10 meaningful and life-affirming Sacramento cocktails

A spiritual guide to easing the pain of this quotidian existence

The SN&R staff is stocked with whiskey-lovers. So, when we decided to dust off the expense account and divvy up who was going to write about what drink for this year’s cocktail guide, it got nasty. No details—but let’s just say red pens were involved. Anyway, peace has been made and we’re ready to present 10 great Sacramento cocktails—driven by 10 different spirits—plus one tasty mocktail for when just don’t feel like hurting your liver. If ever. Cheers!

Pilot program

Strawberry Sky Pilot at Goldfield Trading Post

It's one of Goldfield's most popular cocktails, and understandably so. Served in a Champagne coupe with a strawberry fixed to the rim, the Strawberry Sky Pilot ($9) is a sweet, summery refresher that absolutely delivers on its name: strawberries, strawberries, strawberries! There's nuance, though, thanks to the BarSol Pisco, a Peruvian brand of brandy that's crisper, smoother and more floral than usual oak-aged varieties. Shaken up with lemon, mint and hibiscus, the finish is tart and herbal. 1630 J Street; http://goldfieldtradingpost.com. (Janelle Bitker)

Winning pour

Horse's Neck at Shady Lady Saloon

My bartender, Houston Castleberry, is a goddamn winner. The dude took home top prizes at last month's Bastille Day Waiters' Race in Midtown and this month's Fernet Branca-sponsored bar-back competition at Goldfield. He's also tall and young-looking and probably gets a lot of babes. “I guess I'm on a winning streak,” he tells me. OK, great—now quit the boasting and pour me some bourbon. Which he does very well, in form of the popular Horse's Neck ($9): Four Roses Bourbon, ginger syrup, angostura bitters, soda water and lemon rind. This concoction is for bourbon babies who need a little sweetness. That factor comes from the house-made ginger syrup, which Castleberry—who's been tending bar for just eight months—says is a hassle to make, what with its 8 pounds of ginger! Good thing it lasts a couple of weeks. Now, stop your whining, winner. 1409 R Street;http://shadyladybar.com. (Nick Miller)

Holidays year-round

Harvey Milk Punch at the Red Rabbit

Simultaneously craving dessert and a nightcap? Red Rabbit's riff on milk punch ($9)—the egg nog-like, holiday favorite from the South—is dangerously delicious year-round. It's sweet—but not cloyingly so—and creamy, with freshly grated nutmeg on top. Galliano liqueur provides a hint of vanilla; aged rum mellows things down. But the Korbel Brandy—yes, Korbel like the champagne—leads this booze-trifecta with rich, oaky, butterscotch flavors. 2718 J Street; http://theredrabbit.net. (J.B.)

Fruit garnish for life

Shrub at Grange Restaurant & Bar

Grange's latest option for a vinegar-infused cocktail, simply called Shrub ($14), is lighter and more crisp than other shrubs around town. A blend of 209 Gin, basil, lemon, Mionetto Prosecco, pink peppercorns, strawberries and champagne vinegar, the taste is much more delicate on the taste buds than the ingredients might suggest. It goes down like the best pink lemonade that you've ever had. Plus, who can say no to a cocktail with artfully arranged bits of fruit on top? 926 J Street; www.grangesacramento.com. (Anthony Siino)

Sacramento isn’t Cancun … yet

Machete! At Bottle & Barlow

Earthier than tequila, mezcal makes for a bold tropical cocktail choice. With coconut, lime, Fidencio Mezcal and green Chartreuse, the Machete! ($12) successfully transports you to paradise. Richness, sweetness and bitterness play nice here, but the dominant kick is smoke, thanks to that generous pour of mezcal. Instead of egg whites, coconut cream rises to the top of the glass and creates a similarly luxurious mouthfeel. And instead of an umbrella, this drink is garnished with a simple sprig of mint—because this ain't a resort town in Mexico. 1120 R Street; www.bottleandbarlow.com. (J.B.)

A touch of rum

The Hold Fast at Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Company

The Hold Fast ($9) brings together Mount Gay Rum, ginger beer, angostura bitters and a strawberry shrub for a more full-bodied summer cocktail. The sweetness is complex, the ginger bites and the touch of rum smooths the edges while filling out the body. Like an Italian soda, the Hold Fast is sweet, dense and refreshing in a way that lands definitively on the palate. 1630 S Street; http://hookandladder916.com. (A.S.)

Sophisticated sipper

The Alliance at Block Butcher Bar

Made with Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey and angostura bitters, the Alliance ($12)is a modern take on the Manhattan, only with a pair of fancy European liqueurs—the Italian Averna Amaro and the French yellow Chartreuse—in place of the traditional vermouth. Not surprisingly, this cocktail is decidedly more syrupy than the one your grandmother used to order at the bar. It also boasts a heady herbal profile not found in the classic Rat Pack-era drink. Downside to all this newfangled-ness: no maraschino cherry. Upside: Its grown-up complexity makes for one lovely and sophisticated sipper of a nightcap. 1050 20th Street; www.blockbutcherbar.com. (Rachel Leibrock)

Not froufrou

Whiskey Fig at Pour House

On paper, Pour House's Whiskey Fig ($10) reads like a twist on that favorite childhood cookie: Fig jelly, aromatic bitters, simple syrup and lemon with scotch. To the eye and taste buds, however, it makes for a different story. Blended, the drink is pink and frothy but, thankfully, not at all froufrou. Rather, it exhibits a lovely balance of sweet notes and a citrus-y tartness. Not like that cookie at all, actually. 1910 Q Street; http://pourhousesacramento.com. (R.L.)

Flavor flav

Infused margaritas at Centro Cocina Mexicana

Centro's unique approach to tequila is offering infused variants of white for straight shooting or mixing into margaritas ($7). You can choose from a wide stock of fruit for the infusions, such as pineapple, kiwi and raspberry. If you're looking for something a bit more intense, you can also choose an infusion of chilies to add a bit of heat to your marg. Whatever your taste, get there a little earlier in the night for the first crack at the most popular flavors. 2730 J Street; www.paragarys.com. (A.S.)

Classy drunk

Elderflower Gimlet at Ella Dining Room & Bar

I have strong, painful associations with vodka. You understand. Yet Ella's Elderflower Gimlet ($12)—a staple on its ever-changing cocktail list—makes me feel classy as hell. And sure, it's a simple, classic combination of vodka, elderflower and lime. Sometimes, simple is just what you want. Especially if simple translates to an impeccable balance of sweet and sour, with a lingering finish that's fresh and floral. 1131 K Street; www.elladiningroomandbar.com. (J.B.)

No booze, no problem

Elixir at Lucca Restaurant and Bar

While most bars will happily find you something to drink if you're the evening's designated driver, few actually carry full-scale mocktail menus. Ella Dining Room & Bar, Iron Horse Tavern and Cafeteria 15L are in the latter camp. But not all mocktails are created equal; often they're too sweet, or just plain boring. Just because you're not imbibing doesn't mean you want a straight-up fruit soda. Some of the most enticing, buzz-free concoctions are found at Lucca. Take the Elixir ($4.50), which arrives with bright pink pomegranate juice sunken to the bottom of bubbly ginger beer. It's sweet and tart with a gentle whisper of green tea. 1615 J Street; www.luccarestaurant.com. (J.B.)