As the question of what to order becomes ever more challenging, some cutting-edge answers: From minimalist two-ingredient drinks to complex milk-based punches—here's everything you need to know to imbibe right right now.
Cruzan Black Strap Rum and Pineapple Juice (pictured above)
Attaboy, New York City
Freshly squeezed pineapple juice sinks below this drink's molasses-flavored rum to form a beverage that has a well-balanced taste—and look.
Spruce Beer and Absinthe
Trick Dog, San Francisco
The pinelike flavor of Empire Bottling Works Spruce Beer meshes well with the light-bodied, herbal absinthe made by Kbler, a Swiss distiller.
RPM Italian, Chicago
Created by cocktail guru Paul McGee, this combination of Luxardo Amaro Abano and Blenheim Ginger Ale drinks like a delicious Italian soda.
At this forthcoming sister spot to local hangout Oak on Fourteenth, pressed and strained rhubarb juice plays nicely with an effervescent Spanish cava.
The Southern Drawl
Nopa Kitchen + Bar, Washington, D.C.
A pistachio-oil-infused Heitz Ink Grade port is added to Elijah Craig bourbon for a liquid celebration of the American South.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
Hop Sing Laundromat, Philadelphia
This high-proof libation mixes three parts Jameson Gold Reserve and one part 21-year-old El Dorado rum for a surprisingly sippable drink.
Half-ounce spray vials of Vermont's Urban Moon-Shine bitters come in three flavors and are ideal for misting the inside of a cocktail glass for a perfect Manhattan anywhere.
A Paloma or a michelada at a cabin in the woods? Pack a Jacobsen Salt Co. slide tin, which holds half an ounce of bright white flakes hand-harvested off the Oregon coast.
The Brooklyn-made W&P Cocktail Kit includes a wooden muddler, a stain-less-steel jigger, striped linen cocktail napkins, four Picardie tumblers, and a mason-jar shaker–all packed in a handsome leather-handled canvas tote that fits easily in tight spots.
Travel-size bottles of booze don't have to be swill: Cover all your bases with a single-malt 12-Year Macallan (great for sipping before slipping off to sleep), a trusty Hendrick's gin, Knob Creek bourbon, the boutique Brazilian rum Orinoco, and a wild-card liqueur, Branca Menta.
Its name may sound like a witches' incantation, but the 17th-century cocktail enhancer oleo saccharum is the backbone of a new breed of classic punches. Glossy syrups made in-house with citrus peels and sugar, oleos show up in the Herb of Grace punch at former Clyde Common bartender Andrew Volk's Portland, Maine, spot Hunt + Alpine Club, the bourbon old-fashioned at Pinewood Tippling Room in Decatur, Georgia, and a bowl of champagne, rum, and Cognac at Emmanuelle in Philadelphia.
From the don't-knock-it-till-you-try-it category: Curdled milk is making its way into some of the most inventive cocktails in the country. By heating dairy with a mix of citrus and spirits, then filtering it, the bartenders at these hot spots produce clear punches with velvety finishes.
It looks like a water with lime, but the Lechita at Williamsburg's austere Scandinavian restaurant is made from clarified milk. Beverage director Shiraz Noor adds green Chartreuse, oleo saccharum (see "The Secret Sweetener," above), and mezcal for a smooth, lemon-flavored take on the margarita.
The Lechita at Aska, Brooklyn.
New York City
The Cowboy's Bandaid at this Battery Park City saloon is a quick pour, because beverage director Jeremy Strawn does the work in advance: He steeps honey, lemon, ginger, rhubarb, two types of bitters, and an apple pie's worth of spices in scotch for 24 hours, then clarifies it with milk and bottles big batches.
Whispers of sweet spices like vanilla, cinnamon, and star anise, along with a pile of dime-size white-chocolate crisps, make the Milk Punch & Cookies at Richard Blais' newest midtown eatery sound like a stomach-filling dessert. But this silky, translucent milk-based elixir is backed with brandy and lemon and goes down smooth anytime.
Big, sharable drinks are a key part of the cocktail program at this bilevel industrial-style bar in the Mission. The supersize Irish Coffee Milk Punch adds cream sherry, lemon, and orange—as well as clarified and triple-strained heavy cream and milk—to the traditional whiskey-and-coffee combo and serves it in swing-top half-liter flasks.
For his Milk Punch, cocktail prodigy Vincent Stipo pours heated vanilla milk over tea-and-citrus-infused gin, then strains it through cheese-cloth into a sherry glass "seasoned" with cinnamon smoke. The result is a creamy, canary-colored drink popular with the Rittenhouse crowd at this L-shaped concrete bar.
Origin: Czech Republic
Taste: Winter holidays in a bottle—cinnamon, clove, ginger
Where to get it: Villains Tavern, Los Angeles
Try it in a: Moscow Mule
Taste: Smoky, rich, and subtly sweet
Where to get it: Dram, Brooklyn
Try it in a: Corpse Reviver
Taste: A brooding, herbaceous version of Fernet Branca
Where to get it: Von Trapp's, Seattle
Try it in a: Rusty Nail
Taste: Sweetly spicy with bitter grapefruit notes
Where to get it: Kask, Portland, Oregon
Try it in a: Negroni
• • •