted for Terry Williams' Passing Deadline that came across like a gentian-tinged Manhattan that he created at the Anvil in Houston. I was also pleased with Ariana Vitale's Wicked Behavior as a floral and herbal Whiskey Sour and Blair Reynold's slight riff on a Tiki classic with the Lapu Lapu.
July: In the heat of July, Jack McGarry's Pharaoh Cooler from the PDT Cocktail Book hit the spot with a magical combination of watermelon, grenadine, and rose water. For runners up, David Wondrich's Barbadian Gin Punch Swizzle with the quirky but tasty duo of Genever and coconut water had roots in mid-19th century island culture; and also, the De La Louisiane-Old Fashioned hybrid, the Hazard, from Jiri Malis in Denmark was notable with its maple accent.

August: While I wanted to give some acknowledgement to the Beta Cocktails' Italian Heirloom, I decided that August (and September as well) will be Tiki month(s). For the gold star, it was a tough choice of two drinks from the Minimalist Tiki book by Matt Pietrek and Carrie Smith, but Chad Austin's Mammoth Tusk won out over a Jason Alexander recipe. For silver stars, Shannon Mustipher's Rumfire Walker from her Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails book (also difficult narrowing it down from two of hers) with its delightful Cinn-pari duo (I now have a bottle of Cinn-pari at work!), and El Nova's Moonkist Twist as his take on the Moonkist Coconut from the Mai Kai in Florida.
September: Yes, Tiki month continues into September. Passing over Jason Alexander for August was tough, but I decided that I liked his drink in the next month even more: the Port of Innsmouth as his H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Nui Nui riff from Minimalist Tiki. Deserving of the aloha nod are Justin Wojslaw's Transatlantic Orbit and the 1960s Polynesian Paralysis.

October: Veering away from Tiki for a moment and back to more classic-style cocktails. One that I really enjoyed since it is a riff on one of my favorite Martini variations, the Poet's Dream -- Keegan McGregor's agave-based Dead Poet was quite enjoyable. Garnering honors for the month, Sother Teague's Waterproof Watch and Sahil Mehta's aperitif that reminded me of dandelions -- the Lion's Tooth.
November: I was quite surprised that I had never made an old Jim Meehan drink called El Puente -- it does not appear in the PDT Cocktail Book but only in Greg Boehm and Jeff Mason's 2009 The Big Bartender's Book. I probably skipped it due to not having cucumber on hand, but this mezcal number has great melon flavors in the mix from the cucumber. Worthy of note are Pip Hanson's Marley's Ghost as a rum Manhattan of sorts and Michael Boughton's Rose Gold at the Smoke Shop in Somerville as a Gold Rush meets a Campari Sour.

December: Another challenging month to make decisions for, but the Evan Harrison's Bodega at State Park as a pineapple rum Green Point had modern flare on a slightly older feel base. I also enjoyed the Broadway from The NoMad Cocktail Book which reminded me of a Bensonhurst, and enjoyed the Mr. Pink that was a Jungle Bird reshaped to be an egg white Sour.

Alas, 2019 has come and gone. Why bother reflecting on the bad times (and the hangovers) and just recall the best moments? Here, I narrowed it down to 37 drinks (I somehow snuck in a bonus one in August by not giving it an award during Tiki Month #1) -- all great mementos of my trip around the sun. Like last year, many were made at home; while it may not have the great hospitality of the bars around Boston, it does have the latest last call, great drinking buddies (my wife and/or my cats), and cheap prices! Some were had out and about when time and finances allowed it. Good luck to all of your imbibings in 2020 and stay in touch!

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