In the big, fresh, juicy world of cocktails, trends can be as fleeting as a shot of Fernet-Branca or as long-lived as a well-made Martinez cocktail. Operators can choose to jump in or stand by. In this issue, we report on macro trends spilling out of the shakers of cocktail destinations, industry events and cocktail experts. But burgeoning micro trends, like these, also challenge us to find room on our menus.
Not long ago, serious cocktail bars were quick to snub this once-coveted spirit. The less pretentious people-first movement is changing that with accessibly delicious cocktails. Vodka is definitely chic again.
Tips: Vodka comes in fresh forms, from small batch and organic production to naturally infused savory flavors (green chile, basil, cucumber) as well as more playful versions (English breakfast, marmalade, oak-smoked) and house-infused blends. All provide a fresh canvas for newfangled classics.
- Elyx Pineapple. Absolut Elyx, pineapple purée, sherry, rosemary, salted caramel syrup and Tiki bitters served in an Elyx copper pineapple—The Miami Beach Edition, Miami
- End of Story. Anchor Hophead Vodka, Becherovka, Green Chartreuse, cane sugar, lime, Butterfly Absinthe—Russell House Tavern, Cambridge, Mass.
This fortified, cask-aged wine is made from Palomino grapes grown near the town of Jerez, Spain. Sherry was a booming European export for the British Empire before the 1890s invasion of phylloxera. It took centuries for sherry to make the kind of comeback it’s now experiencing.
Tips: Embraced for its complex characteristics by cocktail makers, sherries run the gamut. Finos’ distinctive dry, nutty taste lends itself to aperitif or blends that might call for a dry vermouth. Manzanilla and everything between display the multifaceted, woody, winey, sweet flavors that marry well with most spirits, but with enough flavor and viscosity to carry a low-proof cocktail.
- Hot Blond: Amontillado and Fino sherries, lemon and apple brandy—Anfora, New York
- Adonis Cocktail: Fino Sherry, sweet vermouth, orange bitters—5&10, Athens, Ga.
Thanks to better-made apple wines, this naturally gluten-free, low-ABV refresher has garnered growing interest that is taking over taps in every state. Producers also reflect growing interest and style, from crisp-dry to semi-sweet.
Tips: The remarkable range of regional brews crafted from local and varietal apples hail from original Spanish, French, British and uniquely American styles and carbonation levels. These make hard ciders and wines outstanding mixers, toppers, flavorers and lengtheners, from humble highballs to complex cocktails.
- Alien Comic: Dolin Blanc Vermouth, Lustau Palo Cortado Sherry, JK’s Hard Cider and fresh lemon juice —Pearl & Ash, New York
- Calville Blanc au Feu: Calvados, Bénédictine, honey and Etienne Dupont Cidre Bouché, lemon peel —Ela, Philadelphia
Dating to the 16th century, vermouth is an aromatized fortified wine flavored with bitter herbs and spices. Both for sipping and in cocktails, red and white varieties were in high vogue in the late 1800s, but experienced a downturn post WWII.
Tips: Vermouth has returned in a big way. The linchpin of many timeless and low-proof cocktails, vermouth is ideal for adding deep complexity with low impact to both traditional and inventive recipes. The big trend among the influential is blending vermouths and fortified wines to achieve unparalleled equilibrium.
- Comstock Cocktail: Vermouth Blanc, quinquina, gin, Green Chartreuse, orange bitters —Bastille, Seattle
- Bianco Negroni: Cocci Americano, Bianco vermouth, gin, orange —L’ Apicio, New York
The bitter bark appears in tonics, quinine, cocktail bitters, vermouth, herbal-alpine-style elixirs (think Jägermeister), French quinquinas (like Dubonnet and original Lillet) and Italian-style Chinati, Cocchi aperitivi, digestif and amari.
Tips: Bitterness was the big theme of 2015. The characteristics of Cinchona make it dry, bitter and appetite-stimulating, earning Chinati and quinquinas a reputation as prized aperitifs. Their complex, high flavors allow the alcohol to remain low, so they make not only satisfying sippers but marvelous modifiers.
- Tailspin: Plymouth Gin, Green Chartreuse, Carpano Antica, Campari—Roast, Detroit
- Rising Tide: Cocchi Rosso, Zucca Amaro, Amontillado, El Dorado 12-year rum—L’ Artusi, New York
The 1940s Moscow Mule was a collaborative marketing scheme of desperate ginger beer producer (Cock ’n’ Bull) and struggling Smirnoff distributor. Traditionally served in a copper mug, the drink was and is a boomerang smash.
Tips: “Mule” now signifies a ginger beer highball, and inspired spins abound with unique interpretations. The base spirit can be swapped for whiskey, tequila and gin, or additional flavors can be added, like carrot-ginger juice, smoke, spice or hot chile infusions, making the mule a year-round prospect.
- Mezcal Mule: Vida Mezcal, lime, cucumber, passion fruit purée, agave nectar —Block & Grinder, Charlotte, N.C.
- Angry Mule: Angry Orchard Cider, house-infused cinnamon whiskey, Applejack and fresh citrus —Viewhouse, Centennial, Colo.
Popularized in the 1940s, the original Cuban Daiquiri was a rum grog or a tall glass of crushed ice over which rum, lime and sugar syrup were poured. Versions include the Floridita (with maraschino liqueur) and Papa Doble (with double rum, grapefruit and maraschino), and frozen versions popular with drinkers like Hemingway and JFK.
Tips: Though a near-perfect cocktail, the Daiquiri got such short shrift over the years, it’s had a struggle to make its resurgence, but that it has. Well-made classic versions have made the mark, helped along by a whole crop of rum options. Newly fashioned adaptations—even fruity, frozen and machine styles made with high-quality ingredients and spirits—have gained approval.
- Turn the Beet Around: Spiced Daiquiri with beet-infused cachaça, lime —SoBou, New Orleans
- Banana’s Bunny Daiquiri: Overproof Jamaican rum, Overproof Guyana rum, spiced rum, banana, coconut and lime; garnished with a carved banana dolphin —Lost Lake, Chicago
8. BANANA & PINEAPPLE
These two tropical fruits are no strangers to the cocktail scene, but with new ingredients, organically flavored spirits and culinary technique, they are gaining new attention as eminently blendable, lending sweet, savory and sour flavors, and creamy viscosity to a range of cocktails.
Tips: It’s not just the macro trends in Tiki and frozen that have made these two tropical fruits find new space on the bar. Fresh, puréed, roasted, acidified and toasted fruit makes for a tasty infusion, syrup, muddle or garnish. New and natural spirits and liqueurs blend well with other tropical flavors like rum or tamarind, but also trendy flavors like sherry and amaro.
- Banana Hammock Bacardi Black, Diplomático Añejo, Coco Lopez, Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur, Giffard banana, pineapple and lime —Upstairs at The Ace, Los Angeles
- Strangelove: Flor De Caña Rum, pineapple, Dimmi, Cardamaro, balsamic, lime, bitters; on the rocks —Range, San Francisco
9. DIY CARBONATION
Personal taps and self-capped bottles may be the delivery mechanism, but self-carbonation is really about the ability to signaturize quality, flavor and health leanings. Even artisan-crafted sodas let alone big-brand mixers may no longer be enough.
Tips: Soft drinks are turning hard. They include housemade tonic and cola to sparkling waters pimped with natural flavors, sweeteners and colors (think saffron, beet, spinach and turmeric) and even natural minerals, electrolytes and “beautifiers,” used to mix distinctive cocktails. Making tonic, ginger, root and birch beers can be as easy as making a syrup or as distinguishing as kegging your own. And kombucha—watch for mass appeal!
- The O.G. Mule Monopolowa, built with ice, pressed whole mint leaves and fresh lime juice, topped off with Old Gold’s Draught Dr. White Rose Kombucha—The Old Gold, Portland, Ore.
- Solo Dancer: In a bottle: Pinot Grigio, Aperol, cardamom, pear —The Florence, Savannah, Ga.
Smoked cocktails have been smoldering in the recent past, but they hit their big flame in 2015. American mixologists are creating smoked cocktails using everything from smoked salt to charcoal to add deep or lightly smoked character.
Tips: Here are a few ways bars are creating smoky flavor:
- Naturally, with peaty Scotch or smoky mezcal
- Smoked or grilled produce (fruits, vegetables or nuts)
- Smoke-permeated ice or glassware
- Tea- or tobacco-infused spirits or simple syrup
- Charred barrel aging
- Smoked bacon, meat or salt
- Smoke on the Water: Smoking blackberries, atomized Scotch, Islay Mist, flame—The Bazaar By José Andrés, Los Angeles
- Antigua: Añejo tequila, smoked jalapeño-agave syrup, orange, mole bitters—Snackbar, Oxford, Miss.