It's been a great year thus far for craft cocktails in Phoenix, making it pretty difficult to pin down just 10 drinks to mention. While original tiki drinks have made their way back into the scene in a big way, simplicity, with a focus on high-quality craft spirits, seems to be king. Other trends include the use of amaros, apertifs, and fortified wines to give cocktails flavor without added juices or syrups. However, uncommon produce, like passion fruit, and homemade bitters, syrups, sodas, and more still rule the cocktail world in town-- and that's definitely not a bad thing.
The Darkness from Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails From the looks of it, you might be thinking, "Why in the world would anyone put small dried flowers on top of a cocktail? It's just going to get stuck in my teeth." However, Stephanie Teslar is a pro. She likely knew the frothy, substantial layer of egg white on top would cradle the lavender so you get the perfect floral aroma with each sip without having to pull the buds out of your mouth every few minutes. All impressive construction elements aside, Teslar's drink is deceptively bright in color, masking it's sweet, flavorful genever and smoky mezcal base. Add in some lemon for tang and Montenegro amaro for depth and you have one expertly crafted drink.
Philadelphia Fish House Punch from Second Story Liquor Bar Although folks have been mixing up this punch recipe since before the birth of the modern cocktail, bartender John Christie's in-depth and readily recanted knowledge of the drink's history makes ordering this drink as much of an experience as taking a sip. Bright, lemony, and surprisingly refreshing for an aged-rum cocktail, this drink also packs a deceptive alcohol punch. That's probably why, as Christie tells it, George Washington toasted with this drink thirteen times to each of the original colonies, resulting in a pretty drunk first president.
Batida Rosa from Welcome Diner Cachaça was kind of the "it" liquor for the past month or so while the World Cup put the focus on Brazillian culture, and therefore, spirits. It's distinctly funky flavor makes caipirinhas worth drinking, but the Batida Rosa is a fruitier use of the liquor. With pineapple juice, lime juice, and grenadine, the drink gets a sweet, tartness. Served over ice with a splash of soda water, it's the perfect cocktail for sangria lovers in summer. While it isn't a Welcome Diner invention, it's a welcome addition to any cocktail lover's line-up.
Bali Brew from Bar Crudo A good tiki cocktail should be as much about the show and presentation as it is about the complex flavor. Micah Olson's Bali Brew was definitely one of the most exciting tiki cocktails to hit the scene in Phoenix this year for the simple fact that the tiki mug came to your table on fire. Yes, on fire. Aside from that, the mix of Monkey Shoulder scotch, rum, citrus, jalapeño, absinthe, and cold pressed coffee from Vovomeena infused with vanilla and cocoa nibs is pretty much a recipe for stand-out, memorable flavor. All in all, the $12 drink was an experience from start to finish.
Two Tone from The Local Two tone is right-- this deep purple on the bottom and orangey yellow on the top drink might look like a promo drink for the Phoenix Suns, but it tastes serious. With a blackberry, Hendrick's gin, lime, and simple syrup base, the drink would be refreshing and flavorful if it stopped there. But, lucky for us imbibers, it doesn't. Atop the blackberry goodness on the bottom, Adam Hargett uses and ISI canister loaded up with passion fruit purée, peach liqueur, and egg whites to create a tart, light whipped foam on top that really knocks this drink out of the park.
Ice Ball Old Fashioned from The Parlor If you want to order a drink that literally everyone at the bar will be jealous of, you want to order Michael Allmandinger's take on an Old Fashioned. Served with a small, silver hammer presented in a cigar box on the side, your job is to crack the hollowed-out ice orb full of Old Fashioned into your coupe without cracking the glass. It's one of those drinks that's as exciting to figure out as it is to actually drink. I'll admit, I jumped a little the first time I cracked one of these bad boys open. It was originally made for a special Woodford Reserve sponsored dinner event, but every so often it'll pop back up on The Parlor's bar.
Umami from Rendezvous There's nothing more fun than taking a weekend trip up north to try out what our crunchy, granola sister city Flagstaff has going for it. If you want pizza, go to Pizzicletta, If beer's your idea of a getaway, Mother Road and Lumberyard are two great options for you. However, if you're a cocktail junkie, the Rendezvous Bar in Hotel Monte Vista is your one stop shop for an elevated spirit experience. Case in point, the Umami, which is taking on one of the more uncommonly utilized flavor pallets in cocktails and really succeeding. The combination of vodka, cucumber, Fernet, soy sauce, lime, ginger, and Bitterman's tiki bitters shouldn't work at all, but it does. Don't question it. Just try it.
Rose Gold from Clever Koi For a clean, simple, and straightforward approach to cocktail, Clever Koi is the place to be. One of the drinks that perfectly illustrated that was the Rose Gold. With three liqueurs, sake, and rose wine, it's definitely not the most boozey drink in terms of ABV. However, you won't be missing the alcoholic kick when you taste the delicate interplay between Suze, Cappelletti, and St. Germain that's really an experience unlike any other cocktail in town. While the Rose Gold is no longer on the menu, the new, blue Innocent Postcard is a nice replacement with a similar makeup.
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Vieux Carré from Barrelhouse For me, 2014 has brought me a new favorite classic, and, as a gin lover, it was nothing I expected. The Vieux Carré is a sultry mix of rye whiskey, cognac, Bénédictine, sweet vermouth, and Peychaud's and Angostura bitters. It's pretty much perfect in terms of balance. The flavorful drink, invented in New Orleans in the 1930s, basically makes a Manhattan look low class and will have you begging bartenders all over town to mix one up for you. If you want a legit New Orleans Vieux Carré experience, you should definitely order one from Geoffrey Wilson at Barrelhouse because he definitely knows his stuff. You'll likely get a history lesson served up alongside your drink.
Mango Mezcal Madness from The Last Drop Bar Let's end this cocktail list with a bang. This silly-named alliterative cocktail is spicy where it should be thanks to chipotle and a hellfire shrub. It's tart and sweet with lime and mango juice, the latter of which also gives the drink a fuller volume. Last but not least, bartender Travis Nass adds in Ilegal mezcal. While most other spots in town are mixing Del Maguey in their drinks, it's nice to have another option for fans of the up-and-coming Mexican agave spirit. You can also get this drink in mocktail form without the mezcal, but that's just downright wrong.