Cocktail Trends

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Cocktails have never been as popular in America as they are today, as bartenders extend the range and quality of what they make. Here's what's next.

Transcript of Cocktail Trends

From top left: Jackson Cannon, bar manager, Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks in Boston and their Alpine cocktail; Neyah White, head bartender at San Franciscos Nopa and their Sherry Shrub cocktail

The

CoCkTails FuTure Whats next for americas drinkers?By Jack Robertiello

I

ts impossible to overstate the popularity of the cocktail today. Every magazine and newspaper, it seems, features regular coverage of beverage trends and local mixology stars. Drink websites blossom and flourish, cocktail-making classes sell out and, with feverish enthusiasm, mixologists continue to mine the old, explore the new and invent anything they cant find to make amazing drinks.has developed the Worldwide Bartender Database, says the ubiquity of fancy drinks and consumer interest is pushing bartenders to further experimentation. Well see more and more twists on the classics, bartenders will create their own bitters, tinctures and marigold-infused sweet and dry vermouth or some such thing, and theyll create drinks that we cant even dream about making at home. They will push the envelope far too far, and thats what I think has to happen next in

With spirits being introduced in the U.S. at an unprecedented rate and pre-Prohibition drinks spreading beyond the major cocktail markets, its hard to pin down whats next. Just ask cocktail soothsayer Gary Regan. I am not exactly sure which direction cocktails will head into in 2009, and thats probably because I believe that they will continue to grow in every which way, he says. Regan, whos long followed drinks for the San Francisco Chronicle and ArdentSpirits.com and

WhaT To WaTCh For iN 2009INSavory spirits:Gin has become the bartenders best friend once again, and its flavor spectrum is being expanded by both big and small companies. Now, once again, Dutch-style Genever (from Bols) is widely available in the U.S., and bartenders are starting to turn away from even high-grade sweet spirits, looking to the savory side for inspiration. Rye, less sweet and spicier than most bourbons, has already benefited from this trend, and even vermouth makers, like Noilly Prat, are returning to traditional recipes.Martini glass lineup and restaurant diners at Mint/820 in Portland, OR

Value cocktails:

Is the $12 cocktail on life support yet? As the economy teeters, some restaurants are trying to bolster sales and build traffic with smaller or less expensive cocktails. Amidst the flood of spirits are numerous value brands, especially among bourbons and vodkas, that are making their way to the well to replace the super-premiums or at least become an essential part of the back bar. Look for more.

At NYCs Apotheke, mixologist Albert Trummer lists drinks boasting the ability to stimulate, calm, or otherwise affect ones mood, much like the vitamin and nutrient-enhanced bottled waters and teas so popular today. Apothecary Apotheke, NYC in Philadelphia does much the same, using essences, tinctures, medicinal herbs and other non-traditional bar ingredients to add more than flavor to a drink.

Nutriceutical cocktails:

order for us to find a level at which to operate, he continues. As Regan suggests, tracking the latest developments can be a dizzying endeavor, but there are two general areas on which contemporary cocktail advocates are focusing with laser intensity: a closer attention to ingredient selection and the development of diverse philosophical approaches, based on regional differences and trends. Meanwhile, bartenders are relishing the attention theyre getting, and putting it to good use. Theres this general sense that this cocktail thing has penetrated the mainstream, says Jackson Cannon, bar manager of the celebrated cocktail spot Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks in Boston. Now, the rank and file guest in our restaurant is very interested in our specialties. Theyre not as quick to question the brands we use but are more interested in drinks with identity of the place. This openness encourages Cannon and others to create drinks that may recently have been considered too off-beat or challenging for the average customer to accept. As customer knowledge increases, bar staffs are trying to keep up, says Neyah White, head bartender at San Franciscos Nopa. If you want to have a serious bar program, a huge education component really is important. You have to be able to talk about the spirits, but also the drinks, because at every place, it seems, the drinks are all new. People are taking risks, and the guests that get it, really get it and are proud of knowing the ingredients and details about distilleries.

Do-It-Yourself cocktails:

Look for more bars involving customers in the drink crafting. At Copa dOro in Los Angeles, guests peruse ingredients at the bar or refer to a daily menu listing available spirits, herbs, fruits and vegetables, and can mix and match to make their own concoction or ask a bartender for collaborative suggestions.

A Cocktail List That Stands OutWith this consumer openness and knowledge in the background, and an increasing competition to stand out in a crowded cocktail field, bars and restaurants are staking out territory with a mix of the old and new. The so-called classic cocktail is now firmly established as a bar necessity, and bartenders are continuing to mine the pre-Prohibition era for old/new ideas: for instance, punch has quickly evolved from a quirky concept to a niche service style. At the Clover Club in Brooklyn, in just one example, punches are made for groups of three or more and served in bowls coming from owner Julie Reiners private collection. Other, slightly more difficult drinks, like shrubs, which employ flavored vinegars, are also finding favor. It begins and ends with the guest and what they will accept, says Cannon. The list of whats considered exotic is shrinking.

Cordials with less sweetness:

Producers of some well-known liqueurs use different formulas when making products for the U.S. market, generally sweeter and with lower alcohol. Bartenders who travel internationally often return with a few bottles of stronger and intensely fruity liqueurs and have been pushing companies to bring better liqueurs here. A number of small producers are readying some superior ones for entry soon.

TheCoCkTailsFuTureOUTFruit bombs:Appletinis, Cosmopolitans and other overly sweet drinks seem to have peaked in popularity, as cocktails with flavor profiles balanced among tart, sweet, bitter and salty gain advocates and fans daily. The return to classic and preProhibition drinks has given birth to a new generation of drinkers.

Big vodka:

There will be increasing pressure on mass market vodkas from the on-premise, especially as bars and restaurants look to shrink overly large inventories, make room on the back bar for newer, more modern spirits. Cost-cutting might help, but no one wants to go there. Yet.

Apothecary bar & lounge in Philadelphia

Excessively large glassware:

In the early part of the decade, bars started serving customers large and expensive drinks looking to build check averages. But the drinks warm quickly and are often too sweet for contemporary tastes. Look for more modestsized glasses like the coupe.

Mixologists will pay even closer attention to ingredient selection and the development of diverse philosophical approaches this year.An increased interest in fresh ingredients and the simultaneous explosion of South American produce in the U.S. has allowed operators to introduce drinks made with kumquats, gooseberries, lime leaves and other once impossible ingredients, says director of mixology for Southern Wine & Spirits, Francesco Lafranconi. Even chain restaurants are experimenting with switching to fresh ingredients when possible, a challenge for multi-unit, nationwide operations. Having something seasonal or occasional as in limited-time-offer fashion in the menu grabs customers attention, and its also a great promotion, says Yuri Kato of Cocktailtimes.com. San Francisco or New York is ahead of the game in terms of offering cocktails prepared with seasonal produce. Beyond more fresh and seasonal ingredients, bartenders are adopting an increasingly broader range of spirits for their drinks. To make more room on the back bar, operations stocking dozens of vodkas, especially in times of economic belt tightening, are shrinking that inventory as they pick and choose among all the new liquors available. There will be even more premium spirits, but now with perhaps a touch more thoughtful decision-making regarding quality and value versus flamboyant and superfluous, notes Steve Olson, wine and spirits consultant and one of the founders of the Beverage Alcohol Resource training program.

Extreme cocktail-making:

Some popular techniques like fat-washing or ingredient smoking can add remarkable depth and character to drinks. But foams, gels and other enhancements often seem gimmicky and add little to a customers enjoyment, and the bars and restaurants that dont focus on the customer in 2009 wont be around in 2010.

Astringent bitterness:

Some contemporary bartenders who like to tinker and experiment to recreate extinct bitters or develop their own creations seem to fall in love with their own products and end up serving potions as unpleasant as a witchs brew. Customers may feel too intimidated to say anything, but they will eventually turn away from bars where bitter is the new sweet.

the next big spiritAs vodka becomes less popular as an ingredient in cocktail-focused, stand-alone operations, bartenders there will be focusing on cocktails made with whiskey (especially

TheCoCkTailsFuTurerye), gin, aged rums and tequila. Pisco is often seen as the next big spirit, and this year is no exception, says Derek Brown, bar manager and consultant