Foodable's Best Cocktails of the Year 2016

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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! 

Beaker & Gray Amps Up Crafted Cocktails in Wynwood

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Video Produced by Vanessa C. Rodriguez

In Miami’s already world-renowned, artsy neighborhood of Wynwood, one can find Beaker & Gray, an 110-seat eatery located at the popular avenue of North Miami, which serves thoughtfully crafted cocktails using high-quality spirits.

In this episode of "Across The Bar," host Paul Barron has a chance to chat and learn from the man at the helm, manager Ben Potts, an investment banker turned bartender. After getting tired of his office job where he barely had the chance to interact with people, even going as far as calling it a “miserable lifestyle,” he decided he wanted to live a life more than long hours crunching numbers.

After reconnecting with his childhood friend and now business partner, Executive Chef Brian Nasajon, together they opened and own Beaker & Gray, which soft opened around this time last year before Art Basel 2015 began.

Potts got his start at Purdy Lounge in Miami Beach about eight years ago. Then he spent some time working at Blackbird Ordinary in Brickell (downtown Miami) and The Broken Shaker at Freehand Miami in Miami Beach.

Cocktail No. 1: The Halliwell

The Halliwell is the most popular cocktail on the menu. Potts alludes that may be due to the combination of the hot Miami weather and freshness of the vodka. Another contributing factor may be that the drink is the first listed on the Shaken menu. The ingredients are Stolichnaya Vodka, Cocchi Americano Rosa, ginger, strawberry, lemon, and mint. To prepare it, you start by muddling fresh strawberries and mint in the mixing tin, add the rest of the liquid ingredients, and then shake it up, strain it, and pour it over crushed ice.

Cocktail No. 2: The Re-Pete

The Re-Pete is actually Potts’ personal favorite drink. It’s inspired by a tiki drink called The Jungle Bird, but this one is made with Avua Cachaça aged in amburana (local Brazilian wood) casts that give the spirit a smoky flavor profile. This was the drink that our host, Paul Barron, had a chance to recreate. The ingredients are Avua Amburana-Aged Cachaça, Campari, pineapple, lime, and grated cinnamon.

Cocktail No. 3: The Inside Outside In

Lastly, Potts shared with us his most unique drink on the menu called The Inside Outside In. The base spirit is a Venezuelan dark rum called Santa Teresa Gran Reserva. He also uses Luxardo Maraschino, a sweet liqueur with herbal nutty flavors from Italy, Madeira, Angostura Bitters. After all the ingredients are combined, the mix is vacuum sealed with pineapple and crushed spices (cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, and cloves) to be left sitting for two hours.

“Once that infusion has taken place, cut the bag open. Pour out the spirit. Save the pineapple,” Potts suggested.

To serve the cocktail, he uses an absinthe rinsed cordial glass where he pours the spirit after it’s been stirred over ice with a side of cocktail infused pineapples.

Watch the episode to learn more!

a.bar Crafts the Perfect Atmosphere for Craft Cocktails

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Bar Manager at a.bar, Dan Hamm, landed his first job as a bartender at a craft cocktail bar. He found that bartending was a great mix of his loves: cooking, drinking, and DIY. Behind the bar, he was able to experiment with tastes and flavors while still being able to interact with guests and get immediate feedback on his work.

a.bar is a sleek, contemporary restaurant that lives in the AKA hotel in Rittenhouse Square, right in the heart of Center City. With great views and delicious bites, a.bar has been a great place for Hamm to craft delicious cocktails as part of the Philadelphia bar scene.

“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.

In this episode of “Across the Bar,” host Paul Barron learns how bartender Dan Hamm creates his award-winning cocktails, a lesson that is put to the test.

Cocktail No. 1: Maiden Voyage

Recipe:

  • Lemon-coriander shrub

  • Cynar

  • Becherovka

  • Cardamaro

  • Richland Rum

Cocktail No. 2: Angostura Float

Recipe:

  • Aged Rum

  • Dolin Blanc

  • Demerara

  • Red Wine

  • Angostura Ice Cream

  • Salt

Cocktail No. 3: One Grin

Recipe:

  • Bluecoat Gin

  • Campari

  • Cappelletti

  • Letherbee Besk

  • Dolin Rouge

  • Vanilla

Historic Husk Bar Brings New Life to Old-Fashioned Classics

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The Husk Bar is found downstairs in what used to be the master bedroom of a historic 1800s home in Rutledge Hill. Upstairs you will find the James Beard Award-winning restaurant, Husk Restaurant. The bar has an attached patio, and right outside, you will find an atrium providing something more than just a garden view. In the atrium lives the Husk’s herb garden, where bartender Mike Wolf picks herbs and garnishes at season’s peak, often inspiring new cocktail recipes.

In this episode of “Across the Bar,” Paul Barron travels to downtown Nashville to see what they’re stirring up at the Husk Bar.

Cocktail No. 1: Robotic Reaction

In order to turn out a drink with intense color, Wolf tried his hand at a Midori Cocktail using Centenario Plata tequila. Pulling some salad burnet from the Husk herb garden to intensify the melon flavor and finishing it off with a housemade tincture, the Robotic Reaction transforms the intensely sweet flavor of Midori into a more organic tasting cocktail with a kick.

Recipe:

  • Muddled Cucumber

  • Fresh Salad Burnet

  • Sea Salt

  • Happed Grapefruit Bitters

  • Lemon and Lime Juice

  • Midori

  • Centenario Plata Tequila

  • Cucumber-Salad Burnet Tincture

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Cocktail No. 2 : Ol’ Sorgy

The Ol’ Sorgy is a take on a classic Old Fashioned using Barrel-aged sorghum syrup infused with dried Magnolia leaves that give off a whiskey bourbon-like aroma. Wolf perfected the recipe once he found that “sorghum and Wheated Bourbon had this really nice affinity with each other.”

Recipe:

  • Whiskey barrel bitters

  • Lemon Peel

  • Honey Vinegar

  • Tansy Tincture

  • Weller 107 Wheated Bourbon

Cocktail No. 3: The H is Silent

This final cocktail shows the true skill of the bar at Husk. Using their own housemade Cara Cara Orange Curacao, Wolf creates a unique drink that Host Paul Barron can’t get enough of.

Recipe:

  • Cara Cara Orange Curacao

  • Lime Juice

  • La Cartuja Red Wine

  • Barrel Select Rhum Agricole

  • Abbott's Bitters

  • Cara Cara Orange Garnish

Historical Cocktail Journey at The Sazerac Bar

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In New Orleans, there is a concoction that has stood the test of time. It is said to be the first-ever American cocktail — although no one can say for sure where the word “cocktail” derived from with certainty or historical proof, for that matter. It is called the Sazerac.

This drink is actually the official cocktail of the Crescent City since 2008, after the Louisiana House of Representatives made a historic decision in a 62-33 vote to declare the Sazerac Cocktail the New Orleans’ official drink of choice.

In this episode of “Across the Bar,” host Paul Barron set out to learn the history about the evolution of ingredients behind this famous drink from some of New Orleans’ best cocktail historians: Elizabeth Pearce, Kevin Richards, and Russ Bergeron. And what better place to go on this historical journey than at the The Sazerac Bar inside The Roosevelt Hotel?

Cocktail No. 1: Sazerac Cocktail

The origins of this drink date back to the 1830s and each ingredient for the cocktail is very much representative of New Orleans, and even the state of Louisiana.

“If you pick apart the ingredients and start to think about how they are tied so locally; so, you got the Herbsaint created by a New Orleans pharmacist [Marion Legendre], you got sugar, which is such an agricultural stand-by here in the state of Louisiana, you got the lemon and the lemon influence from Sicilians that descended upon New Orleans in mass and created these great cultural legacies…” said Richards.

And of course, we can't forget to mention Peychaud’s bitters, made by the local apothecary of the time, Antoine Amedie Peychaud, and from his family’s secret recipe. With such deep roots in America’s Most Interesting City, it is easy to see why the Sazerac calls New Orleans its home.

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Cocktail No. 2: The One and Only One Ramos’ Original Gin Fizz

We also had the opportunity to learn about the Ramos’ Original Gin Fizz, a refreshing summer cocktail created by Henry Charles Ramos back in 1888 while he worked at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon. This cocktail is also referred as the New Orleans’ Fizz, and at some point, they were selling up to 1,000 a day. The drink was an instant hit and its success allowed Ramos to open his own bar. From the 1890s all the way up until the National Prohibition Act was implemented, the only challenger to Ramos’ Bar was the Sazerac Bar (at the time still in the French Quarter).

When Prohibition went into effect, Ramos closed shop for good. The recipe for the popular concoction was shared to a local reporter by the Gin Fizz creator himself, after Ramos agreed to be interviewed in vigorous belief that prohibition was never going to be repealed and as his health was in decline. The recipe is readily available to everyone now, but after the ban was lifted, Ramos’ son sold the rights of the recipe to Seymour Weis, the owner of The Roosevelt Hotel.

Watch the episode to learn more!