Saturday, January 1, 2022

:: fred's picks for the top cocktails of 2021 ::

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 years, I did one post for drinks that I had out at bars and one post for drinks that I had at home; however, as I found myself going out less due to my work schedule and other factors, I cut it down to one post a few years ago. The pandemic was not a part of that decision, but it certainly affected my bar visitation rates (save for my brand work that I did up until November) in 2021. Each month here was selected for when the drink post appeared and not when it was enjoyed (unlike my real time Instagram account, I have a two week delay here before it posts to give myself an ample window to write). Like I mentioned last year, please take a moment to think of our local bars as they struggle to survive and to the workers risk their health to keep the hospitality and libations flowing. Indeed, my current bar job is on a two week hiatus as Omicron is surging here in Boston. Without further ado, here is the twelfth annual installment of my best drinks for the year with a runner up or two listed.

January: For a top spot, I rather enjoyed Sother Teague's room temperature Just the Paperwork from his amazing I'm Just Here for the Drinks book; room temperature drinks are harder to plan and balance (some combinations are better before ice and chilling enters the equation), and this one succeeds. For runners up, the dessert-y Elvis Ziggurat by Chris Goad at Canon in Seattle and Toby Cecchini's nightcap Manhattan The Erin from Brad Parsons' Last Call deserve nods. Strangely, all three are great but different ways to end one's night.

February: Simplicity was everything in Mikey Diehl's Hawaiian War Chant that he created as a Tiki-fied Rum Old Fashioned to satisfy his whiskey crowd via Amanda Schuster's New York Cocktails. A smoky Boulevardier-inspired number, Kyle Martin's Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and a Martini meets a Bijou, Little Branch's Zephyr that I sourced from the Hawthorne's bar bible, were noteworthy for the shortest month of the year.
March: Tobacco Road as a mezcal Remember the Alimony won me over; Nick Caruana's 2014 recipe showcased complexity in its simplicity. Two gin drinks also got my attention in March – namely Misty Kalkofen's Hanky Panky-inspired Hocus Pocus that she created at Drink circa 2010 for the Fourty-Four Bar in New York City, and Chuck Taggart's New Order-themed Bizarre Love Triangle of an Adonis/Bamboo meeting a Perfect Martini.

April: Instead of picking runners-up, I'm granting April a split decision for top dog. Kyle Davidson's Interpol showed me that with the help of citrus, Cardamaro can generate stunning pineapple flavors. I was also equally impressed with When My Train Pulls In by Chris Dempsey for the apricot-Swedish punsch combination (that I uncovered in the Havana Cocktail) helped to mollify Fernet rather well.
May: The Luxuria by Benjamin Perri from the 2020 Community Cocktails book reminded me a bit of the Down & Brown and other drinks and made for a great night cap. Two rum recipes won me over for honorable mention: Maks Pazuniak's Sonic Sunset that was an elegantly complex Daiquiri from the Jupiter Disco: Preservation zine, and Carlo Caroscio's El Presidente riff El Capitan that he created during his first year at Backbar and posted to the Kindred Cocktails database.

June: Like Carlo's drink, Misty Kalkofen entered one of hers into Kindred Cocktails and it got my approval for June's top spot; the Two Orchard Thieves crafted at Drink circa 2010 delightfully paired apple brandy and Genever with complementary liqueurs. For bronze and silver (no order specified) were two mezcal drinks. I finally got around to enjoying Erick Castro's 2015 Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, and the Community Cocktails book's Man in Black by Casey Estrada which took Bourbon into the American Southwest.
July: Like April, I'm calling this a tie between two amaro-banana liqueur cocktails. Ryan Polhemus' Banana Toronto at Offsuit amazed me with how well crème de banane worked with Fernet (full disclosure, my visit was paid for by my brand at the time, but sub in your favorite Bourbon here). And Chad Austin's Robert Dinero's Facial Expression from his Everyone Has a F*cking Cocktail Book stunned me with smoke notes and the banana-Cynar duo.

August: It took me a while to have a bottle of Ting grapefruit soda in house, but it paid off when I made Martin Cate's The Ernesto from the Smuggler's Cove book as a complex Paloma riff. Also noteworthy were Leo Robitschek's North Sea Oil from the NoMad Cocktail Book which intrigued me with its aquavit-Scotch combination and Keith Waldbauer's coffee-tinged tequila Manhattan riff, the Revelator, from the Community Cocktails book.
September: Imbibe Magazine provided Isaac Shumway's Great Silence as a multi-layered bitter mezcal Sour that I gave the nod to. Two of Rafa Garcia Febles' recipes spoke to me with the tropical-fruity 1794 riff Frank Hinton being the runner up here (not a pick, but his Boardroom was a great nightcap), and the other runner up was Phil Ward's Jacko's End that appears in Paul Clarke's The Cocktail Chronicles and reminded me of his Shruff's End.

October: October was a tough one to narrow down for me, but Joaquin Simo's Nitty Gritty from the Death & Co. Cocktail Book took mezcal in a Martini direction with briny Manzanilla sherry and light apricot and Benedictine modifiers and was a sight to behold. Two gin drinks got honorable mention with Kaleb Cribb's The Minton as a Negroni that wasn't and Christopher Bevin's A Study in Pink as a Jasmine that wasn't both via Kindred Cocktails.
November: I had a hard time ordering my three picks after narrowing it down from six, but Christmas in Prison by Timothy Miner checked a lot of seasonal flavor boxes not to mention being one of my entries into Sherry Week 2021. Brian Miller's Pisco Sour tribute to the Godfather of the Boston Cocktail Scene with the Brother Cleve Sour from Dale DeGroff's The New Craft of the Cocktail and Shore Leave's tropical morning Sazerac, the Dawn of Hospitality, both caught my attention in November.

December: One of the many Sazerac variations from T. Cole Newton's Cocktail Dive Bar book stood out for December, for the coffee-rinse in the Luchador was rather unique and stunning; I'm considering bringing it into my repertoire for the coming year with perhaps upping the tequila to 2 ounces. My bartending at Drink has taught me that the Charlie Chaplin from the 1930s The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book has a cult following here in Boston, and not only did I enjoy the drink, I dig Frank Caiafa's gin addition suggestion as well. Along with the Charlie Chaplin, consideration is paid to Backbar's Ricky Bobby Burns as a embittered Scotch drink that I experienced during a bartender's First Fifty initiation rite.

Trends: I definitely noted an uptick in mezcal used in citrus-free straight-spirits recipes as both an accent and as a base. Cognac recipes kept my attention for 2021 as did Manhattan and Sazerac riffs. Amaro used to generate fruit flavors or paired with fruit flavors was a cool trend, and banana liqueur with or without amaro was certainly more than a curiosity. The clean crispness of Fino and Manzanilla sherries was a delight this year, especially the brininess of Manzanilla when matched with agave spirits. Finally, elegance through simplicity won out more often than 7 ingredient drinks (although don't skimp on ingredients in my tropical drinks please!).

Conclusions: It was a real confusing time looking back over this past year as some drinks as far back as March seemed so much more recent and ones in October seemed like only yesterday. 2021 has been as bizarre of a mind game as 2020 has, but luckily, it was a tasty one for drinks. As I declared last year, "I have a feeling that the drinks mentioned above helped get me through the year that it was." Perhaps that is always true, but so much more so in the last two. Overall, I condensed the mass to 34 recipes as mementos of my trip around the sun. Good luck to all of your cocktail adventures in 2022 and stay in touch!

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