The rich landscape at Mbar. Photo by Suzi Pratt

The Year in Drink

In 2016, some was lost and much was gained. We toast it all.

On a lot of levels, 2016 was a bad year. That said, it’s some small consolation that when life gets rough, it’s often the best time to get a drink. Here are some of the best and worst things about 2016, from a thirsty Seattleite’s perspective.

The construction boom in Seattle might be a source of controversy, but one definite benefit has been the opening of several rooftop bars that allow you to take in our incredible scenery while enjoying a delicious beverage. Mbar in South Lake Union and The Nest at Thompson Seattle overlooking Pike Place Market both offer an experience that until now was sorely lacking, and while you might want to wait for the weather to improve a bit, the views are always impressive.

The Canon Cocktail Book once again demonstrated to a national audience that Seattle’s cocktail scene can go toe to toe with almost any other. This sleek and stylish entry might be the first from Seattle, but something tells me it won’t be the last.

Erik Hakkinen, one of the city’s iconic bartenders, announced that he’d be leaving one of Seattle’s most iconic bars ( Zig Zag Cafe). I’ve no doubt that Erik will still be out there somewhere, but losing his presence behind that bar is a definite blow.

Furthermore, we lost or will be losing a few good bars. Lower Queen Anne stalwarts Tini Bigs and Hula Hula will both close their doors for good after New Year’s Eve, while earlier this year we lost Capitol Hill’s The Old Sage and, perhaps most stunning, the ferociously innovative bar program at Spur. It’s hard out there, folks.

Well, maybe not for everyone. Charles Smith’s stunningly large sale of five of his core wine brands showed that the demand for Washington wine continues to grow outside the state. Constellation paid $120 million for those wines, and that sizable bet is likely to spark further speculation.

Furthermore, 2016 was an excellent year for growing grapes in Washington. After several very hot vintages, 2016 was a bit more moderate, though still far from cold. This balance allowed for more even ripening across almost all varietals. It’s too early to say for sure, but almost every winemaker I talked to was thoroughly optimistic about the future of this vintage.

The standout Heartwood Provisions opened and is awesome, proving that my pessimism in this column years ago surrounding pairing cocktails and food was unfounded. Beverage director Amanda Reed and her team have found clever and creative pairings to work with a diverse and interesting menu, often using less-appreciated spirits like sherry and brandy as the backbone.

The distilling scene in Seattle really started to hit its stride, and nowhere was that more evident than with American single-malt whiskey. The offerings from Westland Distillery continued to evolve and shine, and the initial offering from Copperworks Distilling was encouragingly distinct and delicious. Each year brings us a bit more age and a bit more development on the initial distillations, and a bit more refinement of technique.

2017 is sure to bring its own triumphs, failures, and upheavals. Exciting projects are in the works, innovative plans are being formed, and quite possibly a whole mess of Seattleites are in desperate need of a drink.

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