Behold! My year-long masterpiece. Well, months-long anyway. I thought you'd all enjoy my recent story from 61 Degrees North, the magazine, as it relates to all things libatious and liquid. Enjoy!
The work of a nightlife writer is never finished — and I thank my lucky stars for that. My task this time was to compile a list of the best (in my opinion) cocktails currently available in Anchorage. I felt it was only my duty to tirelessly trek across the Anchorage cityscape, tasting concoctions, assessing aromas and sipping supple flavors to come up with this compilation. For you, dear readers, I have tested several — nay, tens of dozens — of Anchorage’s cocktails to determine my favorites. Here are my humble submissions. You may disagree, you may rage at my choices — but remember, Anchorage, it’s just my opinion. And remember too: No matter how much you may dislike a cocktail, it always tastes better after a few sips.
The Habanero Bloody Mary at Spenard Roadhouse: I have to admit right away that I’m not the savviest Bloody Mary drinker. My brunch-time drink of choice circles around mimosas and other things that involve fizzy juices. But, I do occasionally enjoy a veggie-tinged tipple, and when I do, I like it spicy and awesome. That’s exactly what you’ll find at the Spenard Roadhouse. Bartender Darcy Kniefel and her capable bar staff mix a lean, mean cocktail that comes out fighting and goes down the same way. The recipe, according to Kniefel, came about from a last-minute need for a brunch drink and an overwhelming hangover. Be warned — if you don’t like spicy foods, you won’t like this. Be sure to ask your server to tone it down if you’d prefer a milder ride. It’s infused with habanero chili peppers, so mild is relative. The glass comes chock full of crisp, tasty vegetables (almost an appetizer on top of the drink) and the drink goes down smooth and fiery. It’s at once both incendiary and delicious — just like the smell of gasoline when you were 5 years old.
Habanero Bloody Mary
Ingredients: Habanero-infused vodka (made in-house), tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, horseradish, Montreal steak seasoning. Top with pepperoncini, olive and lemon wedge and stick a pickled asparagus in the drink.
The Ginger Mojito at Ginger: Obviously, any drink at Ginger that includes a ginger-flavored spirit embraces cuteness like a puppy licking your nose. But this cocktail transcends just Ginger the restaurant — I’d drink this one in any Asian-fusion-inspired venue. Heck, I’d drink it at any venue, period. The bartenders at Ginger have created a rare treat — a mojito with a twist just subtle enough, and just powerful enough, to keep it within the family and yet let it speak for itself. The ginger rum sparkles with just the right amount of effervescence, and the house-made simple syrup gives a sweet kickback to the ginger, balancing that back-of-mouth lemony-sour tingling. I know people who love it and people who think it tastes like, well, too much ginger. For me, it’s a perfect balance and the ideal cocktail for an early happy hour refreshment or a late night, breath-freshening conversation starter.
Ingredients: Ginger-infused Bacardi rum, muddled fresh mint, fresh-squeezed lime juice, simple syrup, club soda.
Alaskan Iced Tea at Sea Galley: There are Long Island Iced Teas. There are Long Island Iced Teas in Alaska. But there is only one Long Island Iced Tea that combines all aspects of LIITs, Alaskan values and being super hard-core — The Alaskan Iced Tea at the Sea Galley. I can hear some of you scoffing but I’m betting every naysayer that it’s only because they haven’t tried it yet. My first experience (of many) was as a mere 21-year-old back from college over Christmas break. My girlfriend worked at the restaurant at the time and suggested we all order the Alaskan Iced Tea with strawberries. We all did, and I still remember the hush of awe when the enormous drinks approached our table. Getting through an entire drink is a feat. Getting through two is, well, not recommended but also very difficult. These babies are strong (each drink includes five different types of alcohol), so you’d imagine they would taste strong — but they don’t. They taste like Dr Pepper, strawberries, and that rosy feeling that convinces you that you have amazing dance skills. I’m not advocating having them every night, just when you’re feeling frisky and have a sober driver or cab money. Though old-school, this long-standing traditional cocktail is top of my current list, but it has been, and will remain, one of my favorite drinks of all time. All. Time.
Alaskan Iced Tea
Price: $13 ($1.50 for strawberries)
Ingredients: Coke, sweet and sour, Grand Marnier, Beefeater’s Gin, Smirnoff Vodka, Jose Cuervo and Bacardi with strawberries (if desired).
Consumer warning: The Sea Galley bar only allows each customer a maximum of two Alaskan Iced Teas per visit, so don’t try to go overboard. And trust me, fellas, one is enough — no matter how extreme you are.
Tie-Dye Margarita at Bear Tooth Grill: Only at the Bear Tooth can a person find both a tie-dyed shirt and a tie-dyed cocktail. Part “House Margarita” and part vodka-laced strawberries (um, yum?), the Tie-Dye has been around for a long time at the BT. Oddly, I hadn’t tried it before last year and immediately chided myself and went to see what the hubbub was about. It’s about the view from the glass. Few cocktails look as interesting as they taste — several old-fashioned recipes call for few ingredients and look as appetizing as a straight shot of vodka. This drink combines the tangy happy-hour joy of a classic margarita with the sweet and sexy mix of coloring and strawberry flavoring. It also makes you smile because it looks amazing. “It’s one of those drinks that gets a lot of head turns as it comes from the bar to the table,” said BT bar manager Amy Mack. “Once one leaves the bar, three more will follow.” It’s not too strong and not too weak, but if you’re like me (and you like your tequila, especially if it’s house-made), you’ll ask for a float of reposado to top it off.
Bear Tooth Grill
Ingredients: Jose Cuervo Gold tequila, triple sec, house-made margarita mix (lime juice, Rose’s lime juice and house-made simple syrup) and blended vodka-laced strawberries. Top with a squeeze of fresh lime.
The Manhattan at Orso: Sometimes we forget that a cocktail in the classic sense of the word doesn’t mean fruity, or flavored, or blended. Original cocktails were just a basic mixture of strong spirits, with a twist, garnish or dash of vermouth or bitters. One of my favorite classics is the Manhattan. This is primarily because I love me some Maker’s Mark, in any variation, but also because it’s an amazingly satisfying drink. The cocktail gives the perfect balance of warmth, strength and a hint of cherry sweetness that stays with you and can be slowly, pleasurably enjoyed. Orso — with an additional plus in its old-world Mediterranean décor and furnishings — has one of the best Manhattans I’ve had in town. Leaning back in a leather seat in the bar, relaxing after a long day, contemplating some happy hour snacks and sipping from a golden-hued martini glass full of comfort — it doesn’t get much better than that.
Ingredients: Maker’s Mark, Vya vermouth, house-made drunken cherry.
The Knockout at Sullivan’s Steakhouse: Usually, when a drink has an intimidating name like Sledgehammer or Brain Hemorrhage, I try to steer clear and keep all of my limbs intact. But the Knockout at Sullivan’s isn’t immediately terrifying or threatening. It comes in a martini glass. It’s pretty and golden and it smells like pineapples and sunshine. However, like a black widow spider or a seemingly perfect guy on match.com, this drink is not what it seems. First, don’t think you can just knock one back and then go play intramural soccer or something. Second, just because it tastes girly, don’t think it doesn’t pack a punch. The restaurant would hardly have given it such a foreboding name if it couldn’t support the image. The Knockout is a perfect cocktail for starting off the weekend, or to sip (I’d suggest slowly) while watching some smooth live jazz.
Ingredients: Citrus-infused SKYY vodka, soaked with fresh pineapple in a jar for about a month before being served. Garnished with an orange twist.
Razzitini at Bradley House: I heard about the Razzitini from a friend whose cocktail-loving opinion I trust. And, folks — trying it was the best decision I made all year. The Razzitini arrived fresh, hot pink and looking delicious with its own mini-shaker on the side. Ordering one Razzitini can pretty much set you up for the night. They don’t mess around at Bradley House. It was a testament to the drink’s flair that two other members of my party immediately ordered one as well. Now, I might not be the world’s most experienced or even subtle cocktail drinker. I will fully admit that. But I will also throw down the challenge that if you taste the Razzitini at Bradley House, you will taste the best cocktail in Anchorage — possibly Alaska — hands down. Yes, that’s a bold statement, but I stand by it.
Ingredients: Lemon Citron Vodka, Chambord, Sweet & Sour and a splash of cranberry and lime.