Best Cider 2020 | Stoic Cider | Food & Drink | Phoenix

Imagine the taste of an apple. Sweet. Crisp. Sweet some more. You might think appley sugar is a necessary component of hard cider. But Stoic Cider, produced by the Routson clan and led by biologist Kanin Routson, turns out ultra-small-batch apple ciders so bereft of sugar they seem to wick moisture from your mouth. Stoic Cider reimagines what apple cider can be — tamping down sweetness, sharpening carbonation, and multiplying funk. The Routsons have elevated Arizona cider to a new, strange, beautiful, almost Champagne-like plane, and one that's different from bottle to bottle. At their on-farm cidery near Prescott, they ferment using unusual, well-considered apple varieties from across the American West. They also grow arcane apples on their farm, and even make spellbinding micro cider batches from wild fruit.

The Shop Beer Co. keeps things simple but executes well. The tasting room is clean and intimate; the staff is tight-knit and knowledgeable; the patio is a roomy backyard, softly lit. The latter, which separates the taproom from the onsite brewery, is a magnet for craft beer drinkers around Tempe and beyond. But they come for the beer, too. The Church Music is one of The Shop's best brews —a 6.7 percent IPA composed of pineapple juice and a little bit of "loud." Other tasty bevs include the Coffee Brown, an American nut-brown ale, the F.Y.I.T.M. double IPA, and the crispy blonde lager. Around since 2016, The Shop was formerly known as Cartel Brewery, but broke off from the flagship location of Cartel Coffee Lab to do its own thing about a mile north — where we hope they'll remain for years to come.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Months before Tales of the Cocktail and the James Beard Association anointed Little Rituals with nominations, the people who are very, very wonky about cocktails were frequenting this new downtown bar. It's the brainchild of Aaron DeFeo and Ross Simon, the latter the man behind Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour, just down the street. B&T is famously intense in its approach to mixology, and Little Rituals goes even further. A pink number unites miso-infused genever, lychee, and raspberry falernum. A daiquiri seamlessly integrates curry. An alliance of many amari chills under a frothy peak of salty foam, meant to conjure beachside drinking. If you want a glimpse of the cocktail's potential, post up at Little Rituals.

Ever sat around a campfire with friends, just chilling, melding into the sights and sounds of the woods after a long day hiking? That's the blissful sensation the founders of Adventurous Stills sought to channel into a spirit. Their particular inspirational hike occurred in Fossil Creek, hence the name of their creation, Fossil Creek Whiskey. It begins with a blend of corn, wheat, and rye, all grown by local providers. The distillate is then aged in charred white oak. The final product? It has something of bourbon, a slight sultry sweetness. But it also recalls Scotch, with a wisp of smoke, like the column rising from a campfire, making sips, life, and the universe feel all gravy.

Onetime punk-rock bandmates Randall D. Ordovich Clarkson and Justin Slusher have summoned the green fairy to Phoenix. Since December 2019, the duo have been selling two absinthes macerated in Tempe. Their Gold bottle punches hard. At 140 proof, it'll swirl and sharpen the world in under two glasses. But this lucent, yellow-green nectar offers more than ABV. Clarkson and Slusher built it using the old-school formulation out of Pontarlier, France. You get a hit of anise and fennel, sure, but these big flavors are reasonably soft. They also deploy extra botanicals like juniper berry and star anise. Enjoy it at spots like Zinc Bistro and Adventurous Stills.

Lauren Cusimano

To be fair, this is the only insect-based entree we've been able to find in the Valley, so technically it's the best by default. But it's a culinary experience not to be missed. Silkworms are a delicacy in Korean cuisine, but they don't make it onto the menus of most Korean restaurants, which ... isn't really surprising. If you decide to take the plunge at Drunken Tiger, you'll get a medium-sized bowl of soup. The broth is earthy and a little pungent, with just enough spice to make the mouth tingle. Bobbing around in the broth are shredded carrots, mushrooms, onions — and a lot of silkworm pupae. They have a gentle crunch that gives way to a smooth, creamy texture like a bean. If we're being honest, the next time we're at Drunken Tiger, we'll probably order one of our perennial favorites, like the galbi or the yang nyum chicken (popcorn chicken tossed in Korean red sauce). But we'll always be glad we sampled this one-of-a-kind metro Phoenix dish.

Fired Pie

When you bite into the Steak and Blue Pizza at Fired Pie, it bites back. That would be the gorgonzola, a pungent Italian cheese made from unskimmed cow's milk that has salty sass running through its blue veins. The way the cheese interacts with the rest of the Steak and Blue's ingredients — garlic, oil, mozzarella, mushrooms, peppers, onion, and thin-sliced steak — doesn't change much about its dirty-foot aroma. Against these odds, though, this pie tastes amazing. We recommend it for a solo outing, though. Maybe not great for date night.

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