The past year was a great time for cocktail lovers and spirits aficionados across the board. More bars and restaurants than ever before have both the capability and the commitment to serve great drinks, and consumers are quaffing them with much enthusiasm.
While it is easy to see that many classic cocktails such as the Moscow Mule and the Old Fashioned have returned with a vengeance unseen for many decades, eager bar patrons remain vigilant in their quest for the next big thing. This phenomenon remains true regardless of whether the latest trend rings with actual substance or whether it is merely the shadow of novelty.
In the endless quest to progress behind the bar and distinguish themselves from competitors, bartenders throughout the industry continue to push the creative bounds and pioneer innovative techniques. While many new trends are not worth the cocktail napkin that they are served on, here are a few that we hope will stay.
In recent years, it has become common practice for craft cocktail bars to update their menus every three months and allow the seasons to dictate the direction of their drinks. However, bartenders like Joaquin Simo of Pouring Ribbons in New York have flipped the concept on its head, launched theme-specific menus, such as their current list: Route 66. "I feel like I transitioned into the concept menu largely out of sheer lack of enthusiasm with the prospect of doing any more menus that were solely driven by seasonality. The 'It's autumn, time for a pumpkin drink!' mentality was wearing thin…" states Simo.
THE RETURN OF CONVENTIONAL LIQUEURS
Perhaps due to such a high-level of familiarity, many liqueurs which had been ubiquitous at average bars for decades—such as Jägermeister, Baileys and Kahlua—were shunned by the cocktail community. But the tides are changing, as many of these cordials are making their way back into the hands of the industry’s top bartenders. At the Spare Room, in Hollywood, California, bartender Yael Vengroff’s Midori Shower features Midori alongside Hendrick’s Gin and muddled kaffir lime leaves. "The drink was inspired by the ill reputation that Midori has gained amongst craft cocktail bartenders, and this was a tongue-in-cheek way for me to bring it back. I was also inspired by the combination of kaffir lime and Midori that I tasted at Trailer Happiness in London," explains Vengroff.
The revolt against the massive Martini glass that was prevalent during the 1990s, pushed many bars towards a more classic aesthetic, which apparently meant that every article of glassware in the bar somehow had to be a throwback to the days of Prohibition. But at Grand Army in Brooklyn, New York, bartender Damon Bolte chose an unconventional glass as the perfect fit for his rum drink, The Robber’s Cave. Says Bolte, "It's sort of a new style of Western Tiki or Cowboy Tiki that I've been messing around with. Sometimes including more smoke, spice, whiskey, beer, cactus, etc. The boot mug has always been used for beer, but it's so much fun as a cocktail vessel. Yeehaw!"
Craft Cocktails Nationwide
During the early days of the modern craft cocktail movement, great drinks were mostly relegated to larger markets like New York City and San Francisco. But the days of the metropolitan strongholds having a monopoly on world-class drinks is quickly coming to an end. Thanks to the skills of passionate bartenders across the country and to the proliferation of reputable cocktail books and online resources, cocktail quality has skyrocketed from coast to coast. Thus, cities such as Plano, Texas and Omaha, Nebraska are blazing their own trail and creating drinks every bit as delicious and inventive as one would find in a big city.
Obscure Mexican Spirits
For years, tequila had the agave market cornered and was likely the only spirit native to Mexico that one would ever encounter in most cocktail havens. However, that changed several years ago when Oaxacan mezcal finally made its way onto menus around the globe. Perhaps, due to this enthusiastic welcome, obscure Mexican spirits, such as sotol and bacanora are eagerly entering the US market, with products that are centuries old in history and technique. Bartender David Tye, of The Lion’s Share in San Diego, uses sotol it in his drink the China Dance Club, which also features lemon, salted cacao bitters and egg white.
Permanent Drink Lists
As recent as ten years ago, it was quite common for cocktail lists to be as concrete and unchanging as the building in which they were housed. In fact, many historic hotel bars and iconic drink locales sported the same offerings for decades and faced little pressure to do otherwise. But, just as that tradition gave way to the seasonal menu, many bars are now gearing back towards the permanent list. Alex Day, of the Normandie Club in Los Angeles, decided to create a menu that highlights timeless drinks which allow subtle tweaks over time. Explains Day, "The Normandie Club's menu is meant to be extremely easy to navigate so that, ultimately, you can spend as much time with those around you—and less time trying to understand what a drink tastes like."