In recent years, top bartenders have become so proficient and ambitious that they spend hours not just in crafting well-balanced cocktails, but in relentless research. They hit the books and blogs, attend conferences, explore the market and push boundaries, looking for new and inventive flavors and ingredients. Inevitably, a few of those make their mark. Here are 10 flavor embellishments, enhancements and adornments happening right now.
From muddled fresh summer pear in mules to purée for fresh pear Collins, pear nectar or juice creates textural interest and enough natural sugar to sweeten sparkling or Tiki drinks. House- or distiller-infused spirits offer options for cocktails, and pear cordials and brandies lend spicy pear flavors to highballs and brown-spirited cocktails.
Formats: Fresh juice • Nectar• Purée • Infusions • Sorbet • Cordial • Brandy
- Au Pear. Hangar 1 Vodka, Domaine de Canton, ginger liqueur, housemade limoncello, pear purée, simple syrup —Taverna 750, Chicago
- Pitys and Pears. Pear brandy, Old Tom Gin, Douglas fir eau de vie, fresh lime, simple syrup —Sycamore Den, San Diego
Pineapple adds sweetness and viscosity in addition to an aromatic, tropical juicy-fruitness, especially when juiced or muddled. Tepache is a fermented Mexican agua fresca of pineapple rinds, piloncillo and spices. Like kombucha, it makes a nice no/low-alcohol cooler, mixer or shandy ingredient. Pineapple gum or gomme syrup is a flavored syrup mixed with gum arabic, a natural acacia-derived emulsifier that lends texture.
Formats: Fresh cut (garnish or muddle) • Preserved • Juice • Agua fresca • Tepache • Infused • Gum syrup • Bitters
- The Double Black Diamond. Fresh pineapple infused for 21 days with Svedka Citron Vodka and garnished with a sweet pineapple slice —Firebirds, Raleigh, N.C.
- + Wild agave cupreata, tepache, house citrico (lime, lemon peel, galangal root), ancho bitters, lemon, ground cinnamon and pineapple feathers —Bar Clavel, Baltimore
3. GRAPEFRUIT JUICE
Grapefruit, long a mainstay at the back bar, is prized for its pulpy, acidic-sweet balance and aromatic zip. This sour fruit is even more popular as cocktail palates move from sweet to bitter and tangy. New varietals in a range of flavors, acidities and colors make fresh and preserved preps of juice, fruit and rind all equally blendable.
Formats: Infused spirits • Soda • Preserves • Candied rind • Sugar • Bitters • Salt
- The Grapefruit Cocktail. Hidalgo Manzanilla, maraschino, grapefruit juice, grapefruit bitters —Nopa, San Francisco
- The Lamplighter’s Story. Plymouth Gin infused with hibiscus, grapefruit marmalade, serrano chile, bitter orange soda, lemon —Whitechapel, San Francisco
Cardamom works as either a warming or cooling spice in light, dark, juicy or creamy cocktails. Delicious with barrel-aged rum and brown spirits, cardamom is a principal flavoring, pairing well with gin. A few cordials, including Cardamaro and Hum, and a number of bitters, are based on or enhanced by the exotic spice, but the DIY approach best preserves flavor.
Formats: Green pods • Cordial • Fresh ground • Toasted Infused spirits • Syrup • Sugar
- Herringbone. Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon, Metaxa 5-Star, Cardamaro, Cointreau Guignolet, aromatic bitters —The Townsend, Austin, Texas Palace
- Planter’s Punch. Old New Orleans Amber Rum, cardamom, orange, lemon, orgeat, vanilla brandy —Palace Café, New Orleans
5. MATCHA TEA
Matcha green tea has an earthy, grassy, off-bitter flavor and a health halo. The tea or powder mixed straight in—as an infusion, syrup or soda—pairs well with ginger, mint, melon, stone fruits, nut milks and other Asian flavors. Matcha is a natural with shochu, white whiskey and gin, and it makes an impressively verdant creamy or egg-white cocktail (think gin fizz).
Formats: Powder • Infusions • Syrup Soda • Sugar • Bitters
- The Matcha Pisco. Matcha-infused Peruvian pisco, orange curaçao, pineapple-tarragon syrup, lemon juice—SushiSamba, New York
- Matcha Do About Nothing. Tequila blanco, ceremonial-grade matcha, coconut milk, toasted sesame-infused agave, tapioca pearls cured in savory edamame syrup, lime bitters —Gracias Madre, West Hollywood, Calif.
6. MAPLE SYRUP
Maple has come a long way from replacing sugar in a brandy milk punch. Maple water might be the next coconut water for its mild, faintly sweet flavor. Bar chefs are smoking maple to create a high-impact modifier. Natural maple soda and cider-vinegar based, maple-sweetened switchel are terrific mixers or base ingredients for mocktails, while granulated maple lends a more delicate sweetness to a muddle or rim.
Formats: Sugar • Candy • Water • Soda • Switchel • Smoked • Bitters
- Jackie O. Rye, root beer extract, maple, black walnut bitters, orange —Armoury D.E., Dallas
- Canadian Cold Press. Bourbon, Luxardo Amaro Abano, maple, housemade cold press —Saint Dinette, St. Paul, Minn.
7. COLD BREW
Rich and deep with light tannin and bitter but sweet notes, smoky, fruity and aromatic, cold-brew coffee makes the cocktail cut. The single strength can produce a warming (or warm) cocktail or a refreshingly tall cooler. From a nitro draft, it contributes a great Guinness-like smoothness. Cold-brew concentrate or syrup means a little goes a long way. Frozen into cubes lends a slow melt of flavor; as crushed ice, it’s a stimulating adult snow cone.
Formats: Cold • Hot • Tapped • Concentrate • Soda • Ice
- Marooned on Coffee Island. Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Gold Rum, Mount Gay Black Barrel, cold-brew coffee, salt-roasted plantain, PX Sherry, Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters, cinnamon and fresh whipped cream—The Dawson, Chicago
- Nitro Brut. Grand Marnier, simple syrup, nitro cold- brew coffee and a Champagne topper—Beatrix, Chicago
Any cook knows that a pinch of salt adds a lot. Bartenders are catching on, embracing salt and salty preps in places well beyond the margarita rim. Bar chefs have taken to salting their mise-en-place preps, mixers and syrups as a matter of course, dosing saline into mixing glasses before shaking, grinding an exotic salt blend over foamy drink tops and, of course, rimming those glasses with all manner of crunchy varietals and flavor-infused options.
Formats: Solutions • Grinds • Brines • Infusions • Rimmer
- Hey Ho, Let’s Go! Lemon juice, Crazy Water No. 4 Texas mineral water, Ethiopian Sidama Ardi cold-brew coffee, Demerara syrup, Merlot Cassis, Bols Genever, Jameson and mineral saline (salt solution) —Midnight Rambler, Dallas
- La Condesa Classic. El Jimador Silver, Patrón Citrónge, lime juice, agave nectar, cactus-lemongrass-infused salt —La Condesa, Austin, Texas
Chanterelles, oyster, candy cap, hen-of-the-woods, shiitake and truffles all add umami to cocktails with methods like infusing spirits, syrups, bitters or salts, concentrating juice or candying. Mushroom dust is an aromatic addition. The fungi pair nicely with savories like pungent herbs, salt, sesame, vegetal amari or aromatized wines, sherries and vermouths.
Formats: Cooked • Candied • Dried • Powdered • Infusions • Syrup • Tincture • Bitters • Salt
- Long Strange Trip. Candy cap mushroom-infused 1776 Rye Whiskey, lemon, black pepper, Zucca Amaro —Dirty Water, San Francisco
- The Truffle Pig. Añejo tequila, muddled rosemary-honey spiced ’shrooms, fresh lemon, seared hen-of-the-woods mushroom top —FT33, Dallas
We know the appeal of the olive juice-laden dirty martini or a splash of pickle brine in a Bloody Mary. It’s only natural that the evolution of cocktails from sweet to sour, savory and salty and the trend of pickling come together. From dropping a pickled jalapeño into a mezcal or infusing vodka with kimchi, this trend has gone beyond experimental.
Formats: Herbs • Sweet • Sour • Mustard Kimchi • Kraut • Juice • Infusions
- Der Schmutzige. Black pepper/mustard vodka with pickle, beet and kraut juice —Wunderbar at Grünauer, Kansas City, Mo.
- Pickletini. Luksusowa Potato Vodka, pickle juice, olive juice, pickle spear —Tattooed Mom, Philadelphia