Here in the Valley, we're lucky to have a vibrant drinking culture. There are solid options for in-state wines and liquors, so many great cocktail bars that choosing one on a given night is a tall order, and great new breweries opening their doors all the time.
This year, our "best of" nods included drinking trends (frosé and wine in a can) as well as classics, names you may know well (or may have to add to your list). Cheers to these metro Phoenix drinks and places that make and serve them.
Best Frosé: Mora Italian
What's better than a glass of rosé? A glass of sweet, slushy rosé. Mora has a twist on this year's hottest — er, coldest — drink, frosé, with their Rosé Snowcone. A Provencal rosé wine is blended with grapefruit, watermelon, peaches, and pink peppercorn tincture, then served over shaved ice. Scooch over, wine cooler. This trend is here to stay.
Best Breakfast Cocktail: Coffee is For Closers at House Brasserie
Alec Baldwin's well-known for the heatedly delivered line, "Coffee's for closers only," from an early scene in 1992's Glengarry Glen Ross. As scary as he seemed in the role of Blake the big shot, that's not half as scary as a gnarly hangover. Allow us to present a local cure: the Coffee is For Closers cocktail from House Brasserie in Scottsdale. The drink consists of Press cold brew coffee, Tia Maria dark liqueur, demerara, and lemon peel; it will give you that boost of caffeine along with a little morning-after swill needed to make up for the night before.
Best Frozen Drink: Mango La Sandunga at Ladera
You can't go wrong with either of the two frozen cocktails that the bartenders at Ladera tap swiftly out of slushy machines. If you end up with the Mango La Sandunga, a tropical and tiki-evoking mixture of tequila, bitter orange Aperol aperitif, a nutty almond syrup called orgeat (it's in your mai tai), mango, and pineapple, consider yourself blessed. The other option, the less complex mezcolada, is straightforward and delightful all the same.
Best Tiki Bar: UnderTow
The team behind Counter Intuitive, one of the Valley's most creative cocktail bars, made a splash when they opened UnderTow in Arcadia. What they got was an underground tiki bar, decked out like a real-life below-deck cargo bay. Meanwhile, top-talent bartenders shake and stir old- and new-school tiki drinks alike. UnderTow's mai tai is the best in town, no doubt about it, as are other historical stalwarts of the genre, like the Zombie.
Best Daiquiris, Piña Coladas, and Mojitos: The Breadfruit & Rum Bar
When it's hot, there's no cooler thing to do than sip any one of Rum Bar's creative, Caribbean-inspired concoctions. We like the fact that although owner Dwayne Allen consistently puts together an impressive list of original cocktails that changes twice a year, he makes sure that the most iconic rum drinks — mojitos, piña coladas, and daiquiris — are far from cliche treatments. We are sure that you would be hard-pressed to find better versions of any of the aforementioned rum cocktails elsewhere in town.
Best Martinis, Negronis, and Punch: Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
It's obvious that while the bartenders at Bitter & Twisted are chasing perfection, they also want to provide guests with something memorable. That's certainly the case with the B&T martini, engineered to be served chillier than any in town, or their series of Negroni cocktails that have been batched and done sous vide with floral flavors such as chamomile, Earl Grey, or rose. And with regards to punch, what's very old — old English, that is — is made anew with Bitter & Twisted's take on the centuries-old milk punch, where spirits meet milk.
Best Arizona Terroir-Driven Cocktail: Heritage Grain Old Fashioned at Tratto
On a beverage menu that shifts both subtly and frequently alongside the dishes at Tratto, one cocktail sticks around through the seasons: the Durum Old Fashioned. It should be said, though, that it has moving parts as well, as bourbons cycle through it at Blaise Faber's whim. But the mix is always secured by Faber's very own cordial crafted from Arizona-grown durum wheat and dates.
Best Arizona Wine: Symphony Sweet Lies Reserve
For the best balance of price and taste, we're going against the grain — or grape — and selecting a white from Cochise County, film director Sam Pillsbury's Symphony Sweet Lies Reserve, a blend of grenache gris and muscat grapes, which checks out for about $25. We liked it so much when we first had it paired with seafood at Little Cleo's at The Yard in Phoenix that we ordered a six-pack the next day.
Best Arizona Wine in a Can: Dos Cabezas Carbonated Pink
Wine in a can? We'll admit, we were skeptical. After all, we had been hurt before by brands that based their entire appeal on edgy packaging. But then, Arizona-based winery and trusted favorite Dos Cabezas introduced its 2016 Carbonated Pink, and everything changed. The unbottled bubbly, a mostly grenache blend served in a 700-milliliter tallboy can, quickly became a spring and summer essential.
Best Wine Shop: Hidden Track Bottle Shop
Don't let its small size fool you. Hidden Track Bottle Shop is tiny, but its offerings are mighty. Every bottle of wine on the shelves has been handpicked and tasted by the owners. This means that not only can Hidden Track lay claim to having the most interesting and surprising wine selection in metro Phoenix, but the staff has the knowledge to educate and enlighten consumers, too.
Best Place to Taste Arizona Wine: Winery 101
We love a road trip as much as the next person, but when the mood strikes to sample Arizona grapes on a Monday night, what's an oenophile to do? Trekking two hours north to the Verde Valley or three hours south to Willcox just doesn't cut it. Thank goodness for Winery 101. At this tasting room in Peoria, you can sample up to 14 wines made from grapes grown in Arizona.
Best Cider Selection: FnB
Around 2014, the world of apple cider beyond Martinelli's and Woodchuck bubbled up into the public consciousness, and America's most on-trend food cities became obsessed with the stuff. Some trends die, but it seems cider stuck — and until FnB remodeled their bodega shop into the FnBar, there really wasn't a solid cider list in town. Just as Pavle Milic has done for so many years by believing in Arizona wine, he has given Phoenicians what they didn't know they wanted with cider. Salud!
Best Local Beer: Scottsdale Blonde at Huss Brewing
We dare you to find someone who doesn't love Huss Brewing's Scottsdale Blonde. This German-style kölsch somehow manages to satisfy both craft brew aficionados and beer newbies — no easy feat. How does it work its witchy magic on us? It's well-balanced and crisp, light and refreshing. And what's with that delightful, ever-so-slight sweetness on the finish? It's impossible to drink just one glass.
Best New Brewery: The Shop Beer Company
Figuratively speaking, The Shop Beer Company has come a long way since their previous setup brewing under the same roof as Cartel Coffee Lab in Tempe. Physically, however, they moved a minute's drive away into a beautiful little house that feels light, airy, and right at home in the Southwest. What isn't little is their beer selection, over a dozen suds long and tapping everything from two darker nitro beers to lighter witbiers and juicy IPAs clocking in at a modest 7.2 percent ABV.
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Best Brewery: Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company
You'd think that beer fans might've cooled off on Arizona Wilderness by now, a few years after a red-hot start when they were called 2013's best new brewery by RateBeer.com. But beer fans not only love beverage-rating even more than their counterparts in the wine and spirits world — they appear to be loyal, too. Granted, it's easy when a brewery keeps you on your toes like Wilderness does; the operation darts in so many directions that it will make your head spin just looking at their daily offerings — and that's before the first sip.
Best Distillery: Arizona Distilling Co.
With a name like Arizona Distilling Co., the team here couldn't just crank out generic whiskeys and vodkas and expect to be embraced by discerning Valley drinkers. So they made a gin that sourced eight botanicals from lush northern Arizona. When they whipped up a whiskey, they started with desert durum wheat that's resting on a few hundred years of Phoenix agricultural history. Cracking open either is the closest thing we have to terroir in the spirit sector of Phoenix's beverage industry.
Best Cocktail Bar: Counter Intuitive
Counter Intuitive is a unicorn: top-shelf bartenders making some of the most thoughtful and technically sound cocktails in town while also seeing that those drinks are actually very fun to imbibe, in an environment that's far from stuffy. Looking to step up your cocktail game? Consider Counter Intuitive, if you haven't swung through already. It's okay if the rest if your crew wants scotch and soda or whiskey sours — C.I. can do those as well, of course, and they're happy to.