The Best Drinks We Drank in 2012 Slideshow
This past year, I was lucky enough to be introduced to a pickleback shot: whiskey followed by a chaser of pickle juice. I'm not a cocktail lover because they always seem to be so citrusy, so pairing one of my favorite boozes with one of my favorite snacks was pure genius. I recommend the version at Brother Jimmy's in Manhattan because they make their own juice and there's nothing better than homemade pickle juice. I also tried Blue Moon's new Vintage Collection of beers, which are a wine-beer hybrid that is mostly wine, with a little after taste of beer. For a beer drinker who has a hard time choosing to drink wine, these were a nice transition.
Best cocktail of the year? No question. A piña colada. You heard me. I confess, I tippled many a cocktail in 2012 (all in the name of science and public service, of course). And while the one I ordered most frequently was my go-to (a dirty gin martini), when I did stray from it, there were some truly memorable drinks. Most of them were at The Aviary in Chicago, which I was lucky enough to visit twice this year. (It is official, Chicago: I love you.) Of all the cocktails I sampled (and there were quite a few), one I tried right after eating the elBulli menu next door at Next during its final weekend (and which, to my great shame, I have not written about yet) was 2012's highlight. The Aviary's Piña Colada was an elBulli cocktail circa 2004. When it comes to drama and appearance, any other cocktail would have had to been on fire and ringed with bellydancers to top this drink. A grand plume of barbapapa (from the French barbe papa, literally "daddy's beard" but meaning cotton candy), streams up from the drink like some crazy frozen tendril of smoke -- enough to make anyone who prefers savory cocktails a bit wary. A small carafe of pineapple juice is poured over the barbapapa and it disappears, melting into the drink — a coconut-based mixture in a glass filled with spherified rum marbles. But it's not all show and no delivery: It was a damn tasty drink. The kind that would kinda make you not care at all about getting caught in the rain.
The best drink I drank in 2012 was definitely the Basil Gin Gimlet from Night of Joy in Brooklyn. I've always been a gin-lover but this cocktail — muddled, mixed, and presented perfectly — took my love and obsession to an entirely new level. It inspired me to start mastering my own at home and definitely led to at least three to four weeks of daily Basil Gimlets in June and July. It's definitely more of a summer drink, but I wouldn't hesitate to sip on one at any time during the year. The keys are fresh, potent basil, a serious concentrated muddle, a touch of simple syrup, the perfect shake, and presentation in a coupe glass — not a highball, lowball, martini, or anything else- glass.
In this office, I’m not known for having the most refined taste of the bunch. Depending on what borough we’re in, I’m either the token hipster with a PBR tall boy, or the unexpected bro ordering a Bud Light draft.
So when we were asked to choose our best drink of the year, I didn’t know where to begin. Sure, I had some great cocktails, and I love wine, but I don’t know enough to know which glass I had was the best. So I started thinking about all the pitchers of Bud Light I’ve guzzled while Raul Ibanez hits another home run, or AJ Green catches another touchdown pass. The NBA finals are a distant 2012 memory, but still another series of consecutive nights spent drinking cheap beer. Rather than pick a certain memory (because, really, I can’t), cheers to great games with good friends, and awful beer.
When dining out, I tend to stick with the familiar when it comes to ordering drinks. A glass of wine, a standby cocktail (for the past couple of years its been the Negroni), or maybe a beer depending on what I'm ordering. I've found most cocktail lists I've come across to be overpriced, unoriginal, and more than a little gimmicky. But when there's a cocktail program that jumps out at me, I'll give it a shot. And the best cocktail list I've come across all year was at Talde, chef Dale Talde's wildly popular fusiony Asian restaurant in Brookyn's Park Slope neighborhood. I've dropped in more than a few times at this point, and the wait for a table at prime time can stretch to an hour or more. I've wisely taken this time to work my way through their Asian-influenced cocktail list, conjured up by co-owner and head barman John Bush.
My favorite on the list? The Chinatown. A heady mix of Diplomatico rum, Laird's Applejack, limes, cherries, and brown sugar, a dusting of black pepper (it is inspired by a cocktail at Chinatown's Apotheke, hence the name) really puts this one over the top. Not too sweet, not to boozy, and perfectly balanced, it's the perfect opener to a great meal. And it's also the best thing Ive drank all year.
“Your Instagram makes you look like an alcoholic,” my friend said to me over the holidays. Thanks, friend – but I have to clearly document all the cocktails, beers, and wines I’ve had over the year. Sorry I’m not sorry.
It’s hard to choose from the litany of filtered drinks of 2012 – a Ketel One cocktail made with a star of anise at New York City's Pouring Ribbons might have been the best vodka cocktail I had all year, while a margarita at New York City's The Tippler was made to perfection. The bartenders at Macao Trading Co., also in New York City, made what they called the truest rendition of a Pina Colada (though the Aviary’s take on it sounds that much better). For wines, I found myself gravitating towards Argentinians, like the Clos de los Siete malbec. As for beers, I’ve never had a truer bourbon-infused beer than the Anderson Valley Brewing Bourbon Barrel Stout. But for me, it was the year of whiskey/whisky. From the White Pike Manhattan at Manhattan Cocktail Classic (the first white whiskey cocktail that made my heart sing), to the tastings of Whiskeyfest, to a Perfect Manhattan at New York City's Brandy Library this last month, I’ve been hooked. Now, my home bar is filled with Auchentoshan, Glen Grant, and the Black Grouse. But perhaps the best cocktail I had was one creation made just for me at a whiskey event: a bespoke cocktail made of Black Grouse, crème de cassis, lemon juice, ginger syrup, and soda. The recipe is now hanging over my home bar.
What I’m looking forward to next year? After a sneak peek from my hometown brewery, Blue Moon, I’m excited to see the newer series on shelves next year. Let’s just say when the Graffiti Series comes to New York, I’ll be geeking out and missing the Rocky Mountains.
Frank Cisneros/ Courtesy of the Black Grouse
Best drink I had all year: The Prospector at Prospect, with blended scotch, madeira, Bénédictine, bitters, and burnt orange peel. I like to say that our Drink Channel editor, Marcy Franklin, seriously introduced me to whisky, but this cocktail from Prospect (which I suppose just won the year for me) seriously turned me. Granted, this was one of the strongest cocktails I had all year, and I was estremely tipsy on my way home, but the scotch, bitters, and a bit of burnt orange peel (genius) was all I needed for the night. Neither light nor too fruity, it was everything a cocktail should be: Slightly sweet, smooth, but with a burn strong enough to last through dinner.
I hate margaritas the way most bars make them, with all kinds of crap like sweet-and-sour mix, simple syrup, or agave syrup, but a couple of times a week, usually on the weekend, I make myself a margarita at home. Juice of 1 juicy Persian lime or (preferably) four or five key limes in a shaker; plenty of ice cubes; free-poured tequila, probably about three ounces or a bit more if it's been a rough day (my standard tequila for mixed drinks is Cuervo Tradicional Reposado, light by reposado standards but with good, true agave flavor — and a bargain at around $30 a bottle, give or take a few bucks); a splash of Cointreau or Citronge (or, if I've been in Mexico recently, Controy, the local Cointreau rip-off, which I actually prefer to the original); and a splash of water to bring all the flavors out fully (as you'd do with neat whisky). Then I shake the shaker vigorously, 50 times, let it rest for a minute or so. Meanwhile, I run one of the cut lime halves around the rim of a wine glass and dip it in sea salt. Then I strain the margarita into the glass, take a sip, and smile.
What I'm most looking forward to drinking, besides my next margarita, are some goldmuskatellers I've recently ordered from various sources. These are very dry, very fragrant white wines made in Austria and the Alto Adige region of Italy from a variety of muscat grape also called moscato giallo or muscat rose à petits grains. I find the combination of intense, flowery perfume and crisp, acidic, grapey flavor irresistible.
Shutterstock/ Brent Hofacker
The most memorable drink I had this year was a bottle of 2000 Voirin Jumel Grand Cru champagne. It was the first sip of anything I had post my red-eye flight to London to meet my boyfriend’s family for Thanksgiving (other than a much-needed sip of water), and it was the most welcoming, smooth, creamy taste I had ever experienced in a bottle of champagne. We went to this little cozy pub called The Carpenter’s Arms in Limpsfield Chart, in Surrey, where a reserved corner table (a surprisingly lit one at that — think more Friend of a Farmer than typical pub) waited with this bottle, which the owner had permitted my boyfriend's family to bring in for the occasion (if they were allowed to steal a few sips).
Voirin Jumel is especially dear to my boyfriend’s family because he spent a summer working for the vineyard during his year before college. It is a small property, producing only around 100,000 bottles a year, located in Cramant, a small village outside the renowned champagne town of Épernay. Cramant is French for “white chalk,” which describes the soil. The vineyard has been family run since its inception, with its first bottles appearing in 1945. Since then, four generations of Voirins and Jumels (two families married together) have run the estate, using grapes solely from their own vines. Our bottle, from a millésime d’exception, or extraordinary vintage, was one of only 500 produced. Customers were allowed to purchase only one bottle each, directly from the vineyard. Needless to say, you can’t buy the bottle that we had at retail — nor the experience.