On the Rocks: Top 10 cocktails of 2014 

click to enlarge The Brooklynite’s Whiskey Kisses - RYAN HAMILTON
  • Ryan Hamilton
  • The Brooklynite’s Whiskey Kisses

The Jackstrap

Bar 1919, 1420 S Alamo, Ste 001, (210) 227-1420, 1919bar.com

We're convinced that bar guys stay up late thinking up outrageously double entendre-ish names for drinks. (The best ideas probably come after a couple of shots of challenging, though super-bracing Fernet-Branca.) Sometimes the monikers miss, but when they score, even if in the Seth Rogen sense, they score big. The Jackstrap may have been on Don Marsh's menu for a while, but it only came to my attention in 2014. Composed principally of Laird's classic applejack and blackstrap rum, it both tastes good and smells way better than the assumed (adolescent) inspiration.

All "A" Report Card

Barbaro, 2720 McCullough, (210) 320-2261, barbarosanantonio.com

Elisabeth Forsythe is one cheeky lady—at least on the evidence of her bar menu at Barbaro. I'm thinking especially of the All "A" Report Card, a drink I would, first, never have thought to attempt at home, and, second, never have imagined ordering but for a little urging. The drink takes the soda fountain as its inspiration, and though there is no ice cream there is cola floated atop bourbon, gin, Galliano, classic acid phosphate (for tartness), root beer syrup, cream and egg white, all first given a dry shake without ice, then shaken with it. We're thinking more Scarlet Letter "A" ourselves...

Whiskey Kisses

The Brooklynite, 516 Brooklyn, (210) 444-0707, brooklynitesa.com

Leave it to the instigators of the Alamo City's tiki trend to include an island-esque cocktail on their autumn menu that's devoid of all things pumpkin. Served in a tall Collins glass with crushed ice, Whiskey Kisses is perfect for a hot SA night out (I sampled my first after a rather sticky second night of Luminaria) for both its boozy and wildly refreshing flavors. Although it strays from tiki with the addition of rye whiskey, in place of rum, the flavors couldn't be more in line (unless we threw in a pineapple or two), as it combines a house-made orgeat with almonds, sugar and orange water, dry Curaçao, lime and grapefruit.

White Negroni

Dorćol Distilling Company, 1902 S Flores, (210) 229-0607, dorcoldistilling.com

Head (and effectively only) barboy at Dorcol, Nick Kenna is faced with a challenge: his main cocktail ingredient pretty much has to be the distillery's apricot rakia. Not to worry, he quickly realized that he needed to be ultra-inventive in the second (and third) ingredient category. Like everyone, he's riffed on an Old Fashioned, in this case with rakia, a brown sugar cube and bitters. But a personal favorite is the White Negroni with rakia standing in for gin, Martini & Rossi white vermouth and Suze, a gentian-based digestif. I'm not ditching the original, but for an occasional dalliance...

Green Light District

George's Keep, 17101 La Cantera Pkwy, (210) 310-3733, georgeskeep.com

Much like its Pearl-located sister bar Blue Box, George's Keep draws in a peculiar bar-hopping set. Opened by Stephen Mahoney and a slew of serious bartenders, including Johnny Bernal and Steven Raul Martín, George's Keep serves to placate that Loopland crowd with strong and inventive cocktails to sip in the posh interior and European village-themed setting that is the Éilan. Said inventive drinks include this summer's Green Light District, which combined green chartreuse, blanco tequila, cane sugar and lime with Crave Market's celery blend—perfect for knocking back on the patio and taking in the show.

click to enlarge The Cobra’s Fang from Concrete Jungle - LINDA ROMERO
  • Linda Romero
  • The Cobra’s Fang from Concrete Jungle

Cobra's Fang

Concrete Jungle, 1628 S Presa, (210) 373-9907

South-Southtown's latest bar (and yes, there will be more coming soon) opened this December with a string of classic tiki 'tails. Does San Anto crave tiki that strongly to warrant a whole bar? Will the neighborhood embrace the joint that tossed island fixtures into the former El Sauzeno and hoped for the best? Those are queries only time can answer, but, in the meantime, I won't turn my nose up at the toothsome and absinthe-laced Cobra's Fang, a Don the Beachcomber creation I paired with avocado-crab rangoons from Tapa Tapa Truck.

Curse of the South Paw

Hot Joy, 1014 S Alamo, (210) 368-9324, hotjoysa.com

It's not that we didn't trust Jeret Peña and Karah Carmack to create a solid cocktail for Hot Joy's opening, but they had to hit a pretty specific mark using extremely new ingredients to the San Antonio set. First the drink had to pack a wallop (obviously), be sweet to balance out the heat from the kitchen (chef Quealy Watson loves his spices) and tart to cut through some of that rich deliciousness known as twice-fried crab fat chicken wings. The bar scored on all notes with several, including the Mak Mak and El Diablo, but we drank summer away with the popular Curse of the South Paw made with gin, maple, coconut and ginger beer.

Old Fashioned

NAO, 312 Pearl Pkwy, (210) 554-6484, naorestaurant.com

Timothy Bryand has become a master at turning out Latin cocktails designed to match dinners at NAO, the Culinary Institute of America's teaching restaurant. But he's also on top of the base boozes that spring from points south—the Caribbean included. Earlier in the year he concocted an Old Fashioned that subbed Trinidadian Zaya Gran Reserva 12-year-old rum for the usual rye or bourbon, and the result was eye-opening. Recently, we evaluated some other rums for their OF potential. Papa's Pilar, aged solera-style in the U.S., Ron Zacapa from first-press cane and the 18-year Nicaraguan Flor de Caña, whose woodiness we felt might play best with bitters. We say try 'em all.

Caramello

Park Social, 224 E Olmos, (210) 822-0100, park-social.com

Call it the little bar that could—and yes, Park Social really is that "intimate." The space, carved out of the old Ciao Lavanderia to include sister eateries Folc and Alumina (coming this spring), is a playground for head bartender David Naylor (one of two Olaf Harmel prodigies) who opened the bar fresh off a brief apprenticeship at Chicago's The Aviary. Armed with all this booze-knowledge, Naylor's slowly adding new cocktails to the mix, but we couldn't help but fall in love with the Caramello, quite possibly the first on his menu. The whiskey-based concoction uses bitters, a pinch of salt and a house-made caramel syrup that's scorched, smoked in Folc's wood-fired oven and cooled for use. It's a smoky, sweet and handsome take on the Old Fashioned.

So Long Johnson

TBA, 2801 N St. Mary's, (210) 320-1753

Not content with simply pouring booze out of a bottle anybody can buy, today's barkeeps are big into making or modifying their own concoctions. Josh Brock, the new hooch honcho at TBA, now supervises the making of an allspice dram for use in the So Long Johnson, an Old Fashioned variation with rye, Laphroaig 10 and a splash of said dram; now off the menu, it's still in the memory banks.

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