Here's the thing about me and drinking-- from the time that I was "of age", I drank primarily wine. And champagne. My perception of beer was what I saw in commercials and bottles or cans at wedding receptions. It was crap. If I wanted different, it was some stereotyped cocktail in a martini glass.
In hindsight, I realize I had a reverse evolution. The last five years have been spent downing Moscow Mules for more than a copper cup, coveting glasses of red with great legs and opening myself up to craft brews. I appreciated a fine meal long before a fine drink, but I'm making up for lost times. Enjoy a recap of some memorable sips from this year!
5. The First Tee at Pelican Grill
(Pictured above) Before the weather gave twists and turns like Disney's California Screamin', we motored down Newport Center Drive for an idyllic sunset. And our preferred way to leave the day behind was sipping a cocktail; the only quandary was selecting an appropriate one.
Our citrus-infused encounter begins with Grey Goose L'orange. Offsetting the rich base, grapefruit and lemon keep things tart. An addition of rose champagne colors our drink into Creamsicle hues, while all-natural agave rounds out this tall order. Its fruity taste more breakfast Julius than happy hour toast, we found it eye-opening and unpretentious except in name. Though we'd much rather cover our bar tab than greens fees. 22651 Pelican Hill Rd, Newport Coast; 949-467-6800, www.pelicanhill.com
4. The Antioxidant Intoxicant at The Corner
Veev is a curious acai spirit. Acai berries are considered one of the highest sources of antioxidants. The unsweetened, 60 proof liquor needed a worthy counterpart. The ion in Ion vodka is infused with electrolyes, which rehydrate you. Together they form the opposite of spa water, yet garnished with cucumber, basil and mint for extra freshness.
A Catch-22 for cocktails, drinking the mix intends to cleanse and screw up your decision-making skills in no time. Psychologically, I'm convinced it tastes a little like medicine-- a spoonful of sugary medicine. If only our intoxicant came with an equally effective personal trainer.8961 Adams Ave, Huntington Beach; (714) 968-6800, www.thecornerhb.com.
3. Pumpkin Ale at TAPS Fish House & Brewery
While there are far too many pumpkin-tasting items for purchase at Trader Joes, TAPS' Pumpkin Ale is a multitasking glass of both dessert and liquid refreshment. We've had our share of beach sunset-hued beer, but this gets us salivating. It may have to do with the 100 pounds of fresh pumpkin included in each batch--
Although their spice rack is definitely working overtime with flavors of nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and fresh ground clove, it deserves its own graham cracker crust just to savor the sweet balance. If that wasn't enough, mountains of brown sugar bury our hearty squash at the start of this three-week process. It's enough to drive anyone to drink. 101 E Imperial Hwy, Brea; 714-257-0101, www.tapsfishhouse.com.
2. Soju Bloody Mary at Ramos House
Our Mason jar is literally crafted to the brim with obscene delight. Tart, tomato-y liquid, enhanced by the distilled Korean spirit is the zesty foundation for our veritable meal in a glass. A miniature garden of greens and pickled beans garnish its surface, offering a bite which strives to be worse than its bark. Yet John Q. Humphries' twisted sense of purpose offers an unusual add-on. It is at this crossroads where our story morphs into Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
If one elects to include the Scotch egg, what you end up with is a study in food pornography. A sexy quail egg is subjected to a soft boil, then moves on to being wrapped in fennel sausage. Its final step: getting dipped in batter and fried senseless. Before our amused bouche can comprehend the eggy exploits, it is speared by a renegade crab claw. Conducting double duty as skewer and straw stand, the sweet nibble of meat hints that it could be considered more appetizer than cocktail (under the proper circumstances). Just don't leave it unattended, or the resident feline will find an excuse to saunter over. 31752 Los Rios St, San Juan Capistrano, www.ramoshouse.com.
1. Vino Fresco at Charlie Palmer
For a deceptively plain-looking libation, this is one high-maintenance cocktail. A few years back (when Charlie Palmer was debuting), we remember the vino fresco. Listed at the bottom of the menu, its name intrigued us--we were compelled to order one. During subsequent visits, we noticed our drink disappeared from the list. When we inquired, our server mentioned that the bar(tender) decided it was too labor-intensive to create.
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We cried bullshit; bars shouldn't come up with drinks they want to take back later. So we were overjoyed by the encore performance of our beloved.
A muddler's nightmare, our culprit is spotted creating a stir with 42 Below vodka. A refreshing mash-up of grapes, basil and lime, and our taste buds were feeling sustainable. The combination of citrus and herb was similar to our love of mojito, but we preferred the absence of
minty pulp from our martini glass. 3333 S Bristol St, Costa Mesa; 714-352-2525, www.charliepalmer.com.