What is a craft cocktail? In the modern era, we’ve learned to treasure specialty drinks for certain qualities. The freshness and quality of the ingredients. The skill and preparation that goes into crafting them. The unique alcohols and flavors found and combined to create something out of this world.
The rise of the craft cocktail scene comes after decades of alcohol companies putting in the least amount of effort possible for mixed drinks, powered by a movement supporting simplicity, giving us the rum and coke, the vodka tonic and the whiskey ginger. These two-step drinks were an effort to cover up the taste of the alcohol in favor of a sweet additive to mask the low-quality burn persistent in cheap booze.
Finally, bartenders had had enough. As one, they rose up and shouted “Creativity is mine this day! I want to express my artistic visions!” and so came the resurgence of elegant drinks. No longer were they tossing soda into a well whiskey, but looking at what made an Old Fashioned so iconic, and replicating that methodology with new flavors and experiences. A decade ago, if you had told me that milk would be a favorite secret addition to alcoholic drinks, I’d have called you crazy. Yet now, clarifying is on the rise, giving a rich smoothness to drinks while being nearly undetectable in a drink.
These special techniques, these little winks to tradition brought into the modern era, have given rise to the craft cocktail scene in a way many wouldn’t have expected. Whereas most people used to be happy with whatever was in the well, they now strive for smooth, clean flavor profiles, bringing out the unique tastes of top shelf alcohols while also allowing even the most unfamiliar of drinkers to get into the spirit without too much harshness on the tongue.
We here at Weekly Alibi want to honor this comeback in the best way possible. We are bringing you Craft Cocktail Week as a way to not just highlight these advancements in the betterment of drinking, but as a way to encourage you to get involved. We want you to visit these bars and break free of the shackles of underwhelming drinks. If this means you’ve got to plan a date night, then so be it. Make the effort to be a part of the best you can get in this city.
Below, we’ve compiled six locations that offer truly exceptional drinks. Drinks made with precision. Drinks made with care and concern. Drinks made with the best ingredients on the market. These aren’t the $2 drink-of-the-months you’ll find at big chains. These are drinks made to sip and enjoy, leaving your jaw open after every swallow.
So, dearest reader, rise up! Now is the time to get yourself locked in with truly enjoyable drinking on a level you’ve never considered. I personally have gone out and tried each of these drinks to ensure that nothing short of the best has made it to this list. Don’t believe me? Go out there yourself and prove me wrong. Find a drink here that doesn’t entice your taste buds and lead you to a glorious discovery of flavor and experience. We promise you that each one of the drinks below offers something unique and interesting that you’ve probably never tried before.
So what are you waiting for? Dig in, find something bold and brave and become the skilled, seasoned drinker you’ve always wanted to be. You too can be the talk of the next gathering with your knowledge of drinks and locations. Impress your dates, shock your friends and floor your family. “Whiskey and coke? Bah! I’m beyond that now.” You’ll revel in the joy that you find in these expertly crafted cocktails, or we’ll refund you the cost of this paper. Promise!
Founders Bar, 622 Central Ave. NW
Midsummer Sandia Cocktail
Eric Williams Photography
The secret of Founders Bar is out, if you read our review back in March. But if you didn’t, the short of it is this: It’s a mixology haven in the style of a speakeasy and underneath El Rey Liquors. This drink is made with clarified and herbed milk, yellow watermelon, Wheeler's gin, Lillet and house-made lavender bitters, topped with a Luxardo cherry. Though it may look simple on the outside, the flavor profile of this drink is unlike anything you’ve ever tried before. The gin taste is a subtle note behind the smoothness of the clarified milk, with the citrus notes of the Lillet adding a refreshing pop to the drink. Beyond that, the yellow watermelon brings the taste of watermelon to the drink without the sweetness, but with more flavor and a touch more earthiness. The lavender bitters give extra oomph to its aromatic qualities, leaving you with a drink that is made for summertime chilling. It’s still surprising to hear that there’s a milk base in a drink that is almost perfectly transparent, yet Founder’s has upped the ante and surprised us again. Going into this, we knew Founder’s was pulling out all the stops to surpass the work they do normally, and this is beyond our wildest expectations. There are so many layers to this drink, with subtle hints and notes throughout the entire first taste. If for no other reason, you have to try the yellow watermelon. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I found myself struggling not to eat the other half of it just out of base desire. Final word of advice: You absolutely need to eat that cherry on top. Trust me. It’s not what you expect.
Nob Hill Bar & Grill, 3128 Central Ave. SE
Oh Hi by Nikle_K
The Pepino Diablo is a dangerous name for a dangerous drink. Featuring Don Julio Blanco tequila, St. Germain liqueur, a puree of cucumber, basil and jalapeno, simple syrup, fresh lime and a Chimayo chile rim, the balance of the drink is masterful. With the cool of the cucumber mixed with the heat of the jalapeno and Chimayo chile salt, you have a drink that surprises with warmth and cooling all at once. Its bright green color is a signal to all watching you that you are a bold individual who isn’t afraid of risks. With a relaxing finish, this is an extraordinary drink worth trying at least once. What stood out most about this drink is the unique flavor profile that works across your mouth at every stage. The initial bite of heat from the salt and jalapeno at the start of the sip, the cold and relaxed flavor of the cucumber helping bring that fiery bite down, and then the tequila pop at the end with a little floral sweetness from the St. Germain to finish the whole drink off. It felt like a drink made with the experience of it in mind. This isn’t just about combining good flavors, but about taking you on a taste-based journey through multiple stages of interest and intrigue. Pair that with the amazingly laid back and fun environment present at Nob Hill Bar & Grill (check out their Geeks Who Drink trivia Mondays at 7:30pm) and you have a combination worth taking the night off for. Plus, we see so few craft cocktails that feature tequila that it’s even more reason to seek it out. The Pepino Diablo is exactly the kind of intriguing change in the paradigm of drink-making thinking that we’re looking for and should definitely be one you’re on the lookout for.
Brixens brought the color with their Veruca Salt, a beautiful, aromatic concoction that delights the senses. Featuring Miles Gin, Licor 43, fresh rosemary, lemon and a seasoned salted rim with a blueberry infusion, this one is sure to cause some swelling (with excitement). The salt harmonizes immediately with the floral punchiness of the Licor 43 and rosemary, with the blueberry being subtle enough to let the gin carry its own, yet none of the pieces fight against each other. The magic of Licor 43 is the special 43 ingredients that compose it, giving it an expansive profile that allows for small notes to pop up and be enhanced by the other ingredients. The sweetness of the berries is brought out by the vanilla taste and other fruity notes. The dark toffee harmonizes with the rosemary, creating an elegant sensation. The Miles Gin is a clean gin, not overburdened with taste, but with enough of that gin bite you look for in a high-end gin. Additionally, from a presentation standpoint, this drink is certifiably Instagram-worthy, standing tall and proud with a decorative style all its own. The seasoned salt was the cherry on top, helping add some of the robustness of flavor back. It especially brings back that blueberry, which is just sublime overall. With Brixens being a Downtown food haven already, this drink is the perfect match to go with most anything on their menu. Just be warned: This drink is really good. This one was hard to share with a coworker, because once I started, I struggled to put it back down.
Yes, this is that Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Grab your towel and head down to Bar Uno, where this Douglas Adams-inspired brainchild is just waiting to take you off-planet. Featuring Pernod absinthe, Absolut Citron, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice and a lemon peel twist, the magic power of citrus helps complement the floral nature of the absinthe, helping the tongue feel a sense of satisfaction that dances dangerously on the edge of overwhelming the olfactory. Nestled wonderfully inside a wide glass, the sense of elegance isn’t lost on this literary classic. Just know that if you end up seeing the little green fairy, it may be time to pay the tab and say so long, while thanking them for all the fish.
Garduño’s, 800 Rio Grande Blvd. NE
Blood Orange Margarita
The Blood Orange Margarita from Garduño’s at Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town is everything a margarita should be. It’s made with Herradura Double Barrel Reposado Heritage Select, blood orange liqueur, fresh-squeezed lime juice, agave nectar, orange juice and premium house-made sweet and sour and garnished with an orange wheel and a sugar rim. This sweet mastery of flavors is the perfect summer companion. Garduño’s has been a staple of New Mexican culture for as long as I can remember, and it’s worth noting that they can’t have been around that long without doing something right. In this case, making a masterful cocktail is the big puzzle piece. There are few things better than a good margarita, and so often, we only see okay-ish margaritas. Rest assured that when you sit down and this is placed in front of you, you’re getting an amazing margarita. With the well-sweetened rim, gorgeous decorative garnish, tequila with enough bite to shoot your eyes wide open and all the other ingredients working in tandem, you have a drink that’s made for luxuriating the afternoon away. You don’t need to stay in the hotel to get your drink on, so make the effort to get down there and engage with this masterwork of a margarita.
Steel Bender Brewyard, 8305 Second Street NW
The Earl of Los Ranchos
Eric Williams Photography
I’ll be honest. When we initially talked about doing Craft Cocktail Week, we had a lot of beer-mosa style drinks come up. In my mind, none seemed a right fit for what we were doing, so I shut down all beer-centric drinks. Then Steel Bender Brewyard showed up and presented The Earl of Los Ranchos. Based on the name alone, I could tell this was no half-assed attempt. The work of trained sommelier Jesus Rodriguez, this drink works over and above most other beer focused drinks for one reason: The notes of the beer match perfectly with the additions, creating an entirely new drink. Featuring their own Village Wit beer, the addition of a lavender and Earl Grey simple syrup helps bring out unique notes such as the coriander, citrus peel and fresh hops. Using local lavender to give it extra local love, this is a sweet but cool concoction that helps melt the stress off you. The lemon wedge garnish helps bring down some of the sweetness, allowing the drink a mellow smoothness that gently washes across your palate. A trip to Steel Bender to try this cocktail is worth it, if for fascination alone. There’s a reason we didn’t put beer drinks on here, and there’s a reason Steel Bender made it past that requirement. This is a special beer-made cocktail that can stand among giants. Don’t take my word for it, go find out for yourself. Maybe hard liquor isn’t your style, and you’re looking for something to compete with the elegant flavor profiles featured above. This is a drink that manages to go all 12 rounds without slowing down, and for that alone, it deserves your attention.