A few of my favorite things from the year 2011, in no particular order:
1. Eagle Rare 10
What an absolute revelation in affordable bourbon. This became my go-to for an inexpensive but enjoyable whiskey neat in 2011, and I was never let down. The smoothness and complexity of this bourbon evokes a much more expensive bottle, and I’d recommend it highly to any bourbon lover.
2. Willett Pot Still
While a bit more expensive, this whiskey is well worth it for a special occasion. In fact, in October 2011 my groomsmen and I trekked through the streets of Seattle (in the rain, of course) to procure a bottle for pre-wedding imbibing. We succeeded, and sipped on this beautiful bottle while getting ready. Sweet and unbelievably smooth, I always keep my eye out for this whiskey at any bar.
3. Copa D’Oro (Santa Monica)
A true cocktail bar that takes pride in their craft. Strong emphasis on fresh ingredients, creativity, and top of the line spirits. The bartenders are knowledgeable and friendly, and I’ve had some great evenings tasting their craft. They even have Pappy! (occassionally). If you’re ever in Santa Monica make sure to stop by and have a cocktail, you won’t be disappointed.
4. Elements (Pasadena)
I’ve always wanted to become a regular at a bar, and I couldn’t have picked a better place than Elements Pasadena. To me, this place is a true hidden gem, my favorite local bar, and perhaps Pasadena’s best kept secret. My instinct was to keep this place to myself, but the cocktails and the staff are so exceptional that they deserve your adulation. So, I share. Without a doubt, J.P. and Kiera make some of the best craft cocktails I’ve ever had. Not only are they talented bartenders, they are simply great people to share a drink with. Perhaps the thing I miss most about leaving Los Angeles is pulling up a barstool at Elements and having J.P. and Kiera treat me to an evening of whatever new creation they’ve been working on.
5. Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits by Jason Wilson
Reading Boozehound opened my eyes to the wider world of cocktails and spirits. Wilson is the spirits writer for the Washington Post, and the book is a great introduction to some of the more interesting ingredients that are becoming increasingly popular with the rise of craft cocktails. Besides compelling anecdotes about drinking aquavit, rhum agricole, and genever, the book includes a number of recipes to help develop a taste for these unique flavors.
6. Knee High Stocking Co. (Seattle)
This place is the antithesis to your stuffy, overwrought craft cocktail bar. Enter through the unmarked door into what can only be described as if your best friend made amazing cocktails out of the basement of his house. This place is so relaxed, and the people are so unpretentious, but they still make some of the best cocktails I had all year. Have a glass of the house punch while you peruse the menu, and don’t miss the food if you’re hungry. My groomsmen and I had a blast here on a “last night out” before my wedding.
7. Needle & Thread (Seattle)
This bar was also part of my “last night out” with my groomsmen, and it was quite a treat. Located above Tavern Law and only accessible through an unmarked bank vault door, this bar oozes Prohibition era charm. The drinks were impeccably crafted, creative, and honed to our individual preferences. One of my groomsmen swore they made the best Boulevardier he had ever had. Reservations are a must, but well worth the effort if you’re in Seattle.
2011 could easily be called the year of Campari – I discovered and fell in love with this bitter in the past 12 months. Not only has the Negroni become one of my go-to cocktails, especially in the summer months, I’ve also discovered a slew of Campari based cocktails that I can’t get enough of: Boulevardier (bourbon, Campari, sweet vermouth), Lua Bonita (cachaca, Campari, sweet vermouth), Jasmine (gin, Campari, Cointreau, lemon juice), Old Pal (rye, Campari, dry vermouth). I’m looking forward to discovering new uses for Campari in the coming year.
9. Chateau du Breuil VSOP Calvados
This just snuck on to the list at the close of the year, but it certainly deserves to be here. I’ve wanted to try Calvados ever since reading Boozehound and Jason Wilson’s description of this sublime French apple brandy, and after a delicious meal at Restaurant Nora I ordered a glass for dessert. Unbelievable. Each sip starts with an earthy, funky note, followed by a long finish of soft baked apple sweetness. I’m so glad I finally got a chance to try Calvados, and I look forward to exploring this spirit further.
10. The Society
Everyone needs good drinking buddies, and I have some of the best. With our shared love of whiskey, scotch and cocktails we’ve had more than a few “fantastic” evenings. Thanks for the memories guys, you know who you are.
Bonus: Best Cocktail of 2011 – The Left Hand
Expertly served by J.P., formerly of Elements Pasadena
1 1/2 oz bourbon
3/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
2 dashes chocolate bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.