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From Bourbon to Tequila: The 10 Best Spirits Right Now

The bars and restaurants that got inventive with to-go cocktails, plus the gin, Cognac, tequilas and whiskeys that took top honors this year.

BOTB, Spirits Shout

The Big Idea: The Rise of the Takeout Cocktail

The wave of lockdowns last March left even the most successful bars and restaurants seeing vultures circling overhead. Takeout, once a small fraction of the average restaurant’s income, was suddenly expected to keep the ship afloat, and with to-go cocktails prohibited in many municipalities, bars were facing an even more dire fate. Half of all restaurants fail within three years even under ideal circumstances.

So it was with no small relief that states quickly loosened restrictions on alcohol sales, allowing bars and restaurants to sell beer, wine and cocktails to go. Eventually, more than 30 states would allow takeaway alcohol sales. And many have decided to keep them going for the time being, with New York, sadly, deciding to do a quick about face this week and halt the practice.

Necessity being the mother of invention, the result has been an extraordinary showcase of ingenuity by the creatives behind our nation’s bars. Many places simply sold us the cocktails we know and love to enjoy at home—a treat in and of itself—but many more strived to shape their customers’ experience, infusing what could be a simple transaction with fun and wit.

Thunderbolt, in Los Angeles, used its vacuum sealer to create what are essentially frozen cocktail Otter Pops, sold in four-packs for maximum fun. At San Diego’s Fernside, the team has applied its talents to a rotating set of boozy slushies, from Irish Coffees to Singapore Slings to Trinidad Sours, selling more than 40,000 in the last year. Chicago’s tiki haven, Lost Lake, created a subscription service for monthly cocktail and rum boxes, like a pirate Amazon Prime, including exclusive access to classes, events, tastings and members-only pricing. On the East Coast, NYC’s Dante offers gorgeously illustrated bespoke labels for its to-go cocktail packs, which are garnished with a custom Spotify playlist so you can vibe out as if you’re hanging at the bar.

California state senator Bill Dodd recently proposed Bill SB-389, which would make this change permanent. Many other states are considering the same. To-go cocktails have been a silver lining in a year desperately in need of silver linings, and with any luck, they’re here to stay. Covid gave bars a puzzle to solve. They responded, as they always do, with hospitality, creativity and a double shot of joy and delight.