Our Best Drinks of 2016

There is nothing in the food scene that Little Rock does better than drinks. Don’t misunderstand; there are outstanding restaurants and chefs in Central Arkansas that are doing outstanding work. But for its size, the Little Rock area has a simply staggering amount of quality breweries and bars (and one world-class distillery to boot). A city this size simply shouldn’t have this level of quality in its beverages, but it does, and the thirsty of Arkansas are quite grateful. 2016 saw the excellence continue in Little Rock’s drink scene, and you have to be excited for what’s to come in the future. In no particular order, here are our 15 best drinks of 2016.
Clarified Milk Punch at Big Orange Midtown: Milk punch has always been a bit like magic to me. You take milk and spirits and end up with something crystal clear. This one mixed up by Luigi Uzcategui is one of the best I’ve had. (Greg Henderson)
Summer Jam at Rebel Kettle Brewing Company: In 2016, there was no beer I drank more of than this remarkable sour. The ruby red color could only hint at the joyful, pitch-perfect tartness that took you right to the edge of a twitch and a pucker. This was summer in Arkansas for me; it’s one of the big reasons I can’t wait for warmer weather to return. (Steve Shuler)
The Modern at The Pantry Crest: The Pantry and Pantry Crest have really stepped up when it comes to craft cocktails this past year. Barman Gene Lee puts out a solid menu every time, but his most recent addition of The Modern is five stars. A combination of Pig’s Nose Blended Scotch, Hayman’s Sloe Gin, House Made Grenadine, and Absinthe, this drink is not for the fainthearted.(Becca Bona)

Nighty Night (2016) at Lost Forty Brewing: Last year the Nighty Night surprised me with the complexity, using multiple barrel aged beers blended for one imperial stout. The version this year was surprisingly different and complex in different ways. (GH)
Barley Bourbon at Rock Town Distillery: Truth be told, I probably prefer Rock Town’s rye whiskey, but this beautiful barley bourbon has to make the list for its elegance and singularity. The blend of malted and unmalted barley is so gentle in the background of both the nose and the sip that it can go unnoticed. The more attention you give this gem, the more reward you receive: a character trait found only in the best product. (SS)
Coffee Cake Stout at Flyway Brewing: There is a bit of a cult following surrounding this brew, and this year the Coffee Cake Stout has just been out of sight. Think Izard Chocolate and Onyx Cold Brew plus decadent chocolate notes – not unlike a cake. The thing is perfectly hoppy and I can’t ever just order one. (BB)
Flannel Shirt at The Fold: There just are not enough scotch-based cocktails around. This one is perfect for cold weather sipping. (GH)

Southern Rok at Bubba Brews: As a whole, the beers I appreciated the most in 2016 were traditional brews made exceptionally well. I challenge you to find a better Marzen-style beer than Bubba Brews’ remarkable Oktoberfest. Brewer Jonathan Martin’s vision is crystal clear here; what he’s produced is a brew that would be appreciated anywhere in the country. (SS)
El Pueblo Unido at Trio’s Restaurant: Merrick Fagan has settled nicely as head barman at Trio’s. His drinks are a mixture of subtle and complex, and are often accompanied with a punny or witty name. This past summer, he introduced El Pueblo Unido, a sweet/spicy mezcal cocktail mixed with jalapeño, pineapple, lime, agave nectar and ginger beer – and I couldn’t get enough. (BB)
Whiskey Business at Rebel Kettle Brewing Company: This standout is a golden sour ale aged in whiskey barrels, reminiscent of a whiskey sour. This beer was gone almost instantly and was one of the most unique beers this year locally. (GH)
Tea Time in Oaxaca at Big Orange Midtown: This was the first time for me that a cocktail tasted exactly how it looked. Restrained, pensive and thoughtful, the blend of Mezcal with Oolong tea was inspired, and with a presentation to match the creation, Tea Time in Oaxaca was as much a work of art as it was a masterful drink. (SS)

American Blackberry Wheat at Lost Forty Brewing: I love beer, but I typically avoid those that contain fruit and wheat. Lost Forty introduced its American Blackberry Wheat this past summer and completely debunked my theories on fruity wheats. I loved the subtlety of the blackberries paired with the wheat and balanced with hops. I seriously hope this one comes back next year. (BB)
Spice Republica at The Pantry: I am a sucker for rum drinks, and this was one I kept coming back to, with its use of El Dorado 12-Year as the base spirit. (GH)
Cuban Pull Imperiale by Moody Brews: As it turns out, putting one of 2015’s best beers to a bourbon barrel and adding some extra coffee is a pretty good move. Josiah Moody has been quietly showing off his expertise for years, culminating in this simply unparalleled brew. I’m not saying Cuban Pull Imperiale was the best beer of 2016. I’m saying Cuban Pull Imperiale is the best beer Arkansas has ever produced. (SS)
The Good Christian at South on Main: David Burnette always has a few tricks up his sleeves when it comes to delectable drinks, and The Good Christian was one of my favorites this past year. Burnette knows a good product when he tries one – and the cocktail showcases Purkhart Pear Williams. Just try it – one sip is like falling into a fresh pear. (BB)

Greg Henderson
Author: Greg Henderson

Owner/Publisher - Rock City Eats, Rock City Life, Rock City Times

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