Best new bar: Bellocq at the Hotel Modern in New Orleans. Pick any spirit you like from their modest but well-curated selection and they’ll craft a cobbler with it. The cobbler is an underrated drink and it’s very cool to see Bellocq revive it. (Opened December 2011.)
Best new spirit: Gamle Ode dill aquavit. I tasted many aquavits with many people in the second half of this year, and Gamle Ode was a consistent standout. Its dill aroma is spot on and it sips very nicely from the freezer or mixed into a simple Collins. Distribution is currently very limited but will hopefully expand.
Best bartending experience: Brewing Up Cocktails Spirited Dinner in New Orleans. 240+ cocktails in four courses, half of them using eggs, cranked out with the help of my collaborator Ezra, Andrew and Amanda from Seattle, and one very big immersion blender.
Best drinking experience: Sipping Scotch on the dock at my family’s place in the Michigan Upper Peninsula for the final time. I’ve visited every summer since birth, but we sold the place this year.
Most memorable dining experience: Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville.
Most memorable dish: A tom kha mousse kind of thing frozen with liquid nitrogen from Uchi/Uchiko at Feast Portland’s Night Market. It cast off pieces of itself like some kind of explosive geologic event while deliciously capturing the flavor of a classic Thai soup.
Best overall dinner: Restaurant St. Jack in Portland.
Favorite travel destination: Los Angeles.
Best magic performing experience: Successfully pulling off the Cups and Balls on the street. It’s a classic of magic with difficult angles in an uncontrolled environment. The situation was not often right to attempt it, and on a couple occasions it failed. Getting it right, however, is immensely satisfying.
Best reading experience: Arguably, the final anthology of essays from Christopher Hitchens. I know of no other writer who’s as consistently challenging or capable of making such a broad array of topics interesting. (Published in 2011, but I just recently picked it up.)
Cocktail and spirit prediction for 2013: It’s hard to top last year’s Bone Luge prediction, but I’ll give it a shot: Aquavit. I’m obviously doing my own part to promote it, but there are other reasons to expect the spirit to become increasingly popular. Small distilleries need to generate revenue by making products that they can release with little or no ageing. Gin and vodka are the usual choices, but both of these markets are very competitive. The aquavit market is uncrowded and offers great opportunities for creativity with new botanical profiles. This is complemented by growing interest in the “New Nordic” cuisine.
A couple years ago, the only two domestic aquavits in constant production that I am aware of were Krogstad and North Shore. Now there is also the aged Krogstad, Sound Spirits, Gamle Ode, and a limited release from Bull Run. In 2013 I predict more new aquavits and more bartenders discovering the spirits’ versatility in cocktails.