While visions of sugar plum cocktails are still dancing in my head (and on my taste buds), I would be remiss if I didn’t share my deep thoughts on the Miracle pop-up bar menu that recently dazzled imbibers at more than 80 locations around the world.
See below: Jump straight to the cocktail ratings
Florida was lucky enough to have nine Miracle bars, the most of any state, for the pop-up’s 39-day run from Black Friday through New Year’s Eve. I’m fortunate enough to work near the site of the dedicated West Palm Beach location and live not far from Death Or Glory, the Delray Beach craft cocktail haven that spearheaded Miracle’s entrée into South Florida.
I got a brief taste of the inventive concept in 2017, the first year of Miracle on Delray Beach. But it was enough to get me as excited as a kid waiting up for Santa when it was announced that the award-winning bar would launch a second location, Miracle on Rosemary, in a vacant space in downtown West Palm’s bustling CityPlace shopping and dining district.
This double-shot of Christmas cheer spurred an article I wrote for The Palm Beach Post following interviews with co-owner Ayme Harrison, beverage director David Bouchard, and executive chef Jessie Steel. You can find a bigger, longer, uncut version here on the blog:
* Festive ‘Miracle’ pop-up bar expands in South Florida, worldwide
In the weeks that followed, I made regular stops at both locations to unwind from the hectic holiday hubbub. But more importantly, I was on a mission to sample everything on the cocktail menu along with some of Steel’s decadent dishes. The results are detailed below. As with all of my cocktail adventures, I couldn’t resist the urge to rate the drinks on my own 1-5 scale. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I also took plenty of photos that I’ll also share here.
But first, a tip of the Santa hat to Cocktail Kingdom owner and visionary Greg Boehm, who in 2014 created the original “Miracle on 9th Street” pop-up at the suggestion of his mother in the space that later became his bar Mace in New York City. (Hear Greg talk about this and many other geeky cocktail topics on the Bartender At Large podcast released Dec. 2.)
Perhaps it was simply a holiday miracle, but it appears in hindsight that Boehm omnipotently foresaw the coming confluence of craft cocktails and Christmas. The average American consumes double the amount of alcoholic drinks over the holidays than any other time of year, according to research. Now, some of us have many more craft options than the standard eggnog and coquito.
At Miracle, with the Christmas spirit flowing freely, cocktail newbies are more likely to dip in their toes, or just dive in headfirst. “We kind of trick them into drinking cocktails,” Boehm has been quoted as saying.
Or course, this interest has been building for years on both fronts. But while major metro areas have long become accustomed to having outstanding craft bars in every neighborhood, great swaths of the U.S. (and many countries overseas) are still in the cocktail dark ages. Enter Miracle, which has blown up as a contagious concept, adding some 30 locations last year alone. There’s no reason to believe it won’t top 100 in 2019.
Christmas 2018 was the season that kept on giving, so we can’t forget to mention Miracle’s exotic sister, the fledgling Sippin’ Santa, a Tiki-themed pop-up concept from Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and the Cocktail Kingdom team that launched in 11 U.S. locations. Meanwhile, Tiki bars such as False Idol in San Diego and S.O.S. in Atlanta unwrapped their own kitschy Christmas-themed pop-ups.
But nobody has perfected the concept quite like Miracle, from the decor to the music to the food – all spearheaded by each individual location under the guidance of Boehm’s team. Miracle headquarters sets the tone with mugs and glasses, candle holders, menus and artwork. This is no surprise considering Cocktail Kingdom’s status as a premiere glassware and barware provider. It wasn’t unusual to find the most popular mugs and glasses sold out on busy nights.
All of this holiday hoopla would be a moot point, however, if the Miracle locations didn’t deliver high-quality, inventive and fun cocktails. That they do, thanks to a uniform (for the most part) menu created by some of New York’s top mixologists. Head Miracle bartender Nico de Soto is Boehm’s partner at Mace has been involved since day one. Miracle manager Joann Spiegel used to tend bar at New York City’s The Dead Rabbit, one of the world’s most acclaimed bars, and has been with Miracle for four years.
The drinks they create are a minor miracle. They manage to combine the best of both worlds: Delicious craft cocktails that feature obscure, esoteric ingredients but also don’t take themselves too seriously and appeal to a broad audience. Here then is my take on these perfectly paradoxical potations:
MIRACLE COCKTAIL REVIEWS AND RATINGS
Drinks are ranked in order of preference, with ratings based on creativity, taste, originality and other factors. But let’s be clear: There are no clunkers on this menu. Personal preference is also an obvious consideration, so your favorites may differ.
The numeric ratings can be doubled if you prefer a 1-10 scale. In my system, perfect scores are rare, but so are very low ones. I’ve rated hundreds of cocktails over the years and try to remain consistent. For comparisons, see The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide. Complex Tiki cocktails are my forte, but I also enjoy a simple (or esoteric) craft cocktail made with premium spirits. All of those styles are proudly on display at Miracle.
1 – Yippie Ki Yay Mother F****r! (sweet potato, Barbados rum, cachaça, Trinidad overproof rum, dry curacao, marshmallow orgeat, lime).
Amazingly, you can taste everything in this potent concoction. The funky cachaça is front and center but it doesn’t obscure the distinctive Plantation rums (the powerful 138-proof O.F.T.D. and 5-year-old Barbados blend). The Brazilian cane spirit plays the role of a funky Jamaican rum in this wonderful blend of spirits. The dry curacao balances the sweetness but takes a backseat in this Mai Tai riff as the sweet orgeat and tart lime combine with the rums to create an odd but endearing cocktail that epitomizes the Miracle ethos perfectly. Rating: 4.5 out of 5
2 – And A Partridge In A Pear Tree (reposado tequila, pear brandy, mezcal, spiced brown sugar, lime, egg white, club soda, Angostura bitters, cinnamon).
The surprise of 2018. This new addition is a perfectly balanced flip-style cocktail served sans ice in a Collins glass. But don’t let the simple presentation fool you. It’s spicy, smoky and sweet with the perfect amount of tequila and mezcal plus lots of other bold flavors that play a supporting role in a cohesive package that should please all tastes. Highly recommended. Rating: 4.5 out of 5
3 – Bad Santa (milk punch with Barbados rum, Trinidad overproof rum, Batavia Arrack, pineapple juice, lemon juice, almond milk, 8 spices, coconut water, coconut oil).
While most of the country enjoyed a creamy rum punch served hot, we lucky South Floridians were able to sample cool and refreshing versions of this revamped classic. At Miracle on Delray Beach, that meant a boozy and smoothly decadent drink blended in the bar’s frozen drink machines. The rums (Plantation’s O.F.T.D. and Barbados 5-year), pineapple and spices rise to the forefront in this very rich and satisfying drink that to me sums up the Miracle experience better than any other. Shaken and served on the rocks at Miracle on Rosemary, it came off as a more complex and well-balanced Painkiller, not cloying or weak and featuring a noticeable bite from the Batavia Arrack (a funky, molasses- and rice-based spirit that originated on the island of Java). The disparate flavors seem to meld more much cohesively in the blended version, hence the higher rating. Rating: 4 out of 5 (blended), 3.5 out of 5 (on the rocks)
4 – Christmas Carol Barrel (aged rum, Aquavit, amaro, pumpkin pie, lemon, Angostura bitters).
Exotic and surprisingly light and refreshing but also rich, sweet and slightly spicy. Heavy on the pumpkin and spices but well-balanced by the tart juice and Aquavit (a 500-year-old Scandinavian spirit distilled from grain and potatoes and flavored with herbs). A perfectly executed mash-up of Christmas, Tiki and craft. It could be a bit more rummy for my tastes, but that’s a small quibble. Bonus points for the collectible mug, easily my new Miracle favorite. Rating: 4 out of 5
* Click here for the recipe
5 – Christmopolitan (vodka, elderflower, dry vermouth, spiced cranberry sauce, rosemary, lime, absinthe mist).
I was not expecting much from a Cosmo-esque offering. At first sip, this pretty coupe full of flavors appears to be simply light and refreshing. But then it’s transformed by the bite of the vermouth and the kiss of the absinthe, plus a savory and festive pinch of spiced cranberry. Very well done. Rating: 4 out of 5
6 – Jingle Balls Nog (cognac, Pedro Ximenez sherry, brown butter, cinnamon, cherry, vanilla, almond milk, cream, sugar, egg, nutmeg).
Eggnog is arguably the most popular holiday drink, so it’s no surprise that this crafty version was one of Death or Glory’s most in-demand Miracle offerings. On several occasions, Miracle on Rosemary ran out of the proprietary mix before I got there late in the evening to taste their shaken version served on the rocks. Luckily, Miracle on Delray Beach put their frozen drink machines to good use and offered up an ample supply of this rich, creamy and totally delicious nog. It was blended into a boozy milkshake with a cavalcade of flavors: Cognac, sherry, cinnamon and vanilla stand out in my memory of this wonderful dessert drink. Rating: 3.5 out of 5
7 – Snowball Old Fashioned (butterscotch rye, spiced brown sugar, wormwood bitters, orange zest).
Reportedly the best-selling cocktail across all Miracle locations, this classic template is taken to a new, more accessible level. Very addictive and easy to quaff thanks to the sweet and distinctive rye and healthy dose of brown sugar. It’s still potent enough to please cocktail snobs with the bitters and zest making for a well-rounded Snowball. The ice sphere only adds to the festive experience. Rating: 3.5 out of 5
8 – Gingerbread Old Fashioned (bourbon, gingerbread syrup, Elemakule Tiki Bitters, nutmeg).
Hesitant to serve a cocktail listing whole eggs on the menu, Death Or Glory tweaked the Gingerbread Flip that was served at other Miracle locations (see below) and turned it into an Old Fashioned. Like an eggnog without the egg, it’s rich and boozy with a distinctive gingerbread flavor making it go down easy. The cookie garnish was an added treat, soaking up the booze nicely. Just be sure to consume before it gets too soggy. Rating: 3.5 out of 5
9 – Gingerbread Flip (bourbon, gingerbread syrup, Elemakule Tiki Bitters, whole egg, nutmeg).
While this Miracle standard was replaced on Death or Glory’s menu by the Old Fashioned listed above, bartenders I encountered were happy to make it for me. Egg-phobic folks don’t know what they’re missing. This well-constructed flip is creamy, boozy and savory yet also crisp and clean all at the same time. It probably works better in colder climes than muggy South Florida, but it’s still a tasty treat that I would not turn down in any season. Rating: 3.5 out of 5
10 – Koala-La La La, La La La La (gin, pine, dry vermouth, lime, eucalyptus syrup, orange bitters).
A Christmas tree in a glass with an excruciatingly cute presentation. Light and refreshing with pine and eucalyptus flavors (and aromas) dominating. Upon further sips you discover the gin, then the orange bitters. The deeper your get, the more the vermouth comes through, reminding you that this is indeed a finely crafted cocktail. Beware: The bear may follow you home. Rating: 3.5 out of 5
11 – Nice (rum, peppermint, chocolate) and Naughty (bourbon, cinnamon) shots.
These no-nonsense bursts of holiday cheer work well between cocktails or paired with a beer or sweet dessert. I particularly enjoyed the Nice Shot with Death Or Glory’s dark chocolate O Christmas Tree bark. The peppermint adds bold flavor to an already high-octane rum sipper with a hint of chocolate. Yes, you should sip and not throw these down your gullet like a spring breaker gone wild. The fireball-esque Naughty Shot is surprisingly easy to sip and pairs well with the Yule Logs (churros). Rating: 3.5 out of 5
* Click here for the recipes
12 – Run Run Rudolph (Prosecco, gin, mulled wine puree, lemon).
Tart and rich with refreshing, not-too-bitter flavors at the forefront. Exotic yet familiar and much more approachable than the list of ingredients would lead you to believe. While this falls at the bottom of the rankings, it beats traditional mulled wine by a country mile. Rating: 3 out of 5
Notes: Feel free to use this as a guide heading into the 2019 season, but beware that each year Miracle changes up about half the drinks on the menu. New ones are added and old ones are tweaked as new ingredients are developed and deployed. I’d be happy with a more robust Barrel. And an additional tequila option would not be a bad idea.
A final thought: Craft cocktails and their top practitioners have recently broken free of prior constraints and expanded across the country (see Miami Beach’s The Broken Shaker, among others). But these efforts are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the vast reach of the Miracle bars. While chain restaurants may attempt to include bar programs in their franchise locations, they have yet to come close to what the independent mixologists in America’s big cities can accomplish. But in its own charming way, Miracle is doing just that. Infecting the unsuspecting masses with the gift of craft cocktail culture, all wrapped up in a gaudy Christmas bow.
Other media coverage
* This Christmas-themed pop-up bar spreads holiday cheer worldwide
* If you love Christmas cocktail bars, there’s one man to thank
* Why kitschy Christmas bars are everywhere this year
* Meet the Santa Claus of craft cocktails, Greg Boehm of Miracle
* 80-plus Christmas pop-up bars are now open across the country