Food Critics: The Best Drinks In Kansas City Of 2015

Dec 11, 2015

Bartender Margot Thompson from The Farmhouse made the "Kansas City Famous" in the studio.
Credit Jen Chen/KCUR

From coffee to cocktails, Kansas City’s drink options exploded in 2015.

“I just think this year had been really incredible in terms of the number of distilleries, wineries, breweries and roasteries that have popped up on the scene,” Food Critic Jenny Vergara told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard on Friday.

“2015 feels like the Year of the Drink,” Vergara added.

On Friday’s Central Standard, Vergara — along with our Food Critics Mary Bloch and Natalie Gallagher — uncovered the best drinks of 2015.

Here are their recommendations:

Mary Bloch, Around the Block:

  • Best Bloody Mary: Rye and Bluestem. The vodka is infused with peppers, which gives the drink a welcome kick.
  • Syrup and Honey at The Jacobson. Russell’s 10 Year Bourbon, muddled with fresh red pepper and lemon, is mixed with a housemade basil and red pepper syrup. It’s finished with a splash of lemonade. The fresh red pepper really shines. It’s really a nice drink that isn’t too sweet.
  • The Fifi from Thackrey & Company is a rosé wine. Rosé is really making a comeback these days, and Ryan Sciara at the Underdog Wine Co. always has a great selection.
  • Manhattan Blvd. from The American Restaurant, which is made with rye whiskey, vermouth and a Campari ice cube. In a nice twist, the ice cube doesn’t dilute the whiskey; it infuses the drink with Campari. It’s really good. You can go to the lounge and order that and a few small plates, and it’s a pretty great evening.
  • Beautiful Red Bell from Manifesto. It’s made with Beefeater Gin, red bell pepper, lime and mint. It’s especially refreshing on a summer evening.

Non-alcoholic:

  • Lemon Prickly Pear soda from Little Freshie. It reminds me of my favorite margarita in Santa Fe. The pineapple serrano pepper soda is a winner, too! They’re carbonated and really refreshing.
  • Crow’s Coffee has a really good tea (Hugo Tea).

Jenny Vergara, Feast Magazine:

Recommended drinks for 2015:

  • The Smoked Vanilla Bourbon at the W Bar in Lee’s Summit — it’s Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon and burnt sugar simple syrup with vanilla bean and bitters. Bartender Mike Strohm carefully lights a piece of apple wood with a hand-held torch and sticks the rocks glass in with the burning wood under a dome of glass to infuse it. The flavor that this smoking technique imparts as it hits your nose gives off the aroma of warm sugar cookies fresh from the oven. It’s absolutely a fantastically-balanced drink.
  • Apricot Gose at Crane Brewing Company. Sweet and sour with a gorgeous golden apricot color to it. It’s refreshing.
  • Aphrodite, the new dry rosé from Somerset Ridge Winery, was made in the classic French style and only makes an appearance in the summer at the Tasting Room. I also like the dry rosé from Amigoni Urban Winery. Both are made from Cabernet Franc grapes.

Non-alcoholic:

  • The Peppermint Fizz at Second Best Coffee. It’s made with peppermint, cedar smoke and 'Nog cream, and it’s shaken cold over Red Ribbon Nitro cold brew, which is nitrogen-infused coffee. It’s really creamy, really pretty and it’s got that hint of peppermint. It’s kind of just holiday in a glass. Second Best also just released its winter menu, and there are some really fun holiday drinks, like a Cajun Christmas espresso shot that has some spice to it.
  • The Spicy Ginger Fizz at Little Freshie. This handcrafted soda has that spicy bite of ginger with a little simple syrup and fizz. It might not be healthy, but it makes me feel healthy drinking it. It’s effervescent and I love that little bite of ginger.
  • The last place I had a really good matcha drink was at Room 39 during breakfast. It was so creamy and it was such a beautiful vibrant green. Just sweet and lovely.

My picks for the best of 2015:

  • Roaster: Maps Coffee Roasters is my pick for best roaster in Kansas City. Victor Rodriguez quit his corporate job with Starbucks to open a bike shop called Velo+ in old downtown Lenexa. He ended up purchasing a Loring Falcon air-roasted coffee roaster and began roasting coffee beans in the back of his bike shop for his customers to drink when they came in to look at bikes. Soon, he was bagging the beans up and selling them to his customers, and Maps Coffee Roasters was born. He does a wonderful light roast on almost all of his coffees, which makes them so smooth and mild in your cup with no bitter aftertaste.
  • Distillery: J. Rieger & Co. has had an incredible year with the launch of their whiskey, vodka and gin products. Each one has been a real marvel to discover and play with in terms to the flavors they each deliver to your favorite cocktail. Looking forward to: Tom’s Town, opening January 5, 2016.
  • Brewery: Crane Brewing Company. This unlikely band of partners have been brewing very creative beers with a simple and easy-to-understand flavor profiles. But they are not simple beers by any stretch — they are drinkable beers. They make a wonderful IPA and Saison in their production facility and have started distribution on the Kansas side this week. Looking forward to: Stockyard Brewing Co., opening next to the new Golden Ox in 2016.
  • Winery: KC Wine Co. or Vox Vineyard. Both of these wineries have been growing native grapes to make into wine. They opened up their tasting room this year. KC Wine Co. also makes a nice traditional and spiced cider. They are growing over 40 different kinds of native grapes in their vineyard, and they are bottling the single varietals as well as blending them to sell in their tasting rooms.

Natalie Gallagher, The Pitch:

  • Caitlin Corcoran at Ça Va introduced me to the Champagne Le Mesnil Sublime Rosé. It's easily my new go-to champagne, and it’s also available at Gomer's.
  • I recently discovered Imbue, which is an Oregon-produced bitter vermouth — an unusual style and an unusual domestic product. Chelsea Almeida at Affäre got me started.
  • I'm a big fan of the Rieger gin. I sip it on the rocks with a squeeze of lime. Rieger's had a great year, and this product is seriously top-notch.
  • One of the best cocktails I've had in recent memory is the 3975 from Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar. It's basically a mezcal hot chocolate. I’m pretty sure I could be buried in a casket full of this drink and probably would come back to life a much happier person. Bartender Kenny Cohrs serves it with a homemade marshmallow that’s brûléed in the glass. It’s so perfect … and it will make you want to sing Christmas carols.
  • I was really sad to see Erik Mariscal leave the Local Pig in Westport (and even sadder to see it close). He's now mixing drinks at the Homesteader Café but he’s going to 801 Fish in a couple of weeks. His cocktails are some of the freshest creations ever. It almost makes me feel like cocktails can be healthy. At the Homesteader, I like the Good Vision — carrot juice, vodka and other things.
  • Manifesto brought out its new winter cocktail menu this week. The Charlie Brown is almost styled like a flip, but it’s made with mascarpone cheese. It’s so good! There’s a cheese foam on top that’s creamy, and Calvodos (an apple brandy that’s only made in Normandy). It’s stirred, served up and it’s super-balanced.

Non-alcoholic:

  • Erik Mariscal at the Homesteader Café was on my booze list, but the non-alcoholic versions of his drinks are incredible.
  • Manifesto always has a few mocktails. On its new menu, there’s a housemade shrub (a drinking vinegar that’s usually fruit-based) which they use for some really unique flavors.
  • I'm a big fan of the sweet matcha green tea latte at Kaldi’s Coffee. It's a green latte, and it's caffeinated, but when I want a break from bitter coffee, this is a great option.
  • If I don't feel like I've had enough greens in the last few days, I pop in to the Filling Station on Gillham. They have a really extensive juice menu that I rely on to round out my diet. I like the Beet Sipper. It’s mostly beets, with, I think, some apple and other things. It’s super fresh, super earthy and strangely sweet.
  • Super-underrated: Agua frescas at Tropicana Paleteria. Agua fresca is water that’s sweetened with fruit. I like the aqua de mango, which has tiny little chunks of fresh mango. I always tell myself I'm going to spike it with tequila or rum but I usually end up finishing it by the time I get home.
  • Andrew Olsen, the bar manager at Bluestem, does a killer caramel cream soda. I want to take a bath in it. It will seriously knock you off your barstool. It’s really creamy and naturally sweet, but not cloying or overwhelming.

Listener Recommendations:

  • I think the Manhattan at Manifesto is the best in town. Especially with this cold weather – it’s a good whiskey drink to warm your body, warm your heart … it’s a good way to start the holidays.
  • There’s a longtime bartender in KCK who has quite a following. Raymond Cote is at the American Legion there, and his signature drink is the brandy old-fashioned with a sugared rim.
  • The Smoking Dun at Gram & Dun. The ice is infused with smoke. When it melts it makes the whiskey smoky.
  • The bourbon Bloody Mary at Genessee Royale comes with a slice of candied bacon.
  • For non-alcoholic drinks, the coffee soda at The Sundry is made with Maps Coffee in a soda fountain.
  • The drinking chocolate at Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolate. They’re all good.
  • The cold brew at Pirate’s Bone. Or the dirty egg nog once winter starts.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org.