2021 was a strange year. And in spite of (or because of) the chaos, we found ourselves enjoying quite a few drinks. We tested the limits of our home bars with a variety of cocktails. We found the nuance and subtlety in natural wine. Our morning routines were improved with delicious coffee. And, of course, we capped off our day with the finest of beers.
From espresso to whiskey to IPAs to orange wine, we imbibed more than a bit. Not everything was amazing, but there were more than a few standout beverages. We sat down as a team to select our top drinks from the year 2021. Some of us stopped to smell the beans and found that our favorite coffee sat atop the list. While others recalled those singular evenings where we popped open a bottle of scotch or white wine or stout and reveled in something truly special. From the ordinary to the extraordinary, these are the best things the Cool Material team drank in 2021.
“I mostly use rye whisky in mixed drinks, but the return of Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye to the states is cause for celebration because it’s superb with just a splash of water. Its personality on the palate is about as subtle as a Joe Rogan podcast. Plenty of citrus, spice, rye, nuts, and maple, coupled with 130 proof make it just right for the post-holiday doldrums. After you’ve had a couple, you can get lost in the way the light plays off the really attractive bottle.” Buy: $80
“Simplicity was the word I’d use to sum up my drinking habits in 2021. When in doubt, I reached for the easy option. I’m talking three-ingredient cocktails. Cheap, flavorful lagers. And, above all else, Easy Wine. This lightly bubbly rose is effectively the mix of a spritz and a pink wine with a healthy hint of flavorful acidity. The end product is perfect for those hot days where you feel like drinking something refreshing and not too boozy.” Buy: $60/12-pack
“Start with the perfect 1:1:1 ratio of the Negroni (Gin/Sweet Vermouth/Campari), evolve to the Boulevardier with the substitution of whiskey (bourbon or rye) instead of gin, and finally, end your cocktail exposition with The Embarcadero, a supposedly San Franciscan take on the Boulevardier that substitutes Amaro for the more classic Campari. (Cards on the table, ordering a Boulevardier will most certainly garner concerned stares and an Embarcadero, more so. Best to order either of those drinks with their constituent parts and tip heavily when you do so.)” Learn More
“Obviously, this isn’t a new beer. Some would argue that it isn’t even a good beer. Those people are wrong. Anyone who knows me, knows I am a huge beer guy, but sometimes things get tedious. (See pretty much all of the American craft beer scene since over-hyped, hazy IPA took over.) In the Venn diagram of price, drinkability, and acceptable flavor, this beer easily checks all of the boxes. No wonder, it has been a staple in my fridge since I was in high school.” Buy: $11
“I’m not a coffee snob, but I do like a strong, black dark roast with some complexity. One of the best, in my opinion, is TJ’s French Roast Ground (not whole bean). This low-rent looking, 14-oz bag is one of the most consistent and affordable dark roasts I’ve tried. Don’t let the cheap bag and the fact that it’s not whole bean dissuade you from grabbing some.” Buy: $15
“One of this year’s drinking traditions I want to carry into the new year is the ritualistic digestivo. A refreshing nip of something after a full meal is the perfect nightcap in my book. And few compared to the Marseille Amaro from Brooklyn’s own Forthave Spirits. Forthave is one of the producers helping to lead the charge of modern Italian spirits in NYC. With complex notes of tea, rhubarb, mint, cinnamon, and more, this amaro stood out among the rest.” Buy: $30
“Part of me hates revealing the heart of all my favorite blends, but this Chicago-roasted bean absolutely kills it on every level. It’s earthy, herbal, syrupy, and heavy-bodied while still having a smooth quality with notes of chocolate thanks to the low acidity, richness, and all-around lovely depth of flavor. Cards on the table, if you forced me to pick one roasted coffee bean to drink the rest of my life, this would be it.” Buy: $16
“It may be hard to believe now, but once upon a time a straightforward, albeit hoppy, imperial stout was considered to be groundbreaking. Times change and in order to stand out in today’s scene, it’s gotta be barrel-aged this, coffee stout that, and hey we added waffles and ice cream to the beer please notice us… I digress. Anyway, this ‘regular’ stout was discontinued several years ago. Thankfully, Victory brought it back for a limited run this fall and I can’t get enough of it.” Buy: $12
“Man, am I gonna nurse this bottle all winter long. This new entrant in the Ardbeg line was a huge surprise. It might only be aged for 5 years, but it comes across as more mature. The ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks help soften the peat a bit, and that translates to a really smooth and tremendously complex drinking experience. On the palate, you’ll find a delectable experience with berries, clove, licorice, pepper, and citrus. There’s even some salted caramel at the tail end, and the finish is shockingly long. No ice or water is needed to really enjoy it.” Buy: $50
“It’s my new favorite category of wine to explore. Orange Wine is simply white wine made by leaving the grape skins and seeds in contact with the juice. It’s hard to put a finger on it but has a bit of a superb IPA aftertaste. I won’t recommend a specific one, I only recommend you work your way through a few.” Learn More
“I knew I was in for a treat when I saw my favorite whiskey distillery team up with the much-lauded coffee liqueur brand Mr Black. And I had it confirmed when I sampled this stunningly complex barrel-aged coffee liqueur. I thought it was perfect on the rocks but it worked great in a coffee old fashioned, too. Sadly this was just a one-off but I’m hoping they team up again sometime soon.” Learn More
“If there is only one seasonal beverage you can focus on–and it pains me to say this, skip the BTAC and the BCBS–it should be the annual Trader Joe’s Ginger Brew release. Once a year, Trader Joe’s drops a ginger brew in a flip-top bottle that, for whatever reason/chemistry/alchemy/sorcery, puts all other ginger-based beverages to shame. Want the best Moscow Mule? TJ’s Ginger Brew. Best Whiskey Ginger? TJ’s Ginger Brew. Dark and Stormy? You get the idea. The TJ Ginger Brew cocktails only get better as you add ingredients–hence the Gingerosa–so you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to secure some Ginger Brew ASAP on account of it only comes around one time a year.” Learn More
“This one will be tough to find if you don’t happen to live in South Jersey. A couple of years ago I was lucky to be able to help design this beer. (I promise I had nothing to do with the embarrassing name.) It is a throwback to what was so great about IPA’s in the early 2000’s. It’s clear, bracingly bitter, and pine forward. Now that I am hands-off, Vinyl keeps making this beer better every time it is brewed. It is drinking better than ever in 2021.” Learn More