The drink menu at Ace, this year's Best New Bar winner, features no shortage of cocktails -- 64 combinations, to be exact. Intrigued by the large number of options, we recently stopped by to sip and sample from Ace's new happy-hour menu, and bar manager Randy Layman was kind enough to serve up all 64 in order for us to choose crowd favorites. The result was a tasting pageant of sorts as friends weighed in on the performance of each option throughout the evening. Keep reading for feedback on some of our favorite contestants.
Unlike at the Miss America pageant, where contenders are judged on their personalities, gowns, talents, svelte bikini bodies and the answer to a final world-peace-themed question, the judging criteria for these cocktails is far less complicated: We focused solely on taste.
The 64 possible options do not hail from all corners of the country, but from eight signature sodas and eight liquors that can be paired together. The results ranged from delicious and surprising to less than perfect as Ace's bartenders mixed vodka, tequila, spiced rum, Irish whiskey, Scotch, bourbon, gin or sochu with ginger, black cherry, tonic, celery, No. 11 cola, grapefruit, bitter-lemon or orange soda.
Each $5 drink is served in a highball glass with a ratio of 1.5 parts liquor to 1 part syrup and 5 parts soda water, which is added at the end to ensure that the custom cocktail won't be flat.
After hours of deliberation, the judges were unable to crown just one "Miss Ace Cocktail," but instead came together in the spirit of competition to name winners across multiple categories.
Herewith the results:
Miss Congeniality Made from organic black cherry juice, orange peel, vanilla extract, birch bark and sugar cane, the black cherry soda has a potion-like quality that can satisfy even without liquor -- but who wants to do that?
Miss Surprising The ginger-soda-and-tequila combo sounds odd, but the ginger soda is juiced in-house from raw ginger, dried lemon peel and lime oil to balance out the Milagro Silver tequila for a surprisingly smooth swallow.
Miss Classic This would be the gin and tonic, of course. The Jackelope gin isn't mixed with the standard Canadian Dry or Schweppes. Instead, Ace's tonic is a water-based syrup with organic quinine extract and lemongrass, both of which dance with the juniper in the gin.
Miss No Thank You In the cocktail made with bitter-lemon soda and tequila, the agave from the tequila is overpowered by the lemon juice, lemon peel and quinine extract that make up the bitter-lemon soda for a bitter and face-puckering tart beverage that is best not ordered. The bitter lemon isn't all bad, though: Mix it with a full-bodied spirit like Scotch or bourbon for a much more palatable swig.
While Layman didn't have a vote, he did get a pick, and his pick for best combination is celery soda and tequila. The newest of Ace's sodas, it's made from juiced organic stalks that balance with the earthiness of the tequila.
Overall, the sochu mixed with most sodas well, and it was decided that if you like celery or ginger, you would like drinks with those sodas.
There are more than just drink winners on the menu. Executive chef Brandon Biederman offers up some of his favorites from the Thai-inspired dinner menu for wallet-friendly fare to sop up some of the booze. For just $1 apiece, try the open-faced pork-and-chive shumai, chicken dumplings or tiger wings. Feeling rich? Order up the $2 jungle nuts -- the perfect spicy bar snack to nosh on while you wait for your table. And while not on special for happy hour, the chicken-thigh and braised short rib bao buns never disappoint and are still only $4 and $5 respectively, or 2 for $10, with a choice of miso soup, celery salad, kimchi or green salad.
As it neared 6 p.m. and the credits began to roll, signaling the end of happy hour and the pageant, the judges concluded that the new menu was an ace. Don't believe us? Try it yourself Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. and Sunday through Thursday from 10 p.m. to midnight.
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