An Expert's Top 5 Cocktail Experiences of 2010

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Derek Brown


Perhaps Time magazine should announce the cocktail as its Person of the Year, because in 2010 it became one of the most ascendant culinary trends. We also saw significant trends within the cocktail scene, including the rebirth of Tiki culture, the inclusion of spirit-specific bars, and an internationalist approach to drinks, which mixed the traditions of various nations and cultures: spiked Champurrado, Coquitos, and Punschglühbowle anyone?

Drinking a well-made cocktail is one thing, but when you add to that some element of wow or wonder, the drink is seared in your memory for a lifetime.

In such an environment, it became harder and harder to distinguish oneself as a mixologist. But that didn't stop anyone from trying. Earlier in the year, GQ put out a list of the top 25 cocktail bars in the United States, and more recently Tasting Table did a round up of the best cocktails in New York, San Francisco and Chicago (ahem, where's D.C. and L.A.?). I have my own list of great cocktails, but I decided to write about only the best cocktail experiences I've had this year. Drinking a well-made cocktail is one thing, but when you add to that some element of wow or wonder, the drink is seared in your memory for a lifetime.

5. Sazerac—Paul Gustins, Tujague's, New Orleans

Paul is a well-noted master of grump. Yet after meeting him I quickly realized that he's one of the last remaining bartenders who will tell you how it is and isn't entreated by management to coddle guests. Besides, he was more than gracious to me and made one of the most authentic Sazerac recipes I've ever had in a city that recently named the Sazerac its official cocktail, in a bar with over 150 years of history. My sweetheart's Sazerac, Chantal Tseng's, remains my favorite, but the ambiance of Tujague's, coupled with an authentic and genuine approach, made number five on my list a no-brainer. My advice if you order a Sazerac: Be nice. Paul is only really a grump to those who deserve it.

4. Cosmo—Dale Degroff, National Repeal Day Ball 2010, Washington, D.C.

The Cosmopolitan became a joke among bartenders. After countless suburban housewives rushed to emulate the glamour and inter-independence of the women of Sex and the City, you could almost mouth the words before she said it as some "Miranda" sat down at your bar. Restaurants came up with their own signature Cosmos that often ladled fruit upon fraud, as they served overly sweet versions. Yet it all began with bartending legend Dale Degroff. Before it was a joke, it was a cocktail. He cribbed the recipe from Cheryl Cook in the 1980s and standardized it, adding a flamed orange peel for show. It's still not my favorite drink, but when Dale serves you one, as he did at the national Repeal Day Ball this December, you realize that when done well it exudes as much charm as its codifier.

Presented by

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.

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