Bottoms Up

5 Signature Seattle Cocktails to Know and Love

A round of drinks that displays the breadth of our town's rich cocktail culture.

By Allecia Vermillion September 20, 2019

A cozied up hot toddy at Hazlewood.

Image: Kyle Johnson

Hazlewood's Hot Toddy

Whiskey, Honey, Lemon, Pimento Dram

Hazlewood’s the kind of bar that feels dark and moody, even in the middle of July. So it’s fitting that the hot toddy is in-freaking-credible. If you’re lucky it’s served to you by co-owner Keith Bartoloni, who will tell you in a heavy Boston accent that it’s “like drinking Christmas,” thanks to the pimento dram, a Jamaican liqueur Bartoloni makes with dark rum, brown sugar, and allspice berries, then ages for a month. Too often toddies are sad, bland, tepid things. This is a hot slug of good cheer and, if you feel a head cold coming on, more restorative than Sudafed (the good kind, with pseudoephedrine). Those glasses get mighty hot, so the toddy comes buffered with a knitted drink sleeve that might sport googly eyes, ribbon, or the name of a classic B movie.

RGB Porch Swing at Rachel’s Ginger Beer 

Gin, Aperol, RGB

Unite gin with summery Aperol and the two get along swimmingly. And what do you know, both benefit from a dose of lemon—a major player in Seattle’s homegrown ginger beer. Rachel Marshall’s original quest to make a nonsucky nonalcoholic beverage that tastes of actual ginger has spawned an unexpected secondary industry: joyful, kegged, carbonated cocktails on tap at her Pike Place Market flagship (as well as its siblings on Capitol Hill, inside University Village, and soon across from the Spheres). The moscow mule and dark and stormy have their legions of fans, but that bracing ginger can be a scene stealer. Here the gin and Aperol have the herbal fortitude to stand up to its vigor. But let’s be clear, this isn’t one of the complex negroni variations that proliferate on cocktail menus. It’s a rosy-hued, fizzy jolt of summertime. Sadly there are no actual porch swings nearby, but the market’s view of Puget Sound should do in a pinch.

Whatever’s Barrel Aging at Radiator Whiskey

Cocktail, Oak, Time

The beverage director of Pike Place Market’s second-story whiskey bar doubles as a fleet manager of sorts for the 15 barrels that are, at any given time, scattered around the room aging cocktails. Spirit-forward familiars (boulevardiers, rob roys, old pals, vieux carres, negronis, three types of manhattans) and a few house creations spend two months or more mellowing out in variously sized barrels. At least two flow on tap: a classic and something more experimental for the spirits nerds. Technically anyone with a vessel, some alcohol, and a modicum of patience can barrel age a cocktail, but doing it well is another matter. Radiator barkeeps know exactly how long a drink should dwell in oak and what shouldn’t be there in the first place—new barrels impart a woody flavor faster, while anything with vermouth gets oxidized if it’s in there for too long. Cocktails emerge from barrels older, wiser, and layered with just enough woody, vanilla essence.

Rob Roy's Sharpie Mustache

Rye, Gin, Bonal, Amaro, Tiki Bitters

A stirred drink is a supreme balancing act that strips its maker of flair—no shakers, no juice, no fancy tricks to temper the spirits. And yet this drink is a fancy trick of sorts; somehow those assertive flavors mellow in each other’s company. Sample it blindfolded and you’d swear there’s rum in there. Esteemed local barman Chris Elford created this drink while tending at Manhattan’s Amor y Amargo, a bar serving nothing but stirred drinks. When he moved to Seattle, his creation moved with him. This drink should be served in stemware so your grip doesn’t warm it up, but Amor y Amargo was so tiny that every drink was served in sturdy, stemless rocks or Collins glasses. The Sharpie Mustache carries on that tradition at Rob Roy, even though the Belltown bar has plenty of coupes.

Your Favorite Drink at Zig Zag Cafe

Anything you want. The best version of it.

It’s the bar that restored the Last Word to the cocktail map back in the day, thanks to legendary barkeep Murray Stenson, but it’s nigh impossible to define Seattle’s landmark cocktail lair by a single drink. Though the house list contains a host of beautiful creations, staff members are classicists at heart, able to analyze both the customer and the back bar to deliver the best possible version of your favorite cocktail. Take the familiar manhattan—Zig Zag bartenders usually ask whether customers prefer bourbon or rye, then take it from there, knowing which vermouths play better with each spirit. The tending of this particular bar is both art and science.

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