As I was sifting through my notes and photos to develop this list, I kept having one particular thought: damn, was I a lush. How do I pick five drinks from a cast of literally thousands? Many worthy candidates were skipped here--which just goes to show that drinking culture in OC is finally starting to move beyond vodka "martinis" and huge fishbowls of
cougar juice Rombauer Chardonnay.
5. W.L. Weller Special Reserve Bourbon
Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle was, before he was a bourbon magnate, a traveling salesman for the W.L. Weller distillery. That distillery is long gone, but the name lives on at Buffalo Trace. This is wheated bourbon, and the best barrels of Weller whiskey go on to be blended into $200-a-shot Pappy Van Winkle. That's too rich for my blood, and I love the "leftovers", especially in an Old Fashioned. Pro tip: a small consignment of 107-proof Weller has arrived at the Mixing Glass in the OC Mix in Costa Mesa for $35 or so a bottle. Get yours quick.
4. Pisco Sour at Muelle Peruvian Cantina
The Peruvians and the Chileans can argue about who "owns" pisco until the llamas come home; I don't care, as long as I can keep drinking pisco sour, and what better place to do it that at Renzo Macchiavello's new Peruvian dining room in the newly fancified Hotel Huntington Beach? Pisco brandy, lime juice, simple syrup, egg white, bitters. Elegant, classic, surprisingly hearty, and it goes perfectly with the excellent ceviches.
3. El Paisano at Barley Forge Brewing
Sure, there are more technically challenging beers at newcomer Barley Forge. You could go all in and order a DIPA with so many IBUs you could do laps in them. But I like the more downhome amber ale that is El Paisano. It's got a little agave in it, and I don't get more than a soupçon of that, but it's a quaffable beer in friendly surroundings. Oh, and it makes absolutely amazing fish taco batter. 2. Boulevardier at the Playground
As with the food at the Playground, the drinks change remarkably often. For a while during 2014, there were variations on the Boulevardier, which is essentially a Negroni made with whiskey instead of gin. What was most fun was watching how the cocktails changed as the proportions were fiddled with, as various brands of the three ingredients were swapped in, as the drink was more or less diluted through stirring. The Playground is really good at letting you see how the madness happens, and the Boulevardiers are (were?) no exception.
1. Santa Prisca Swizzle at Broadway by Amar Santana
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I went to Oaxaca this spring, where I guzzled--this is really not an exaggeration--a pint of mezcal a day and yet managed to stay completely with my senses. So when I came back, I was all about the mezcal and trying to find any way I could to bring back those happy memories. Mezcal La Puritita Verdá, Barolo chinato, ginger and lime, shaken and served on the rocks: simple, but with ingredients most people don't have in their home bars, and unbelievably refreshing.