Another year, another round of drinks. It's a great time to love me some cocktails, because more places than ever have been pouring some of the best I've seen and tasted. We turn back the clock 300-ish days to recap on some of my favorites for the year. And hey— they don't all contain whiskey!
5. Pineapple Under the Sea at TAPS Fish House & Brewery
Less glassware, more copper-tone, the kitsch factor is high for this "Go big or go you-know-where" delight. My tempting tiki is initially served with the cover on. I used both hands to pop the lid and make it the base to my new tropical pimp cup! That's when the real party begins. Boozy Absolut Elyx Vodka and Corruba Coconut Rum are my hosts; tasty Giffard Orgeat Syrup and St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram arrive as special guests. Lime juice and passion fruit come straight from the bar, while Peychaud's Bitters make for a finishing accent to this beach party. It's ridiculous and boozy and the star of my meal. 13390 Jamboree Rd, Irvine, (714) 619-0404; www.tapsfishhouse.com.
4. La Turista at Vaca
My gateway drink to all things vermouth, La Turista utilizies their house-made blend of over 20 botanicals. Blended with red vino and fresh juices, the flavors mingle well with Vaca's vermouth. Nosh on a dish of Marconas and corn nuts, or pair with braised mushrooms and beefy oxtail. This year-round sangria makes everything better. I was craving vermouth de grifo in no time! 895 Town Center Dr, Ste 170, Costa Mesa, (714) 463-6060; www.vacarestaurant.com.
3. Breakfast Shot from Stacked: Food Well Built
Both breakfast and breakfast cocktail menus are exclusive to the chain's Huntington Beach locale, making this brunch cocktail more special. Served in two parts, it starts with a mix of Butterscotch Schnapps and Jameson. Throw that back, and it's on to the chaser: squeezed OJ, plus a strip of crisp bacon. Like Wonka's three-course dinner chewing gum, the first sip reminds me of pancakes and syrup. Then I get the salt and acidic hit from the next glass. It's a complete (liquid) meal, minus the silverware. Simple, yet effective and delicious! 7490 Edinger Ave, Huntington Beach, (657) 845-2100; www.stacked.com.
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2. Thai Dragon Mule from The RANCH
I asked and learned the inspiration for this cocktail was actual Thai basil grown on Edwards Ranch Estates, the farm of RANCH owner Andrew Edwards. Asian inspiration continues with Purity Vodka infused with Chinese five spice. Instead of lime, I tasted fresh yuzu juice. To finish, Ginger Beer by Fever Tree. And I admit— there's something about a drink served in a fancy copper mug that gets me wishing I was a part-time kleptomaniac (Note: I wasn't). There was a subtle bite to my drink, but it's refreshing. I felt as cool as the other side of the pillow. 1025 E Ball Rd, Anaheim, (714) 817-4200; www.theranch.com.
1. Count the Ways From Hatch
Traditionally a gin/Vermouth/Campari blend, this goes against type with a rum base. Specifically, a Pilar Papa's brand in quantities so limited, Hatch purchased an entire barrel. One part Carpano Antica Vermouth enters the equation, but it's the infused, sweet Campari you need to watch out for. Packed with cloves, cinnamon, star anise, vanilla, orange zest and juniper berries (a subtle nod to gin!), it packs more complexity to an already potent bottle. To finish, Elemakule Tiki Bitters imparts a hint of grapefruit and some house simple syrup. A zesty, burnt cinnamon stick echoes some Negroni components, but the end result is a smooth, balanced finish that coaxes your taste buds in every possible way. Savor your sip, then repeat. 2493 Park Ave, Tustin, (657) 208-2088; www.eathatch.com.