In this banner year behind the bar, it’s been our privilege to taste with so many of New York City’s finest mixologists, who are riding an unprecedented, seemingly endless wave of boozy glory. (Exhibit A: the East Village and its mixo heartbeat, East 6th Street.) The scene we encountered this year wasn’t defined by wild creativity or a single trend, but instead a consistent and remarkably high level of execution. The market is so stacked with talent that it’s engaged in a (friendly) Darwinian battle: to survive, you have to get smarter and your skills stronger.
There are standouts, of course, like the newest Rising Star Mixologists Jeff Bell of PDT and Jillian Vose of Death & Company, who impressed us with their range, gravity, and pretension-free hospitality. Mixologist Theo Lieberman has introduced a simple technique that will change the way bartenders approach balance in classic cocktails. And as reigning cocktail capital of the world, New York is attracting international talent with openings like Dead Rabbit (thank you, Ireland) and Experimental Cocktail Club (merci, Paris), adding their respective revivalist and progressive philosophies to the big cocktail list that is New York City.
It helps, too, that our port town is the crossroads for nearly every spirit that enters the country. Sip a small-batch mezcal you loved on a trip to Mexico? Chances are you can find it here or find someone to import it (while your friends in Austin or New Orleans have to jump through bureaucratic hoops). New York-based purveyors like Cocktail Kingdom and the Gotham Artisanal ensure bartenders are stocked with swizzle sticks, barspoons, and every newfangled bottle of bitters imaginable. According to our wine sleuth, Jeff Harding, wine distributors are increasingly getting into the spirits game, adding hand-crafted spirits to their portfolios.
New York is even catching up to distilling meccas like Portland and San Francisco. Thanks to relaxed licensing fees and the locavore zeitgeist, there are about 30 craft distillers in New York State, with 12 in Brooklyn alone. Nearby Tuthilltown Spirits has cornered the market on local whiskies, and Brian Facquet’s Bootlegger 21 vodka is introducing the city to a flavor-forward version of the oft maligned clear spirit. In the last few weeks, we’ve experienced some of the cities new gin distillers, who are breaking into this multi-billion dollar industry.
As good as the scene is in New York, thankfully, most of the bars we tasted in don’t take themselves quite as seriously as they did in the past—especially the Brooklyn contingent. Ba’sik, Huckleberry, and Donna are dress down bars, where mixologists are making creative, affordable cocktails. They pour wine and microbrews (PBR anyone?) without attitude—all while moving their craft forward. We drank purposeful, delicious beer cocktails, crystal clear milk punch at Aska, refreshing swizzle variations at Dram, and an updated, expedited Ramos Gin Fizz at April Bloomfield’s Salvation Taco.
Though most of our coverage has focused on New York, in 2013, we’ve had cocktails everywhere from Charleston and San Francisco to Philly and Singapore, and we’ll share some of our favorites in this issue (including Michael Callahan’s supercharged Rosita and Bess Gulliver’s In General Terms). And as we continue to scour the country for talent, perspective, and our next favorite drink, keep your nominations coming for bartenders and their kitchen counterparts in North Carolina, South Carolina, Coastal New England, Nashville, LA, Louisville, and DC. Plus get real-time updates on our whereabouts and meals (liquid and otherwise) by following us on Twitter and Facebook.