Top 20: Cheers to 2014’s Most Memorable Cocktails

It was a very good year for drinking, and here’s why

2014 was such a blur, mostly because it was an unbelievable year for drinking, what with all the high-caliber cocktail spots that opened like The Chestnut Club, Melrose Umbrella Co., and Grandpa Johnson’s. Then Julian Cox unveiled even more cocktail programs at restaurants like Barrel & Ashes and Redbird, as well as his own bar/restaurant Brilliantshine. Come on! My Uber/Lyft usage increased by 200 percent.

There weren’t only new cocktails that dazzled me. Redone classics like Terrine’s White Russian as well as reimagined versions like Harlowe’s Sazerac in a jar and The Church Key’s Bloody Mary in a can also joined my list of favorites. Sometimes, it was just a matter of the cocktail making moments even more special, like enjoying Honeycut’s alcoholic strawberry cream soda while taking in Fatboy Slim at Coachella. Cheers to 2014, you were a heck of a year.

After a lot of soul-searching, I’ve narrowed down my most memorable cocktails/drinking moments of this year to just 20. Here they are in no particular order.

  1. Republique’s watermelon, mezcal, heirloom tomato, Fresno chile, and basil cocktail. Just what you want for a late summer cocktail. A wonderful balance of smokiness, savoriness, and spiciness.
  2. Cana Rum Bar’s Schoolyard Crush: Mexican Coke and housemade strawberry and Angostura bitters ice cream, ’nuff said.
  3. Barrel & Ashes’ Oaxacan in Memphis: tequila blanco, Campari, pamplemousse grapefruit liqueur, lime, Saison Dupont. A refreshing beer cocktail that works as a perfect complement to the restaurant’s barbecue.
  4. Faith & Flower’s English Milk Punch is the most popular cocktail off the menu and the most talked about.
  5. Melrose Umbrella Co.’s Frauds and Swindlers: Stolen rum, Selvarey cacao, Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao, pinch of mint. You gotta love a refreshing aromatic cocktail.
  6. The Chestnut Club’s El Camino: Mezcal, rye, Benedictine, bitters. So boozy, so potent, and best enjoyed while you’re holing up in one of the bar’s comfy booths.
  7. 1886 Bar’s Scotch Scout: shortbread-infused 12-year scotch, Benedictine, Carpano Antica. Bartender Marcos Tello made the Bobby Burns even better by first infusing the scotch with shortbread.
  8. The Church Key’s Bloody Mary in a can: And all this time bartenders have been concentrating on the Bloody Mary’s garnish to make it more fun. Here, bartender Devon Espinosa simply canned a fresh mixture of roasted tomatoes, which lend a smoky sweetness, and lemon and lime juices, kosher salt, celery salt, Worcestershire, horseradish, and Tabasco. It’s the freshest-tasting concoction that ever came from a can.
  9. Seven Grand’s Iced Irish Coffee: The perfect Irish coffee to celebrate an 80-degree St. Patrick’s Day. Made with House Spirits Coffee Liqueur, Jameson Irish Whiskey, heavy whipping cream, egg white, and simple syrup.
  10. Gracias Madre’s El Dorado: Yes, it’s a bit of a gimmicky cocktail costing $50 and flaked with 24-karat gold. But it also is made with a serious mix of Benesin mezcal, Benedictine, French aperitif wine, organic apricot brandy, and homemade gentian bitters.
  11. Honeycut’s Alcoholic Strawberry Cream Soda at Coachella: 213 Nightlife catered to the thirsty VIPs in the Rose Garden at Coachella this year. But out of all the cocktails during the music festival, this one was the perfect refreshment during those arid desert days.
  12. Bigfoot Lodge’s Redone Toasted Marshmallow: This off-the-menu crafted version of the old Bigfoot Lodge favorite by then general manager Kyle Ackley made you fall in love with it all over again. It’s made with light rum, 1921 Crema Liqueur (tastes like white chocolate and coffee), honey, and a bit of Fernet.
  13. Harlowe’s Sazerac in a jar: Sometimes you just want a well-made Sazerac faster than ASAP.
  14. Grandpa Johnson’s Mind Eraser: Leave it to bartender Alex Straus to make a frat-boy favorite my new favorite. His is a crafted version of vodka, Kahlua, Stiegl Radler, and Ancho Reyes. I was actually sad that I had to suck it down so fast, as is the ritual of the Mind Eraser. “Coffee and grapefruit is a natural pairing, and the Ancho chile just gives it a wonderful spice,” says Straus. Indeed!
  15. Love & Salt’s Negroni up: This is the way that L&S’s owner likes it and the way I do, too, it turns out. Plus, having a Negroni made by “Godfather of Cocktails” Vincenzo Marianella is a bucket-list item.
  16. Trader Sam’s Shrunken Head: The perfect way to end a full day at the Magic Kingdom: Bonus:  You can buy the Tiki mug to take home.
  17. Sassafras’ Hurricane: Finally, a Hurricane that won’t upset your stomach. Bartender Karen Grill (formerly of Bestia) reimagined the New Orleans classic, typically a “sugary, frozen blended mess.” Her version, rather, is a mix of three rums–fall spice grenadine, pineapple, orange–and lemon juices and passion fruit.
  18. Terrine’s White Russian: This version resembles the White Russian cousin, Brandy Alexander: The vodka is backed up with brandy for a more robust flavor. This is how you should end a meal here.
  19. Cadet’s Martinez: Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, housemade sour cherries, and bitters. Cadet lead bartender Gabriella Mylnarczyk invited me in to a tasting of her new menu, and even though all her drinks were stellar, her simple refresh of the Martinez was the one I found hard to put down.
  20. Redbird’s Mint Chocolate dessert cocktail: This should probably be reserved for my 2015 list especially since Redbird isn’t having its grand opening til next month and this particular cocktail isn’t even on the official menu yet. But it’s so fun, refreshing, and decadent, why wait?