Eater LA has been doing a lot of drinking this year. The first weekend of every month we've been dropping our list of the best cocktails of the moment from watering holes around town. It's been a tough job filtering through PR flack to truly get to the goods, but after months of taste testing, we've compiled this list of the very best cocktails of 2015:
The Pink Drink You Should Actually Order
Strawberry Puff at Terrine
Bartender Ryan Wainwright's slew of spring cocktails exhibited a great deal of finesse. While the Counter Point Sling is particularly notable for those who lean towards boozier libations, there is something to be said for the delightful surprise of the Strawberry Puff. One should exercise a fair bit of caution when ordering a pink drink, with the expectation of an overly saccharine desecration of a cocktail. Terrine's Strawberry Puff manages to take on the classic milkshake-like quality of a puff cocktail without being overbearingly heavy or sweet. The very prominent acid from the strawberry adds brightness to the beverage, and plays well with the citrus notes of the generous proportion of Hayman's Old Tom gin.
A Drink from the Most Underrated Cocktail Maven in Town
Illuminati at The Copper Still
Nancy Kwon loves her craft. While her bar, The Copper Still, is actually an offshoot of Koreatown Salvadoran restaurant Jaragua, there are few better places to belly up and get a true education in cocktail wizardry. Order the Illuminati, a mezcal cocktail with five different orange elements that work to temper the liquor just enough to mitigate its smoky bite, while still maintaining the integrity of the agave-based spirit.
As she stirs and stirs the cocktail for longer than your patience would usually allow, she discusses everything that goes into the drink: Sombra; a high-altitude Espadin with a big smoky profile; Sobeso, a cacao-based spirit that surprisingly tastes more like tequila than chocolate; Santa Teresa Rhum Orange, an 80 proof Venezuelan rum-based orange liqueur aged in bourbon barrels; Luxardo Tripulm, an Italian triple sec made of three varieties of orange peels; Scrappy's Seville Orange bitters, reminiscent of marmalade and spices; and Fee Brothers West Indian Orange bitters, exhibiting straightforward orange characteristics.
You would expect this cocktail to hit you in the face with orange flavor. It doesn't. Garnished with a dehydrated tangelo from Kwon's garden, it has grace and femininity not typically associated with such a bold liquor. As the name intimates, the Illuminati is a mezcal cocktail, enlightened.
Los Angeles in a Glass
Taco Truck at The Corner Door
Beau du Bois has earned a fair share of praise recently, what with his winning of Eater LA's own Bartender of the Year Award last year. The praise is certainly merited — du Bois is turning out some of the best cocktails in the city. Take the Taco Truck, his mezcal-based Negroni variant. Du Bois infuses pineapple and cinnamon in Campari, a nod to the agave-based liquor, and blends it with mezcal and sweet vermouth. Even a cursory whiff of the drink sheds light on its name: imbibers are reminded of the mouth watering aromas of grilled al pastor and pineapple from those much loved taco trucks in the city. The boozy libation is, of course, strongly smoky, balanced, and lighter than you would expect, but more than anything, it tastes of LA.
A Pleasant Way to Ease Into Fall
Beaverdusa Punch at Osso
Darwin Manahan has quickly made a name for himself in the cocktail scene. After taking a break from training to be a firefighter, Manahan turned his attention to bartending, and manned the bar at Corazon y Miel then Punch before settling into his current role as beverage director at Cliff's Edge and Osso.
Many of the drinks on Osso's tight list riff on the classics in a way that plays well with the Southern-tinged bill of fare. The Portola, what is essentially an Old Fashioned, adds burned beeswax to develop subtle honey flavor without additional sweetness. Other bespoke touches can be found throughout the menu, but perhaps the strongest drink is the Beaverdusa Punch, an homage to Manahan's now shuttered, beloved Pasadena cocktail lounge. The mix of bourbon, rye, scotch, St. Germain, sencha tea, and lemon sounds like it would have a serious kick. On the contrary, the drink is soft with smooth legs that taste of the very first balmy days of fall. With a whisper of cinnamon and subdued tea aftertaste, it is exactly what you want to be drinking at this very moment in Los Angeles.
The Prettiest Cocktail in LA
Garden Mojito at Cadet
It would be supremely difficult to craft a cocktail more perfect for spring than the Garden Mojito at Cadet. Gaby Mlynarczyk, the longtime bartender behind the cocktail program at ink., wanted to highlight the abundance of produce available in California rather than just sticking to the standard mint mojito. Inspired by the spring peas and nasturtiums in her garden, Mlynarczyk muddles the two along with mint to add a mild peppery flavor from the flowers and fresh sweetness from the peas. Garnished with a whole nasturtium flower and a pea shoot, you'd be hard pressed to find a prettier cocktail in all of LA.
A Nicotine-Infused, Whiskey-Based Killer
Cowboy Killer at The Wallace
Downtown Culver City's sleeper hit The Wallace has been turning out exceptional small plates with international flair and a cocktail program to match. While many gastropubs offer marginally modified iterations of the classics, here risks are taken with a great deal of success. While hits include the after-dinner libation the Snakebite Float made with peanut butter stout ice cream, the real star is the Cowboy Killer. Served in a sealed jar to contain a good deal of hickory smoke, the drink takes Griff's Cowboy whiskey, chocolate chilli bitters, and tobacco-infused syrup to create a drink that smells and tastes like night huddled by the campfire. With a rather heavy concentration of nicotine from the tobacco infusion, that rush you feel is from more than just the booze.
The Tequila Drink That's Not a Margarita
Los Muertos at The Chestnut Club
The Chestnut Club has a good thing going on. With both skillful DJs manning the turntables and expert bartenders mixing drinks, it is quite the place to have a girls night out, or any night out for that matter. Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix do a fantastic job looking far beyond the margarita for its agave-based spirits.
Take Los Muertos, a reposado mezcal cocktail with Amaro di Angostura, Montenegro amaro, and a dash of chocolate mole bitters. Garnished with an orange peel and Maraska cherry, think of it as an extremely loose variation of and Old Fashioned, with a new layer of complexity from the cinnamony Angostura liqueur.
The Ultimate Booze Mashup
Rosé Jose at Petty Cash Arts District
There's no doubt that plenty of good times can be had sipping tequila and rosé, but what happens when the two inebriants are blended together? You get the ultimate sipper you never knew would taste so good. Such is the Rosé Jose, Petty Cash Arts District's shining star on its solid agave-centric cocktail menu. Rosé and tequila blanco are blended with rhubarb, pink peppercorn, lemon, and seltzer to make a drink that has all the punch of tequila and refreshing, slightly floral notes of rosé, and proves that mixing liquor can be a very, very good thing. Whether or not it makes you sicker, we'll have to drink a few more to find out.
A Salty Taste of New England
Surf Report at Catch & Release
Catch & Release has everything from the cleverly designed spaced to the expertly shucked oysters and brightly seasoned lobster rolls are woven together to compose an ode to summers in New England. Julian Cox's cocktail program is no slouch either, and is just as transportive as the sustainable seafood that graces the tables.
Take the Surf Report, a gin-based libation with cucumber, mint, lime, dry vermouth, and salt air. As you sip the cocktail, you first notice a generous sprinkling of Maldon black sea salt. The large flakes give way to a delicate sea foam that coats the gin base that is every bit as refreshing as its chartreuse color would intimate. If you close your eyes, it's easy to imagine a walk down a rickety warf, breathing in the saline ocean spray.
A Boozy Lassi
Sacred Cow at Sambar
Clare Ward knows Culver City. More specifically, she really knows the block of Culver Boulevard between buildings 9531 and 9543, that is, the old Ford's Filling Station and Akasha. When Akasha Richmond decided to bring a real cocktail program to her Indian restaurant Sambar in the old Ford's space, Ward jumped to the challenge.
There's a real barrier to entry when it comes to preparing Indian cuisine. The complexity of the spicing makes it difficult for those intimately familiar with South Asian flavors to master, let alone those working seriously with the ingredients for the first time. This makes it all the more impressive that Ward's cocktail list utilizes ingredients that you probably have to Wikipedia - things like kokum, rooh afza, and jaggery - in a way that effortlessly blends into each concoction.
The libation that truly exemplifies the unexplored potential of Indian-inspired cocktails is the Sacred Cow, a blend of Sloane's gin, Bols yogurt and apricot liqueur, lemon, honey, egg white, saffron bitters, and pistachio crumble. It is no coincidence that the yogurt liqueur and frothy egg white resemble the mouthfeel of a lassi. It is this thoughtful interplay of texture and booze and of aromatics and sweeteners that truly set the tone of the meal to follow, and makes Ward a mixologist on the rise.