Greg Nagel’s Top 5 Cocktails of 2018!

The best thing that ever came from an Eagles song. Photo by Greg Nagel

Welcome to our annual Top 5 countdown, where our SAFII writers tell you what impressed them over the past year! Here, we have Greg Nagel’s Top 5 Cocktails – enjoy, and dig in!

Greg Nagel’s Top 5 Cocktails of 2018: 

5: Hotel California at A&O Kitchen + Bar, Balboa Bay Resort
With a name like Hotel California, this drink could either be heaven or it could be hell, but as soon as I saw the rosy hue of Jardesca Red Aperitiva floating on top, I forgave the Eagles reference. If you’re an Amaro fan like me, this is your drink. It’s balanced with two types of rum and a nice hit from St. George’s Bruto Americano. 1221 West Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 630-4285;

Chomp and chase at Puesto? Photo by Greg Nagel

4. Ceviche Acapulco at Puesto
Plump shrimp ceviche, all snug and limey, sit in a hollowed bell pepper crowning a Tajín-dusted Modelo. It sounds simple, but this isn’t your average chomp and chase. Inspired by Acapulco resort snacks, this is the next best thing to a Bloody Mary. 3311 Michelson Dr., Irvine, (949) 608-7272; also at 8577 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 608-9990;

Drink like Spaniards. Photo by Greg Nagel

3. Gin Tonic at Vaca
Spanish-style gin-and-tonics have been all the rage in 2018, yet Vaca serves several inspired varieties that call my name like botanical crack. 695 Town Center Dr., Ste. 170, Costa Mesa, (714) 463-6060;

Let’s hope this summer stunner comes back. Photo by Greg Nagel

2. Where the Heck is Scandinavia at the Blinking Owl Distillery
Where the Heck Is Scandinavia blends in a thick layer of Blinking Owl Aquavit, a drink that I imagine tastes like a side salad at René Redzepi’s Noma: bright, citrusy, Scandinavian, with a kick of that refreshing cucumber water you get at a high-end spa. Skål802 E. Washington Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 852-3947;

Looks like a sundae, drinks like a Friday. Photo by Greg Nagel

1. Dear Daniel at the Bow Room at Hello Kitty Grand Cafe
Is it possible to get cat-scratch fever from a cocktail? This smokey drink starts with the super-satisfying salted coconut foam at the top of the Rayu Mezcal and El Jimador drink that gets its hue from super-food spirulina, pineapple and lime. Dear Daniel? This is more like DAMN, Daniel. 670 Spectrum Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 536-5357;


Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening on June 29th in Anaheim!

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