To unearth the most innovative, out-there and otherwise extraordinary cocktails of the year, we visited an untold number of bars, lounges and restaurants from coast to coast. The result of our exhaustive research: Tasting Table's Best Cocktails of 2012. Here you'll find the stories behind the shakers, plus recipes so you can try each and every drink at home--no matter where you live. A hearty cheers, then, to the year's most outstanding drinks.

I Want To Eat An Onion Tart

A caramelized onion tart inspired the ever-creative cocktail genius Todd Thrasher to develop this kicky concoction for Society Fair. His creation combines onion-infused Riesling with rum, vermouth and lemon. A bacon cracker stands in for the tart's buttery crust. ... Read More →

Forgetfully, Fernet

How better to bust a hangover than to include a remedy in a cocktail? Gina Chersevani’s gingery whiskey slushie floats a quick pour of bitter Fernet-Branca, the purported hangover cure-all, to give regulars at The Eddy a fail-safe reason to order another. ... Read More →

Mary Rocket Milk Punch

It’s ironic that New Orleans, known for its heat and humidity, is also known for a milk-based cocktail. After all, common knowledge and Ron Burgundy would say that the two don’t mix. But at Bellocq, the new project from the team behind Cure, bartender Kirk Estopinal has found a way to make classic milk punch palatable all year round. Based on a recipe from 1711, this clarified milk punch goes down as easy in July as it does in December. ... Read More →

Heart of Darkness

Detroit has David Kwiatkowski to thank for jump-starting the city's local cocktail culture via his far-reaching bar, the Sugar House. And we have Kwiatkowski himself to thank for introducing us to our favorite fruit-booze pairing of the year: Fernet and blackberries. He suggests making this punch a day in advance to let the flavors truly marry; he also admits he rarely has the patience to wait that long. ... Read More →

Fino Swizzle

Having a drink at The Hawthorne, the latest from Boston bar guru Jackson Cannon, feels like hanging out in the penthouse apartment of your most sophisticated, well-heeled friend. But on Sunday afternoons, the vibe is more island hut than swanky pad, with innovative takes on tiki cocktails. This cocktail falls somewhere in between the two identities: port and sherry meet swizzle stick. ... Read More →

Montana Payback

There's an intricate story to each of the cocktail names at Hop Sing Laundromat, an eccentric Philadelphia cocktail den. Each is a memento of American history, lovingly collected on a cross-country road trip by the bar's owner, Lêe, in anticipation of opening the bar. This drink, the Montana Payback, refers to the Battle of Greasy Grass, also known as Custer's Last Stand. ... Read More →

Divine Delusion

Gentian, that bitter root, has taken the bartender's shelf by storm, appearing in new liqueurs and tonics with astonishing frequency. But the flavor can be a harsh one when not incorporated properly. For gentian newbies, take this drink from Kask, which uses the root-flavored liqueur Aveze, as your measuring stick. Like the rest of Tommy Klus's creations, it excels in balance and simplicity. ... Read More →

Cantaloupe Cooler

When Vessel closed in 2010, the Seattle cocktail scene suffered a severe blow. Its barkeep, Jim Romdall, had been the city's patron saint of progressive drinking. But now all is as it should be; the bar has reopened, and Romdall is back behind the stick. The cocktails, of course, are better than ever. ... Read More →

Joe Buck

Reservations are necessary before heading to Midnight Cowboy Modeling School. The one-time brothel is now home to some of the best cocktails in Austin, offered up in a cheeky speakeasy setting. The bar is full of inside jokes: the buzzer to be admitted to the bar is labeled “Harry Craddock,” for instance. And then there’s the Joe Buck, a mustardy spin on the Moscow Mule that is named for Jon Voight’s character in the film from which the bar takes its name. ... Read More →

Uncle Jesse

If you're drinking a delicious cocktail in Denver, chances are good that Sean Kenyon had something to do with it. He has installed proper liquor programs all over town, and currently hops back and forth between two of the city's hottest spots: the just reopened Squeaky Bean restaurant and top-notch cocktail den, Williams & Graham. His program is rife with innovation, but don't get distracted by the bells and whistles--some of Kenyon's best drinks are the simplest. Take the Uncle Jesse, which we’ll be drinking for liquid warmth all winter. ... Read More →

The Colonial

Caribbean flavors inspired mix-master Micah Wilder to add this cocktail to Black Jack’s menu. The herbaceous Chartreuse balances the bright, grapey Pisco, and house-made pineapple syrup adds a hint of island warmth. ... Read More →

Jesus Malverde

Named for Mexico’s Robin Hood-like 18th-century hero-bandit, this smoky mezcal concoction at Bandolero is fittingly bold. Head mixologist Sam Babcock balances the spirit with lively juices, a punch of cilantro and a kick of long-lasting spice. ... Read More →

Ain't That a Daisy

Fiola bar manager Jeff Faile first caught our attention with his unparalleled Negroni menu. But his brightly colored tequila drink caught our eye, too. Those who cannot find hibiscus cordials can use high-quality grenadine or make their own grenadine, using equal parts pomegranate juice and simple syrup.​ ... Read More →

Fruit Cup

Despite the name, you’ll notice that this Bar Agricole cocktail lacks neon-hued maraschino cherries or melon cubes. Rather, it's Thad Vogler’s new take on a classic English class of drinks, the most famous version of which is bottled by Pimm’s. The Fruit Cup is indeed as fresh as you’d imagine, bright with citrus and ginger, but the Italian vermouth and bitters give the drink enough depth that you can serve it all the way through January. ... Read More →

The Corsican

Alex Smith, bar manager at Honor Kitchen & Cocktails, says that The Corsican is the East Bay bar's most popular cocktail. It’s clear why. The Corsican seems to have started off as a Manhattan that took a month sabbatical in the Caribbean. Rum has softened the bourbon’s bite without asserting its own presence too strongly, and the bright greeting of orange gives way to allspice and the subtler herbaceous notes of vermouth. It’s a clear, potent, but bewitching drink. ... Read More →

San Francisco Fizz

A mash-up of a Mai Tai and Pisco Punch, two drinks invented in the Bay Area, Erik Adkins’ San Francisco Fizz at Wo Hing General Store is a refreshing tribute to the city. Beverage director for the Slanted Door restaurant group, Adkins added this drink to the menu at the group's newest addition. Shake this drink vigorously so that the egg white is as light and foamy as marshmallow. ... Read More →

Surfer on Acid

We have always liked the idea of the Surfer on Acid. But the reality is often a saccharine trainwreck combining coconut rum and Jägermeister. The nouveau Surfer on Acid served at Tradition retains the spirit of the original but is a drink you actually want: A combination of two types of rum, Averna standing in for the Jäger, pineapple gum syrup, a spoonful of house-made coconut marmalade and lemon juice. Radical, dudes. ... Read More →

Photo: Charlie Villyard


The cocktails at Comal may be as much of a draw as chef Matt Gandin’s California-Mexican food. And the best of the drinks may be Scott Baird’s take on the Paloma. By substituting mezcal for tequila and adding vermouth, Baird turned this breezy cooler into a smoky, exciting cocktail that is a natural fit for antojitos and grilled meats--or drinking on its own. ... Read More →

Cooper's Folly

A renovated Travelodge in Boise, Idaho, might seem an unlikely destination for a good libation. But thanks to the efforts of Michael Bowers, the bar at the Modern Hotel is serving drinks on par with those in established drinking capitals. The most astonishing part: This is Bowers's first professional cocktail job. You'd never know it with just one sip of the Cooper's Folly, a refreshing, vegetal combination of mezcal, vermouth, pineapple syrup and sage. ... Read More →


Olive oil in a cocktail? We were wary of such a conceit, but ordered the Oliveto at the super hip speakeasy Marvel Bar anyway. Bartender Pip Hanson, a master of subtleties, rewarded our faith: This frothy concoction runs on sharp sour corners with a voluminous, silky center. ... Read More →

The Cableknit

With one of the longest, most creative lists in town, Sable is our go-to for a survey of current cocktail trends. What we found on a recent visit: spicy, savory flavors; Tiki-inspired concoctions; and the promise of a winter whiskey wonderland. Mike Ryan’s Cableknit is classic two-rum, crushed-ice Tiki, but with a dark and bitter backbone of coffee liqueur and grapefruit. Calvados skews its flavor towards fall, Licor 43 adds vanilla and orange notes, and the end result is one of the most sophisticated mixtures ever to grace a faux-wooden Tiki mug. ... Read More →

Cider Smash

Broken Shaker is now open permanently after a wildly popular run as a pop-up bar at the Indian Creek Hotel (now Freehand Miami). As ever, the cocktail list by bartenders Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta is based on fresh and seasonal ingredients. One of their fall creations, the Cider Smash, is a murky, spicy, aromatic cocktail--like a refreshing cold Toddy. ... Read More →

Disco Nap

The reason you don’t often see grappa-based cocktails is not because the Italian booze doesn’t play well with other liquor. Rather, blame the high price of non-rot-gut grappa. So while the Smash variant bar man John Coltharp serves at The Parish might be a few bucks more than some other drinks, its spicy, floral grappa di Prosecco breaks the spirit free from its digestivo chains. Paired with mint, lemon and bitter-edged Aperol, this bright, revitalizing drink is worthy of its name. ... Read More →

Basil Bixby

True, the techniques at the Momofuku team’s high-tech East Village bar verge on space-world crazy: Centrifuges! Red-hot pokers that are 1,500 degrees! But how startlingly simple the resulting drinks are. The Basil Bixby and its brother drink, the Bangkok Daiquiri, use liquid nitrogen to powderize basil. Thankfully, a blender is an easy substitute, infusing the gin base with basil’s bright and green essence. ... Read More →

From a Pilot's Notebook

Since trading The Whistler for the Melman Brothers, Paul McGee has mastered the art of globe-trotting cocktails: French-slanted at Paris Club, Italian-inspired at RPM and, soon, southern and Tiki at the imminent Bub City and Three Dots and a Dash. The Pilot’s Notebook nods to many of these themes. It’s a riff on Charles H. Baker’s Pan-American Clipper, with Thai-style pomegranate drinking standing in for grenadine. Pok Pok’s drinking vinegars (available online or at Publican Quality Meats), especially pomegranate and pineapple, are some of McGee’s favorite mixing toys of the moment. ... Read More →

La Pacaya

Bartender Chris Hudnall likes to cook. Some of his cocktails require as much time in the kitchen as at the bar. For example, the salubrious Tequila Beets cocktail includes roasted beet juice. La Pacaya plays off the Latin flavors on the food menu at Bloom Wynwood. Guatemalan Ron Zacapa 23 rum and papaya are the base of this garden in a glass, which has a heady aroma of cilantro. ... Read More →


If you order #77 at Jordan Kahn’s avant-garde Vietnamese restaurant, realize that you’ll be responsible for “making” your drink. A tall glass of ice, a bottle opener and a bottle will be set down in front of you. Those evocative ingredients listed on the menu, the shiso water and the Cocchi Americano, are hiding inside the bottle; pop the top, watch the bubbles rise and pour yourself a drink. ... Read More →

Pimm's for Pros

A Pimm's Cup, so light, so airy, so ideal for daytime drinking. Leave it to the boys at the Wayland in the East Village to tweak the classic recipe and transform it into a vehicle for one punched-up evening of quaffing. Hardened with a backbone of rye, the Pimm’s and ginger ale take the backseat. ... Read More →

Dogs of Okinawa

Of his penchant for unaged spirits, Yusho bartender Alex Bachman says: “I’m drawn to things that speak to the grain, rather than the barrel.” This one highlights whiskey’s lighter, brighter side, pairing white dog with acidic, verdant glassmates. At Yusho, Bachman is challenged to match the kitchen’s creative Japanese dishes with drinks that are both food-friendly and sophisticated. He draws from the cooks’ pantry, too, using seaweed, soybeans and, in the below, palm sugar for a richer simple syrup. Look for more of his drinks at the soon-to-open Billy Sunday, a Logan Square cocktail bar from he and Yusho chef Matthias Merges. ... Read More →

IPA Cocktail

You won't find too many beer cocktails on Miami drink menus. Robert Ferrara, head bartender at The Dutch, provides a smooth introduction to the genre. His version combines bracing grapefruit-infused Aperol with Stone IPA, which has its own citrusy notes. Ferrara makes the almond syrup orgeat by soaking almonds in water, then puréeing them, but he also loves the orgeat from Small Hand Foods.   ... Read More →

Golden Ale

There aren’t many heavy, boozy stirred drinks on the cocktail list at the Michael Voltaggio restaurant ink. The weight and alcoholic heat of such concoctions don’t mesh well with the playful and often light food; featherweight, savory drinks like Gabriella Mlynarczyk’s Michelada-style beer cocktail, which hits with a welcome jab of heat, do. The distinctive floral character, lent by a touch of St-Germain, moves the drink far from the Clamato realm.  ... Read More →

Old Alhambra

Named for a once-debaucherous saloon in the Flatiron neighborhood, the Old Alhambra comes from the “Dark Spirited” section of the Nomad’s staggering impressive cocktail list. Reading of Moorish nights spent in libraries among cigars and leather, the dosing of sherry, vermouth and crème de cacao has earned the Old Alhambra a cult following. Pair it at the restaurant with the world’s most elegant bar snack: Radishes dipped in tempered butter with fleur de sel. ... Read More →

Pomegranate Old Fashioned

“Pomegranate was over-utilized in the 2000s,” says Sepia’s Joshua Pearson. He’s on a mission to lend a new association to the tart, versatile fruit, far from its Cosmopolitan past. Here, fresh pomegranate seeds macerate in rye for a week, infusing the spirit with a dark, fruity flavor and a rosy glow. Pearson is incorporating spice blends into his drinks, too. He tailored his house-made ras el hanout bitters to complement spirits, adding gentiane and flowery orris root. Take a stab at making your own (they’d make an impressive holiday gift), or substitute with a dash of premade, spice-forward bitters, like cardamom or ginger. ... Read More →

Sweet Melissa

Yardbird Southern Table & Bar is known for its selection of bourbons and bourbon cocktails, but the Sweet Melissa, named after the Allman Brothers song, showcases Troy & Sons Moonshine, a white whiskey. Beverage directors Allegra Angelo and Robert Hortencio amplify the subtle floral notes in the moonshine with herbal Chartreuse, cucumber and lavender. They top the aromatic cocktail with celery bitters. ... Read More →

Chocolate Ty

There are the drinks the bartenders will make for you; then there are the drinks they imbibe themselves. Recently, one such professional favorite has been a shot of mezcal stained green with Chartreuse. Paul Sanguinetti of Stark Bar built this cocktail on those spicy, vegetal flavors, adding a Thai-inspired syrup and, oddly, white cacao liqueur, for a uniquely green-tasting drink. ... Read More →

Flatbush Swizzle

The Beagle is back and more cocktail-focused than ever after a short summer closing and refresh. The bar’s take on a crushed-ice swizzle was conceived with the idea that no single spirit pairs better with itself than rum. Nicaraguan Flor de Caña makes fast friends with Jamaican Wray & Nephew rum, and kicky Falernum stands in for simple syrup. ... Read More →

Fall in Holland

Stephen Cole’s new cocktail at Barrelhouse Flat is a response to those who reach instinctively for whiskey once the temperature drops. Instead of a brown spirit, nutmeg-scented allspice dram and the orange of Licor 43 add sweet spice to malty genever. It’s a modern cocktail with an old soul, crafted with minimal ingredients and is an excellent example of Barrelhouse’s equal appreciation for classics and creativity. Allspice dram appears a number of times on Barrelhouse’s fall menu, including in a wintry rum sour with lemon juice, cinnamon syrup and a grating of fresh nutmeg on top. ... Read More →

Tinh Te

Bartender Chad Phillips created this cocktail with Chinese five-spice syrup to accompany chef Freddy Ortiz's pan-Asian menu at Lantao. Phillips uses dry-tasting Luxardo, one of his favorite liqueurs, to complement Bulleit rye whiskey. Tinh te is Vietnamese for “subtle”; the five-spice glides over the palate, rather than crashing into it. A rinse of apricot makes the lush drink pop. ... Read More →

Rye Two Ways

The cocktail list at the Churchill doesn’t hide bartender Mia Sarazen’s motives: She wants people to drink more bourbon, more rye. There’s the user-friendly orgeat-and-whiskey drink Baby’s First Bourbon, and an excellent, choose-your-own-adventure rye cocktail too. The latter, made with grenadine, lemon and dry vermouth, can be ordered up, or served over ice and lengthened with Allagash white ale, the malt flavors of the beer playing up the rye’s spice. ... Read More →

Honey-Nut Old-Fashioned

The JBird flies again: The reincarnation of this bar (originally located in Midtown) has made some Upper East Side denizens immensely happy. It’s easy to see why, with drinks by Jason Littrell and Marshall Altier and the mindset that a bar should be designed for its neighborhood. That same community feeling is how the bar served the Honey-Nut Old-Fashioned, courtesy of Marcos Tello from The Varnish in Los Angeles. Once you deal with fat-washing the peanuts in bourbon, the cocktail is a snap to make. ... Read More →