Pipeworks, Hey Careful Man, There's a Beverage Here: The first white stout I've ever seen—or heard of—is brewed with cacao, coffee, and vanilla, and looks nothing like an imperial stout. It smells like coffee, but when you taste it the coffee slips into the background; I get sweet coconut and milk chocolate instead. It's not as heavy as most stouts, which makes it dangerously easy to drink at 10.5 percent ABV.
Ten Ninety, Imperial Witbier and Imperial Porter: I first tried Ten Ninety's high-gravity beers at the Glunz Expo this spring, and ever since then I've been seeking them out at beer tastings (their beers are available on tap in some Chicago bars, but I haven't come across them yet). My favorite is the imperial porter: brewed with cayenne pepper and pomegranate juice, it's tart, spicy, and deeply chocolatey. But close behind is the imperial witbier, light but complex, with a rich mouthfeel and flavors of lemon zest and orange peel.
Furthermore, Knot Stock: An American pale ale cold-infused with cracked black pepper, it's fairly hoppy, with some malty sweetness and a pepperiness that complements the hops instead of intensifying them. The spicy finish is a combination of hops and pepper, not overwhelming at all.
Deschutes, Inversion IPA: Though Inversion is made with six varieties of hops and weighs in at 80 IBUs, it's not overwhelmingly bitter. The hops are very present, but the biscuity maltiness balances out the subtle piney, citrusy bitterness nicely. When the bitterness really kicks in on the finish, though, it lingers. You could almost pretend this is hoppy amber ale rather than an IPA. Either way, it's a beautifully complex beer.
Del Maguey mezcal: Each mezcal from Del Maguey is made in a single village in Oaxaca, and the various microclimates and soils in which the agave plants grow affect the taste of the finished mezcal tremendously. Among my favorites was Vida, which was smoky, fruity, and very complex—and at $40, it's their least expensive bottle. Another was Pechuga, made with wild apples, plums, plantains, pineapples, almonds, and white rice; a chicken breast is suspended in the still during distillation. It's fruity, slightly salty, and yes, tastes a little like chicken.
The People's Old-Fashioned: I tasted this experimental cocktail by Robert Haynes and Henry Prendergast when I was working on a story about their new bar, Analogue (which has since opened). It's a traditional old-fashioned, except that the whiskey (Four Roses Single Barrel) was infused with genmaicha tea (green tea with roasted brown rice), giving it a nutty, toasted, popcornlike flavor that was both entirely unexpected and entirely appropriate. There's nothing that unusual about the cocktail, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. I have no idea whether it's on the menu at Analogue, but if there's enough interest the owners might be persuaded to add it.
Ada St, Fistful of Dollars: Old Heaven Hill bourbon, Luxardo Amaro, mole bitters, mezcal mist, and orange flower water. It's served chilled in a stemless wine glass, a shape that helps concentrate the intense scent—I sat there just smelling it for a minute or two, trying to sort out everything that was going on. A little smokiness comes through from the mezcal mist, some cocoa from the mole bitters. It tastes a lot like it smells, but more so; I kept being reminded of Mexican hot chocolate, and could swear I detected a little cinnamon (but maybe I just associate that with the other flavors). The drink was velvety—a texture as much as a taste—but not sweet, the chocolate flavor subtle but somehow omnipresent, developing more as the drink warmed up.
Virtue Cider, the Mitten: I'm a fan of most of Virtue's ciders, but this is my favorite of the lot. Aged in bourbon barrels and then blended with fresh cider and apple juice, it's clean and bright, the barrel flavor subtle: the cider tastes a lot like a sweet, tart apple.