The Year in Cocktails
A look back at top-notch booze, bartenders and bars of 2015
Fave new rooftop bar: The Nolen | Photo by Paul Body
Best drink I had all year: Skubic Diver at Ironside
I love a slightly savory cocktail. I love celery bitters. Named after Michael Skubic, the founder of San Diego’s Old Harbor Distilling Co., the Skubic Diver features Old Harbor’s San Miguel Southwestern Gin, St. George Basil Eau de Vie, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, and celery bitters. A pinch of sea salt is the magic ingredient.
Fave cocktail-making duo: Jack Reynolds and Dmitri Dziensuwski at Starlite
Not to say there aren’t other amazing bartenders in San Diego, but these two guys never fail to surprise me. For Halloween, they rolled out a special four-drink menu that made use of interesting ingredients like Farigoule Thyme Liqueur and Linie Aquavit. And, in last month’s issue, I featured their latest collaboration, The Bellman, a potent combo of brandy, rye whiskey, Swedish punsch, black walnut bitters, Peychaud’s, orange zest, and a cinnamon stick garnish. I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys come up with in 2016.
New booze discovery: Amaro Nonino
After a fantastic dinner at Bracero (including some of Christian Siglin’s inspired cocktails), our server suggested this Northern Italian digestif. Wow. Amaros are normally bitter, but this one’s grappa-based, making it a little sweeter and smoother. I’ve yet to find a bottle in San Diego—so, let me know if you find one. And, for an Amaro Nonino cocktail, keep reading.
Fave new rooftop bar: The Nolen
I’ve had some bad cocktails at rooftop bars in San Diego. Like, epically bad. The Nolen—and its lead barman Robert Yumul—ends that trend. Named after John Nolen, a vanguard city planner and architect (San Diego would have looked quite different had the city just stuck to Nolen’s vision), it’s spacious, yet cozy, and offers some amazing views. The cocktail menu’s got something for everyone, from lighter drinks like #blessed (gin, Amaro Montenegro, lemon, honey) to one of my favorites, the Bronarmy Navy (bourbon, Cynar 70, lemon, orgeat, salt). Particularly impressive is the P.Y.T., a complex, barrel-aged cocktail that Yumul created for his girlfriend. She prefers gin, Yumul prefers bourbon, so he came up with a gin cocktail (London dry gin, Amaro Nonino, dry and sweet vermouth, aged 21 days) that could easily be confused for a bourbon cocktail. Try it—you’ll love it.
Cocktail spot on my post-holiday must-try list: Kindred
Kindred recently soft-opened in the former Alchemy location in South Park on 30th and Beech streets. It’s a can’t-go-wrong collaboration between LOVELIKEBEER (who did those great vegan pop-up meals at Sea Rocket), Arsalun Tafazoli (Consortium Holdings) and Paul Basile (Basile Studio and the guy behind the design at spots like Ironside, Polite Provisions and Soda and Swine). Kory Stetina told San Diego Magazine’s Troy Johnson that Kindred will be a “badass cocktail bar that serves vegan food” and he’s tapped David Kinsey (ex-Sycamore Den) to be bar manager. On my short list to try: Unholy Zodiac (gin, Fernet Branca, The Commissary pineapple gomme, Champagne vinegar, cinnamon) and, for something a little lighter, the Sweet Leaf, made with blended scotch, ginger, lime, Allspice Dram and sage. All cocktails are $9.
I’ll leave you with this description of Kindred from Troy’s piece: “It's one part vintage bank (when they looked like cathedrals), one part ‘elegant cocktail bar, when manners, sophistication and politeness reigned,’ and one part ‘villainous demon lair where evil plots to overthrow the universe were made whilst holding horned and jeweled scepters, or petting cute and sinister cats.’” Awesome.