ANN ARBOR, MI – I’ve got a confession as we get ready to close out 2022. I’m a list guy.
As someone who’s been assembling year-end lists of my favorite albums for 20 years, let’s just say it didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting to convince me to put together a list of favorite cocktails I’ve sampled in the Ann Arbor-area in 2022.
So, here is my list of cocktails that stood out to me during what has been an incredibly delicious and illuminating experience in sipping this year. Cheers!
Tresillo from Blue Llama Jazz Club
Much like the jazz you’ll experience at Ann Arbor’s Blue Llama Jazz Club, there is a fantastic complexity and uniqueness to the club’s Tresillo, a mangonada-inspired cocktail offering a new twist on the popular Mexican drink.
From the first sip, Tresillo dazzles your taste buds with a 2-ounce pour of tequila with equal parts mango puree, 1 ounce of lime juice and half an ounce of tamarind syrup, which is served on the rim and inside the drink. Decorated with a Tajín-esque rim of house made mild chili powder, kosher salt and dried lime peel, every ingredient of the Tresillo adds an intoxicating element of look and taste.
When you pack equal parts fruity, spicy and salty into a cocktail, you’ve got my attention. You’ll marvel at Tresillo’s complexity as a drink that makes you think.
It should come as no surprise to find Ann Arbor’s favorite speakeasy gracing this list. Let’s be honest, you could choose from any of its storybook-style pages of drinks to find your next favorite cocktail.
I instantly fell in love with the Space Bird, which combines elements of two classic cocktails – The Saturn, which combines gin, lemon juice and passion fruit – and the Jungle Bird, a Tiki cocktail that leans on the bitter side.
The brainchild of Last Word Managing Partner Giancarlo Aversa, the Space Bird’s laundry list of ingredients displays The Last Word’s attention to detail, combining gin, lemon juice, passion fruit puree and in-house aquafaba brine from chickpeas to add to the drink’s rich top layer of foam.
It’s sweet and balanced, with fruit and cardamom-infused Aperol, adding a bitter element to the drink’s funky composition. I’m craving another one just thinking about it.
Pear Martini at Knight’s Steakhouse Downtown
Does a restaurant notorious for serving strong drinks have an unfair advantage on a best-of list? You could say the Pear Martini gives Knight’s Steakhouse that kind of advantage, but you’d be selling the drink short.
Created by Beverage Director Dan Sutter, the martini has Knight’s typical 2.5 ounces of Grey Goose La Poire flavored vodka, mixed with a half-ounce of Bols Elderflower liqueur, sour mix and his secret-weapon mix of sugary, smooth pear puree, which takes the edge off the generous portion of vodka.
Smooth and sweet, this is my go-to martini during a visit to downtown Ann Arbor, with the taste of real fruit providing a cool rush of flavor that is a great alternative to the typical classic dry martini.
The Ravens Club offers something for everyone, from a cheap beer and a bump shot of whiskey to one of its wonderfully balanced and complex cocktails like the Adirondack.
Developed seven years ago by General Manager Nick Dean, the Adirondack offers a noticeable tweak to the Brown Derby, an age-old cocktail with grapefruit, honey, tarragon and bourbon with a flavor reminiscent of coconut rather than drawing sugar from the grapefruit like a traditional Brown Derby.
With a light citrus aftertaste and honey removing some of the strength of the bourbon, the Adirondack is balanced and not too overpowering. Tarragon is blended, bruised and strained, helping it to interact with the grapefruit to provide a pleasant, aromatic citrus element to the cocktail. It’s one of the most refreshing bourbon drinks you’ll find in Ann Arbor.
After falling in love with the negroni during a trip to Italy this summer, I couldn’t find one that was made better here than the seasonal sensation served at Bellflower in downtown Ypsilanti.
The magical gin, Campari and vermouth cocktail was elevated by Bar Manager Ronnie Huey’s addition of Fee Brother Peach Bitters and a dash of Cardamom Bitters to add elements that are both sweet and bitter. The stone fruit and cardamom flavors create a taste reminiscent of fall, while a cinnamon stick is added for a blast of fall aroma.
The Harvest Negroni is a satisfying riff on the traditional negroni that’s perfect for serving around the holidays.
Another round of favorites
Before I cash out on 2022, there are plenty of other cocktails that blew my mind over the course of the last several months that need to be recognized for their balance, creativity and deliciousness. Here are five more worthy of recognition:
The whiskey sour served by The Bar at 327 Braun Court in Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown is a delightful mix of whiskey and lemon with a beautifully frothy egg white texture.
The peach cobbler old fashioned served by innovative bartender Jordan Jones at Ann Arbor’s Paesano Restaurant and Wine Bar combines bourbon-caramelized peaches and Buffalo Trace bourbon infused with graham cracker crumbs to make a cocktail reminiscent of the summer desserts his grandmother used to make.
Aventura’s La Pasionaria is a delectable mix of sweet and strong, combining Wheatley Vodka, St. George Spiced Pear Brandy liqueur and Dolin Blanc sweet vermouth.
The basil and strawberry-infused, Amaro-inspired Ducati Spritz served at YORK in Ann Arbor combines Campari, Strega, Fernet Branca, Orange Cordial, Prosecco and soda water to counter the typically sweet taste of a summer cocktail with something more bitter, but still fruity and light.
Lastly, no list would be complete without the addition of sangria served at Casa Dominick’s, offering Ann Arbor’s signature taste of summer.
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