In researching this article, I went back through my photos of cocktails I've drunk over the course of the last 360 days, and I have come to the realization that I have drunk an embarrassingly large number of cocktails in that time. Also, good photos of cocktails are damn near impossible to take, because bars tend to be dark.
That said, here are five standouts from this alcoholic and satisfying year, all of which are available at the time of press, because it's not nice to tantalize people with things they can't have.
5. Tequila, Derecho, at El Matador
Orange County lags behind Los Angeles and San Diego in its appreciation of tequila; while there are agave-centric bars all over our northern and southern sistren, our destination for a wide range of tequilas is El Matador, just down the street from the southern end of the 55 freeway. They've got undoubtedly the finest list of tequilas in these fair orange acres, with dozens of them, some very difficult to purchase in this country. Make sure to ask for sangrita, and if you're not at the bar, be prepared to explain that it's the sweet-spicy elixir you alternate with sips of tequila you're after, not wine with fruit and brandy. Start your education, skip the training wheels (lime and salt), and never order another shot of overpriced Patrón or Don Julio again.
4. Italian Snow Cone at ARC
It could be freezing cold outside, and it would still be a heat wave inside ARC, Noah Blöm's wood-burning restaurant; even in the dead of winter, your thirst will cry out for the mix of Cynar, Aperol, citrus and herbs poured over a huge mound of pebble ice and consumed as it melts via a metal straw. Have one as soon as you sit down, and you'll find out why the drink's component liquors are called aperitivi. 3. Old Fashioned at Harlow's
It's refreshing to be able to get an Old Fashioned that isn't fruit salad with a few drops of whiskey soda poured over the top of it; the days of sad, pre-cut orange garnish with a nuclear-survivor cherry are on their way out. That's not enough at Harlow Kingston's San Juan Capistrano bar and restaurant; there, they set the cherry on fire with a little spritz of 151º rum, which adds just the perfect amount of caramel taste and balances a heavy spirit like overproof rye or even mezcal.
2. Detroiter at 320 Main
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There's not enough beer cocktail love around here, but Jason Schiffer at 320 Main has updated his Michigander cocktail to make it a little more resinous and a little more bitter; the Detroiter is Cynar, apple brandy, honey syrup, lemon juice, and a float of West Coast IPA. The honey really ties it together, but it's the funk of the Cynar that makes this cocktail sing. 1. Naughty Sauce at Noble Ale Works
Every three months, the folks at Noble Ale Works put out Naughty Sauce, a milk stout flavored with coffee. On release day, there's a big gathering with a couple of food trucks and people enjoying the new barrels. It's one of the most refreshing and universally loved drinks in OC, it has arguably the best head of any beer in OC, and it is the only substance on earth that can unite Ducks fans and Red Wings fans without violence or bloodshed.