By Mae Velasco, Associate Editor
From the cool weather and cultural centers of Toronto to the sunny beaches and saucy swagger of Miami, we traveled to many different cities this year on "Across the Bar," but one thing remained the same: No matter where you go, you can always find a crisp, classic, and creative cocktail to sip on.
Whether they were cocktails that made us pucker up with the refreshing, bitter bite of Aperol and grapefruit, or made us savor the sweet succulence of caramel and berries, there's no doubt that these beverages and bars are the best in the business. But which were the best of the best?
Raise your glasses and say cheers to Foodable's Best Cocktails of 2016!
How it Works
With every excursion to the most innovative and unique beverage concepts in North America, show host Paul Barron ranked each drink using the Barron Cocktail Score System, which analyzes each cocktail based on six parameters for a possible 60 total points. The drinks were measured by artistry, creativity, taste profile, back palate profile, ease to finish, and how spirit forward the drink was.
"Back palate profile is the only score that I weighed more," Barron said. "In my opinion, this is the core of a drink's lasting memory. It has to be balanced enough to get to the back palate and create an awakening. Any cocktail artist can create a taste profile that the front of our mouth can enjoy, but beyond the mouth feel, texture and spirit impact at the back palate prevails."
So, without further ado, help us congratulate the cocktails that were one stir above the rest!
No. 6: "One Hour Photo" at Bar Raval — Total Score of 50.1
Honorable Mention: Best Bartender
You'll be feeling the effects of this thirst-quenching cocktail for more than one hour. The One Hour Photo at Toronto's Bar Raval is made up of stirred mezcal, Averna, and pinot sherry, and finished with cucumber and a punch of grapefruit zest.
"The earthy oiliness of the mezcal with the freshness, lightness of the pinot and the cucumber really take you for a weird ride," bartender Robin Goodfellow said. "I made this drink on the day Robin Williams died, so I thought I'd name it after his weirdest movie."
Speaking of weird, you may find it odd that Goodfellow is who we named the Best Bartender of the year, considering he originally was pursuing an undergraduate degree in the Social Theory of Health, but life takes you on weird paths on the road to happiness.
"He is the best pure bartender," Barron said, if you remove the over-the-top creativity that you'll find in a few of the other cocktails in this year's ranking. "Just look at the concept of his art. Plus, he did this one-handed!"
That's right. When Foodable came to visit Bar Raval, Goodfellow had a broken arm! (But he was a good fellow about it.)
No. 5: "One Grin" at a.bar — Total Score of 50.4
Guests will definitely be smiling after drinking the One Grin at a.bar. Made from Bluecoat Gin, Campari, Cappelletti, Letherbee Besk, Dolin Rogue, and vanilla, this cocktail is one that elevates the Philadelphia bar scene.
Bar manager Dan Hamm landed his first job as a bartender at another craft cocktail bar and found that the art was a great mix of his love for cooking, drinking and DIY. Behind the bar, he experiments with tastes and flavors, interacting with guests to get on-the-spot feedback on his work.
"The cocktail trend is definitely growing. Maybe six or seven years ago, we had a bunch of speakeasies open up, which kind of helped revive the cocktail scene in Philadelphia," he said.
No. 4: "Inside Outside In" at Beaker & Gray — Total Score of 52.2
Coming in at No. 4 is the Inside Outside In. While the eatery may be called Beaker & Gray, this drink is nothing but sunny and vibrant as the Miami city it hails from, all with the punch of tropical heat in one glass.
The base spirit used is a Venezuelan dark rum called Santa Teresa Gran Reserva. Investment-banker-turned-bartender Ben Potts also uses Luxardo Maraschino, pineapple, and crushed spices — cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, and cloves — in his mix, which sits for two hours. After the infusion has taken place, he serves this crafted cocktail in an absinthe-rinse cordial glass with a side of cocktail-infused pineapples. (Will your stomach loop inside-outside-in after a taste of this refreshing drink?)
No. 3: "New Jack Swing" at Brimmer & Heeltap — Total Score of 54.7
Brimmer & Heeltap will get you into the swing of things with this next cocktail. At No. 3 with a score of 54.7, the New Jack Swing is a mix of Lairds apple jack, Cocchi Torino, and Amontillado sherry, which bar manager and expert mixologist Tyler Stamon said gives the drink a dry, nutty flavor, along with a nice aroma and clean taste.
"This is so fun. I mean, you're serving people, you're providing an experience, and you're telling a story to people," Stamon said, likening bartending to storytelling with the unique mix of each drink. "I'm trying to tell a complete story. I don't want somebody to come in that likes vodka, and there's only vodka drinks on there or only whiskey."
No. 2: "Spring Thaw" at BarChef — Total Score of 55.9
Honorable Mention: Most Creative
If you're looking for an experience that will completely melt away any expectations you have for mixology, the Spring Thaw does just that. The name of the concept BarChef is fitting in that its culinary concoctions aren't set at a bar, but more so at a chef's table.
Spring Thaw, a gin-based cocktail — with sparkling wine and chamomile syrup poured into a spherized ice of Campari and vanilla blossom, grapefruit, vanilla, fresh basil, and edible flowers — is presented to the guest by pouring water on it to activate the aromatic dimension of the cocktail. Each detailed presentation is unique and made-to-order, as each bar chef on the team puts their own spin on where things are positioned.
"But I always make an emphasis on the idea of it being essentially an amphitheater, [a] natural, immersive environment so that when you do reach in to grab the glass, there's texture of greens and leaves and flowers on the hands," owner Frankie Solarik said.
"For me, artistically, the idea is to challenge that preconceived notion of what's possible with cocktails. I want to give the guest a new experience of what's possible with alcohol and liquid, and it raises the question of 'Is it a cocktail or is it a dish? Is it a cocktail because there's alcohol or is it a dish because it's consumed with chopsticks and a ramen spoon?'" he said.
And that's why Barron named Solarik's cocktail the Most Creative of 2016, adding that the artistry of Frankie led to by far the best experience.
Foodable's 2016 Cocktail of the Year Winner: "Smoke N' Brew" at Liquid Art House — Total Score of 57.6
Congratulations to our Foodable Cocktail of the Year Award Winner for 2016, the Smoke N' Brew from Boston's Liquid Art House! At a score of 57.6 out of 60 points possible, this creation truly is a work of art. (And not just because Liquid Art House double-functions as a restaurant and art gallery, in which everything from the pieces adorning the walls down to the furniture and glassware is for sale.)
With muddled dehydrate orange, Old Overholt Rye, honey simple, and Mayflower IPA, this crafted cocktail has a lot of volume — about 3 ounces of beer on top, and with that, even bigger flavor. Paul Barron noted that the dried orange peel with the IPA and rye made for an amazing taste profile.
"We do all fresh juice here, so instead of throwing away all the peels, we figured we could, y'know, start having the kitchen take care of it, dehydrate them, because they use them, as well," bartender Matt Noonan said.
The inspiration for this drink came from his and a fellow server's love for Bullet Bourbon Rye and IPAs.
"So, we were like, 'How could we make this go together?' And that's basically how it started," he said.
Seems pretty straightforward and simple, but we all know that's because experts make the process look easy. And this brew was pretty smokin' — hot enough to be our Cocktail of the Year!
Join us in our next season of "Across the Bar" and see which mind-blowing cocktails we'll discover to ring in 2017. Cheers and Happy New Year from Foodable!