This year, we're going to publish our top drinks as well as our top restaurants, and I already know where the bone of contention will lie with my list; not all of these are cocktails. I don't want to put up something that may have rotated out of availability, since the best cocktails in Orange County are often seasonal items that don't last more than a few months as menus change. Also, there are some outstanding liquors out there that deserve to be more widely known.
5. Patrick Piuze Petit Chablis
A white wine? Surely I must be joking, right? No–and don't call me Shirley. I am determined to do whatever I can to sway Californians from this bizarre predilection for goopy Chardonnays that taste like being smacked in the snout by a charred oak barrel full of Welch's white grape juice. Petit Chablis is a French Chardonnay, with light fruity flavors balanced by acid. Patrick Piuze Petit Chablis is what I bring to Shuck when I want oysters; it's blended between steel-aged wine and a little oak-aged wine so that it isn't overwhelming, and it's practically made for raw seafood. Buy it at Hi-Time Wines for half the price of the cougar juice known as Rombauer Chardonnay.
4. Rye Sour at Two 40 South
I love complex cocktails that are challenging to my palate, but sometimes I just want a simple drink, and Two 40 South's rye sour hits the spot. It has to have rye–Michter's, in this case–because bourbon is too sweet, and it's got a measure of bitter Punt e Mes vermouth to kill the overwhelming sweetness that dogs most sours. On a hot day, it hits the spot.
3. Arette Tequila Añejo
Without a doubt, the finest tequila in existence. (Go ahead, argue the point.) This is what I pull out in small measures–it's expensive–to prove to people who had hangover after hangover due to Cuervo Gold in college that there is more to tequila than red Solo cups full of neon green sugar syrup. Smooth, aged, with the unmistakable grassy tang of blue agave. Don't you dare use it in a cocktail; just sip it like Scotch.
2. ESB at Noble Ale Works
Ask me what beer most often graces my refrigerator, and I'll pull out a brown growler full of ESB from Noble Ale Works in Anaheim. It's a beer that works for everyone; a step toward real beer for Budweiser drinkers, a compromise on hops for IPA wonks, and roasty-toasty enough for Newcastle swillers. Also, it's made walking distance from my house–that counts for a lot.
1. The Crippled Creek at 320 Main
One night at the Orange County Bartender's Cabinet meeting, we'd had several delicious rum and cachaça drinks at Side Door in Corona del Mar and Jason Schiffer told me he was trying to make a cocktail with mustard. I told him he was insane, and about two weeks later, he slid a Crippled Creek in front of me at his bar. I have no idea how he managed to do it, but he created a cocktail that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Don't forget to eat the garnish; it's essential to the enjoyment of the drink.