2012 was a banner year for Lush Angeles. Look at this pretty new website! Look at all those Twitter followers! Look at that bone luge! As always, I'll talk about individual spirits and ingredients first, and then I'll do a best-of for the Los Angeles bar scene.
While this space could probably be emertized as the Fernet Branca Favorite Amaro award, this year I'll turn to the sweet and bitter and artichokey goodness of Cynar. I wasn't always a Cynar fan on its own, but it mixed fantastically with tequila (I still remember the Toto cocktail by Kelley Swenson: equal parts Cynar, Green Chartreuse, and reposado tequila) and of course there's the Little Italy, a Manhattan variant that subs out sweet vermouth for Cynar. This amaro even showed up as co-conspirator to last year's guilty energy drink obsession. Regardless, Cynar is versatile in all applications, and was a standout in 2012.
Favorite Tequila / Mezcal
La Niña Del Mezcal Espadín
For the agave distillate category, I'm bringing in a bit of a ringer since this spirit isn't yet widely available. Nevertheless the Espadín from La Niña Del Mezcal is fantastic. There's a wonderful smoke component to accompany a deep, lingering finish. If and when a bottle of Espadín becomes available, make sure to buy it.
Favorite Animated Short Featuring Tom Waits
For No One
Not from this year, but noteworthy regardless.
Favorite Rum / Cachaça
When Simon Ford and Dushan Zaric launched the 86 Company line of spirits, there would be no doubt that the quality of their offerings. And while Ford's Gin received the lion's share of the press, my favorite of their lineup is actually their rum. The Caña Brava is a Panamanian rum that comes from master distiller/blender Don "Pancho" Fernandez of Havana Club fame. What you have is a deep, complex rum that's wonderful for sipping, plays great in craft cocktails, and is priced reasonably enough to throw into rum and cokes (if that's your thing, and you happen to be at Tony's Saloon, and Simon Ford and David Kaplan are bartending).
Still the best.
Golden Road Hefeweizen
It was a warm year in LA (current rainfall notwithstanding) and rather turn to one of those hop-bomb IPAs, I prefer instead this locally-brewed hef. Fantastic beer, and hit the spot during those numerous times where I wanted something to cool down, without the commitment of a high proof cocktail. Golden Road, you're a life saver.
This could be considered another ringer, but at least this one is available domestically. Just not in California. Perry's Tot is a Navy-strength gin (clocking at a mild-mannered 114 proof) out of Williamsburg. While Plymouth's Navy strength got most of the airplay (and distribution), this gin from New York Distilling has a much more rounded flavor, more aromatic, slightly more floral (without turning into a lavender grenade) and overally, just more interesting to drink. It's assertive enough at that alcohol percentage that it can stand up to the likes of Green Chartreuse in a Last Word, while also being able to play nice simpler drinks like a Gimlet. Overall, a fantastic gin.
Favorite Piece of Booze Writing
"Rhum Agricole" by Wyatt Peabody for LA Times Magazine
There were a lot of great pieces written in 2012, like Wayne Curtis' "My Nutmeg Bender" in The Atlantic as well as Paul Clarke's "Still Life". The winner this year, however, was Wyatt Peabody's "Rhum Agricole" in LA Times Magazine. In it, Peabody talks about the regional rum of the France's southernmost AOC. The language is well-informed, but also romantic as well, a tough combination that Peabody pulls off with ease.
It is indeed a Caribbean paradise, with pristine white-sand beaches and crystalline water, but it is not laid-back about rhum. The spirit is pure, and precision, rigidity and single-mindedness go into its making.
Regular readers of my Twitter feed (which one?) will surely recognize the bone luge, the act of pouring spirits down an emptied out shank bone and into your mouth. Let's set the story straight. It was invented by Dänny Ronen and Jacob Grier at Laurelhurst Market in Portland, Oregon, after Evan Zimmerman jokingly said that it should be done. In 2010. It remained solely a local Portland curiosity for the next two years. Two events happened that changed everything. One was the T-boning shot at Euclid Hall in Denver, Colorado. Denver was enjoying the heights of Tebow-mania, and friends of Grier brought the bone luge from Portland to Denver. The other was Chuck Taggart's animated GIF taken at Prime Meats in NYC.
That animated GIF was spotted by Seattle writer Paul Clarke, who blogged about it on Tasting Table, which was then picked up by Grubstreet and Eater, and then the rest is history.
Alright, enough of that stuff, let's get to the local end of year awards.
Cocktail Of The Year
Flor De Jerez (Rivera)
Chicago Typewriter (The Parish)
It's a tie and it's hard to separate the two, so I'm splitting on arbitrary lines like on- and off- menu. The Flor De Jerez cocktail from Rivera features amontillado sherry, Smith & Cross rum, lemon, apricot brandy, Angostura, and Sirop JM. This fantastic drink is available on the menu and hits all of my favorite flavor profiles, well-balanced, and of course, insanely delicious. The Chicago Typewriter is a drink made off-menu by Brian Summers at The Parish, featuring Bols genever, Willett rye, Aperol, Punt E Mes, a dash Angostura, and then rather stirred, the drink is "thrown" in the manner of aerating tea. It allows for air to be introduced into the drink without bruising the spirits. Both are exceptional, are highly recommended, and were the best drinks I had all year.
840 S Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
1050 S Flower St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Bartender of the Year
Jaymee Mandeville (Drago Centro)
Cari Hah (Neat / Cole's)
Again, it's a tie, and in this case, it's really hard to separate the two since the creation of Lil' Twisted, a celebration of agave spirits and of course the sangrita pairings. Jaymee's most recent cocktail menu at Drago Centro is as amibitious as ever, and is her best one yet, such as the delicious March Hare, featuring Oxley gin, Solerno blood orange liqueur, rose water, prosecco, and white tea foam. Meanwhile, Cari continues to be quite the firecracker at Neat and Cole's, showing equal aplomb with shots of all types (especially tequila) as well as craft cocktails. Both bartenders have a contagious energy in their work, and you'll do well if you find yourself at their bars.
1114 N Pacific Ave
Glendale, CA 91202
118 E 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90014
525 S Flower St
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Bar Of The Year
Both these venues exhibited all the great qualities I like in a bar. The knowledgable and professional staff can make you any drink you want to fit any mood, no matter how much or how little a cocktail geek you might be. In fact, the locations of Sadie and Eveleigh (Hollywood and the Sunset Strip, respectively) really dictate that their menu must be more all-inclusive than your typical temple to high bartending. Because of that, and because of their roles in some of the most awesome events all year (Sadie hosted the first annual Art Beyond The Glass, which was the Event Of The Year if such a category existed; Eveleigh hosted an ongoing guest-bartending series that was the best and most interesting such weekly event in Los Angeles), it is with great pride that these two bars are co-named as bar of the year.
8752 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90069
1638 N Las Palmas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90028