As I mentioned before, when I troll for drinks to feature, I'm looking for funny names or weird ingredients. And if it has an umbrella on it, even better. My list has a lot of these kinds of drinks, and one beer. So let's get to my five favorites of the year!
5. The Belly Dancer at Marrakesh
When you go to Marrakesh, you really don't need to order anything at the bar--there's enough here to keep you busy. But if you have to, let it be the drink named after the belly dancer, a mix of vodka, an unnamed melon liquor that's most likely Midori, orange and pineapple juice. It's also the very definition of a girly drink--there's not just an orange wedge for garnish, but also a cherry. The glass is also appropriately curvy. If it drinks like something you'd order poolside at some Mexican beach resort and not particularly evocative of anything Moroccan, it still makes your friends giggle when you ask the waiter, "I'll take The Belly Dancer." "Not without a bigger tip you don't!" they'll quip.
4. Adult Root Beer Float at The Woods
The wife is waiting at home. You just finished a beer at The Woods in Fullerton, a bar like all the others. You think you could use something sweet, but you don't want to fill up because she's made a casserole. You get the Adult Root Beer Float, which has no ice cream to speak of, but plenty of Absolut Vanilla Vodka poured over ice and mixed with bottled root beer. It's served in a mason jar, because well, it's more fun, and topped with a cloud of whipped cream and a cherry. You stir it all up with your straw, distributing the cream so that it dissolves in the alcohol and soda. Then you sip. By golly if it doesn't taste like an actual root beer float, albeit in a deconstructed kind of way. It's fizzy, sweet, and creamy at the start, with the burn of vodka wiping it all away at the end. You presume it's a much more calorically responsible way to consume cream and sugar. You go home. You eat some casserole and tell her you love her.
3. Flying Horse Beer at Royal Khyber
At Royal Khyber in Costa Mesa, the Indian beer options are narrowed down to two. Both are actually bottled by the same conglomerate that makes Kingfisher (the predominant brand in India): the United Breweries Group, based out of Bangalore and the equivalent of Anheuser-Busch--if Anheuser-Busch also operated an airline and a fertilizer business on the side. The Flying Horse came in a big, sweaty 22-ounce bottle, which, by the way, can also be bought at BevMo for less than they charge here. Royal Khyber poured it into a Taj Mahal glass, but what I noticed right away was how incredibly fizzy and light this brew was, with a head that subsided almost immediately. But most of all, it's refreshing. There's just a hint of spice and fruit at the top, and it wasn't as hoppy or bitter at the finish. All of this makes the lager down as easy as lemonade than its 4.7% ABV would normally suggest. An yes, it was perfect thing to douse the fires of that searing vindaloo I had for dinner.
2. The Blue Shelby at Ruby's Steamliner Lounge
The capable bartend at Ruby's Steamliner Lounge made me a drink that made me nostalgic not for the old train station I was in, but a recent vacation to Hawaii. The Blue Shelby is the kind of thing that would usually have a pineapple stuck on the brim, and it tasted like my version of paradise. He used standard Captain Morgan spiced rum, Malibu coconut rum, blue curacao, pineapple juice and Sprite and let it become something better than the sum of its parts. If anyone has any gripes about this Ruby's and its faux nostalgia, I'd advise them to sit there, order it, and let the fake history and this drink wash over them like a calming wave.
1. Pisco Sour at Inka Mama's
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The last time I drank Pisco Sour--Peru's national drink, one so beloved it has its own so-called International Pisco Sour Day celebration designated for it every first Saturday in February--was at Ricardo Zarate's Mo Chica in L.A., and I didn't even order it. It was complimentary aperitif inserted in between the appetizers and the main course in a prix-fixe menu. But I liked Inka Mama's Pisco Sour even more than Zarate's, which had the limp potency of weak tequila. Inka Mama's is a stronger drink, served in a properly chilled glass and with the required dashes of bitters floating atop a sea of egg white foam. It's brandy-based and sweeter than your Bro-Mex margarita, but the citrus juice seems to hasten its harsh alcoholic burn down your throat. Insulating the drink from getting too warm too fast, the whipped-to-soft-peaks egg whites will remind you of enduring beer head and make it unmistakable from any other drink.