Sometimes a drink is just that, a drink—liquid in a cup we sip to pass the meal. No more. No less. In other moments, it stops time. The first sip of a bubbling, fizzing elixir, dancing on the tongue, or an ethanolic first impression—keen yet congenial—sets the neurons afire in your brain. In this retrospective of beverages, we’ll endeavor to share the latter. At the very least, here is a compilation of the libations (cocktails, beer, wine, the non-alcoholic sort, etc.) that impressed us in 2021.
A Miller Lite at Sue Ellen’s It’s not the fanciest—okay, not even the twelfth fanciest drink—that I tipped back this year. But this summer, when Sue Ellen’s cracked open its door again after going into hibernation mode for a year in 2020, that draft of Miller Lite tasted especially crisp. I slurped it as I moved about Sue Ellen’s, one the few lesbian bars left in the country, talking to people happy to be back home. Read more in, “Sue Ellen’s Revival Is a Homecoming for Dallas’ Queer Community.”
Loro’s Frozen G&T When Loro opened in July, it was hot. No, it was h-a-w-t! The restaurant hosted a small preview in the parking ahead of the debut, and I swear you could’ve cracked a raw egg onto my forehead and fry it—well, you could have if I weren’t sweating bullets. I digress. The frozen G&Ts were a slushy savior. I found that, even in pleasantly warm weather, the cool and never cloying drink hit the stop alongside smoky barbecue bites.
A Whistling Butthole at Atlas I enjoy most of the cocktails on the Atlas menu. It’s approachable for the everyman, yet nerdy enough for the drink aficionado. When it arrived in Bishop Arts in the spring , I found it totally unstuffy, despite it’s elegant, loungey atmosphere. You can get a suite of martinis or lovely, coconutty cocktails. And, yet, you can order a, ahem, Whistling Butthole: a shot of half Fernet and half banana liqueur invented by Jesse Powell, who is a mad barman for this one. (It even earned Atlas some coveted Fernet Branca coins.) Order it by shrilling like a slide whistle or, fine, be boring and simply request it like normal. Either way, it’s wonderfully fun.
Swizzle’s Tiki Drinkies Lower Greenville’s slice of the tropical life dwells inside Swizzle, wherein tiki tipples prevail. Find a wonderful slate of the titular drinks, swizzles, which are sour-leaning elixirs vigorously stirred over icy pebbles with the bar tool of the same name. Rum, port wine, and brandy-like aguardiente are tempered by passion fruit and lime juice in the Pukiki Park swizzle. The Bitter Truth of a Mai Tai is the bar’s acerbic spin on one of the genre’s most famous cocktails. This is bar where I kind of sit back and bask in the kitsch of it all.
The Filthy Martini (or anything, really) at Midnight Rambler I think the city collectively mourned the November 2020 closure of Black Swan Saloon. So when Gabe Sanchez reappeared this year, in the revival of Midnight Rambler, there was a sense of relief. His faultless Old-Fashioneds—the Rambler’s made with bonded bourbon and rye, whereas the Caribbean swaps in overproof and pineapple rums—hit every time. But often I just want a gin martini, a very dirty one. When I order an extra dirty martini at a bar, sure there’s some brine to it. I try to implore to the bartender, “Please, the dirtiest martini you can muster. Don’t skip the vermouth.” Still, I might get something less so. I then cry, my tears saltier than what’s in my glass. So when I go Rambler and order the Filthy Martini I can trust it will be visciously grungy. Made with olive-infused vodka, brine from a blend of different olives, champagne vinegar, dry vermouth, and celery bitter, it’s the filthiest martini I’ve ever had and I love it.
Apothecary’s Peking Tom The speakeasy sibling to Rye, Apothecary is dimly lit lounge in which cocktails are pleasant and at time challenging. The Peking Tom strikes a good balance of the two. Stellum bourbon is fat-washed with duck confit—that is, infused with duck leg fat that is later cooled and scraped away, leaving a savory whiskey in its wake. Meanwhile, lapsang souchong tea-infused peach liqueur and absinthe also meet in the glass. It arrives smoky with a yellow ducky cocktail pick.
Local Hard Seltzers ‘Twas the summer of seltzers, and local makers of the alcoholic variety answered the market for boozy, fizzy drinks. I can’t say they were favorite drinks of the year, but our office-wide taste-off was a really fun time: “Taste Testing the Boom of Dallas Hard Seltzers.”
Parterre’s Espresso Martini …And, for that matter, the Carajillo. Essentially, any drink in which booze and espresso meet in the glass will be superb at Parterre. (Considering it comes from the same team behind La Reunion, it makes perfect sense.) In November, the all-day cafe opened inside the former Ascension Coffee on Elm Street, bearing coffee, breakfast, and lunch by day. And by night, the lights dim and I appear for my post-work espresso martini.
Beans come from Flower Mound’s Novel Coffee Roasters, such as an Ethiopian Kerchanshe, which is as likely to appear in an espresso cup as a glass coupe. Barman Joe Rodriguez delivers an espresso martini unlike any other I’ve had. Its boozy-buzz is balance yet doesn’t hold back. Indeed it pushes me off the barstool and into whatever else the evening holds in store.
The Frozen Irish Coffee at Twilite Lounge Another 2021 comeback kid, Twilite Lounge was a welcomed Deep Ellum return. It’s one of the remaining spots in the neighborhood that feels like your bar even on the first visit. Here, the bar is famous for its frozen Irish coffee for a reason: it slaps.
A Bottle of Squoze From Vector Brewing A sunset-hued farmhouse ale, the Squoze is exactly the kind of good shit I’d expect from Vector Brewing. Beautiful in both carbonation and color, this saison uses carrots and Texas-grown oranges for a drink that tastes like an adult juice box. Fermented with Ocotillo, a yeast strain native to Big Bend, and later conditioned in American white oak foeder with a Brett yeast, Squoze is one of my most unforgettable sips of 2021.
At Casa Wise, 2021, like 2020, was pretty much the year of the G&T, which means house-made tonic syrup from my backyard lemongrass and plenty of Gin Mare from Bar and Garden. (You can find the recipe in Hand Made, my cookbook from last year.)
Favorite tequila drink of the year has to be Ayahuasca Cantina’s Birria-Rita: No, it doesn’t taste like goat; it is a wonderfully warming spiced tequila with a little sweetness from pineapple liquor and agave syrup that goes perfectly with that gorgeous seared beef femur.
Best whiskey discovery: Ironroot’s award-winning Harbinger Whiskey (binge some Yellowstone and drink it straight).
Best patio brew: a couple of Wise Monkeys (what else?) paired with platters of Thai fried chicken and arepas at Manhattan Project Beer Co.
Best unfussy Old-Fashioned: the one served by the longtime bartender at Jeng Chi in Richardson; it whets the appetite for soup dumplings and turmeric noodles.
Best holiday cocktail moment: sipping Champagne in the festive lobby of the Thompson Dallas while listening to the Booker T choir was only topped by a bottle of Jansz Tasmanian sparkling rose (who knew?) 49 floors up in a window booth at Monarch.
Best surprise: Iluggy Recinos’ Ross on Haskell cocktail revelation at Petra and the Beast, a revolutionary take on the classic Penicillin in a year when we were in desperate need of a cure.
Most Delicious Wine: Jean Louis Chave Saint Joseph The Chave family in France’s Northern Rhone valley are winemaking royalty. They have been making wine in the region since 1481 for 16 consecutive generations, and the current head of house Jean-Louis Chave carries on that tradition with aplomb. Their most coveted wines come from the tiny appellation of Hermitage and cost upwards of $300 due to the combination of history, rarity and quality they’ve become known for. But the Chave family also owns vineyards in the neighboring appellation of Saint Joseph, a region with much less collector clout and therefore much more approachable prices.
This year I was able to try a bottle of Jean Louis Chave Saint Joseph from 2016 and out of all the wonderful bottles I’ve tasted this year it still stands out in my mind. Although it might not have the firepower of the Hermitage, it is Syrah at its absolute exquisite pinnacle: silky, balanced, and deep. Jean-Louis is a master of his craft and produces their Saint Joseph with the same care and love of his pricier wines. I shared it with a good friend and, as we ate our meal, the wine carried us through the gentle pauses in courses and conversation throughout the evening. Thinking back on it puts the same dumb smile back on my face.
Favorite Bar Snacks: Âme I love getting the full dining room experience at Âme in Bishop Arts, but I like holding court at the horseshoe shaped bar in the front even more. First, the bar stools have cushioned back support and footrests at a comfortable height—details that when ignored make it hard to love bar seating. That may sound curmudgeonly but bar owners everywhere take note! No one wants to balance on a granite slab for an hour no matter how cool they look. Like their seating, Âme’s small plates are exceptional. I always order the spicy Aloo Tikki, a type of potato croquette common in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh which they fill with goat cheese; and the Chaat, which I scoop up with the accompanying fried dough crisps and wash down with a citrus forward gin martini or cold beer.
Wine I Drank the Most: Caruso & Minini Perricone Anyone who has spent more than 30 minutes talking to me this year has heard me wax on about wines from Etna in Sicily, but of the many I’ve tried, the Caruso & Minini Perricone is number one with a bullet. In the glass, it has a rich garnet-purple color and beautiful bouquet on the nose with red berries and lavender notes. On the palate, it’s juicy but tempered by just the right amount of acid. It is a natural and biodynamic wine, but it brings all the freshness and none of the funk often associated with natural production. It’s also never aged in oak barrels so the grape and soil’s characteristics are allowed to shine uninhibited. This wine is jolly enough to crack open on a Tuesday after work and complex enough to share alongside a serious meal. And the kicker? You can buy a bottle for $20-25 when I would gladly pay double that.
Favorite Cocktail: Caipirinha We’ve all been through a lot this year and lately I’ve noticed that I have less than my usual appetite for complicated multi-ingredient cocktails and have been gravitating to easy and breezy beverages more than ever. With the drumbeat of an unprecedented global pandemic thumping in the background of my psyche, when I reach the bar I want something yummy. Enter the caipirinha. I drank this holy trinity of lime juice, sugar and cachaça all over town this year, with favorite versions at Shoals, Ruins, and Meridian, where I also had the very best meal in Dallas.
Editor’s note: You can (and should) read more of Chase Beakley’s musings on SideDish: “How to Buy Better Wine in Dallas.”
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