Tuesday, January 1, 2019

:: fred's picks for the top cocktails of 2018 ::

At the end of 2010, I was challenged to declare my favorite drink of the year, and I was overwhelmed for there were so many good options to chose from. My choices were influenced by two factors -- tastiness and uniqueness; it had to be both memorable and worth repeating. In the past 8 years, I did one post for drinks that I had out at bars and one post for drinks that I had at home; however, life has changed gears, and I find myself out on the town a lot less (although more so towards the end of 2018). So for the first time, I combined the two. Each month here was selected for when the drink post appeared and not when it was enjoyed. Without further ado, here is the ninth annual installment of my best drinks for the year with a runner up or two listed.
January: This month coincided with the Instagram event "Tiki the Snow Away," so many of my drinks were heavily influenced by that theme. For the month's pick, I chose Chad Austin's King Slayer that added Don's Spices #2 to the classic Jungle Bird. As runners up, Martin Cate's The Undead Gentleman, and the Liquid Lab's Freaky Tiki that replaced a lot of the Campari in the Jungle Bird with Tiki staples grenadine, orgeat, and bitters.

February: While February still had bleed over of posts from the Ig-Tiki event, it was two non-Tiki recipes that captured my heart. Tied for the month are Maks Pazuniak minty, smoky, and nutty Alligator Monday at Brooklyn's Jupiter Disco and Luc Thier's Fallout-inspired, grassy, and herbal Super Mutant that he served at a guest shift at Backbar in Somerville.

March: The month seemed to have a lot of riffs on Negronis for some reason despite it not being Negroni Month. Perhaps the best of the month was The Departed by Toronto bartender Sandy de Almeida with two base spirits and two amari. Secondary nods go to the coffee-tequila-Campari Lonnie Desoto by New York City bartender Rafa Garcia Febles and for a not-a-Negroni-in-the-slightest, Nick Detrich's A Thousand Blue Eyes for its beautiful simplicity of flavor that reminded me of a Robert Vermeire classic.
April: One of the new additions to the home bar was Byrrh Grand Quinquina that I was inspired to add due to it being at the new bar I was working at as well as my collecting a lot of recipes that call for it throughout the last century or so. Top honor goes to Chris Elford at Amor y Amargo with the Casualty where he brings Scotch, Montenegro, and chocolate together (along with Byrrh). For a secondary nod, the Byrrh recipe The Italian Job with Smith & Cross from Parisian bartender Joseph Akhavan and a flavorful Daiquiri Time Out (but non-Byrrh drink), the Public Mutiny, were tasty.

May: One drink that impressed me was the Who Dares Win by Scotsman Mike Aikman that came across like an Army & Navy crossed with the Silver Bullet. Also worthy to mention were Dan Braganca's riff on Trader Vic's Tortuga that he called the Langosta that I discovered on OnTheBar (sadly, that app died off this summer -- RIP) and made at home, and Donny Clutterbuck's Rum Little Italy of sorts, the Desk Job.
June: With my mint patch in full production mode, I was glad to get to utilize some of it to garnish the Passion Grove Swizzle by Matt Pietrek of CocktailWonk. Two other cool recipes for June were the Wildflower by Richard Boccato that reminded me of a Boukman Daiquiri, Volcano Bowl, and a Too Soon?, and the elegant Tropical Champagne (when made with a funky rum) from Charles Schumann's 1991 American Bar book.

July: A great name and a simple yet complex mix won out here with Agnes and the Merman from Maria Polise that utilized Punt e Mes and grapefruit in a Mezcal Sour. For honorable mention, I could not trim it down to two, so here are three: the Genever-rhum agricole Doppelganger from Vandaag, Ezra Star's Elements of the Stars from Drinking Like Ladies, and Joe Donahue's Planet Earth with apple brandy, Cynar, and orgeat from Amanda Schuster's Duran Duran drink tribute.

August: A great name and a Malört Mai Tai riff? Sign me up! Lightning Swords of Death from Chicago's Whistler! A tip of the hat to classic Tiki from Trader Vic with the Jamaica Snifter from his 1972 book, and Backbar's Pisco Sour variation, the Frightened Tiger.
September: This month's picks were all from Boston! Moe Isaza's 2018 Bacardi Legacy drink is worthy of the hype: the Poderoso with coffee, pineapple, and Montenegro. Two runners up in this close month called for Batavia Arrack with Russell House Tavern's Becky's Battles and John Gertsen/Cali Gold's Smoking Jet Pilot.

October: Paul McGee's Rum River Mystic falls into delightful nightcap land with a split spirit base that reminded me of a 1919. A tip of the hat to two drinks I had in one night out: the complexly layered Blackspot at Kirkland Tap & Trotter and the summer refreshment of Sahil Mehta's Las Pozas -- while it was Autumn, it was a cucumber-y drink of the day in July.

November: I am splitting the gold medal with two amaro-laden tropical drinks. In no order, Sother Teague's Jagermeister-cachaça Rough Seas from his I'm Just Here for the Drinks and Jason Alexander's maple-Meletti Drunken Helmsman from the Tacoma Cabana.
December: An elegant winner for the final month of the year was the Hawthorne's Alaska From a Parallel Universe that they crafted for the Hendrick's Orbium Gin launch party -- just a touch of sherry sent the drink in a different zone. For runners up, one old and one new with the Baldwin Bar's Navigator pictured above and an Amer Picon-tinged Daiquiri, the Minstrel from Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars: 1903-1933.

Alas, the year is done and there were my top 35 drinks as mementos of my trip around the sun. 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 2019!

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