Over the last 10-15 years, restaurant guests have enjoyed the continuous rise of precision crafted cocktails by self-trained mixologist who have painstakingly studied the industry and morphed that knowledge into masters at their craft. As a result of this increase in expertise many restaurateurs are finding a skilled mixologist can single-handedly turn a bar business from a restaurant amenity to a strong revenue and profit center. In many cases the bar can become a bigger draw than the dining room and a preferred seating area.
Early in this revolution mixologists were crafting cocktails with house made infused syrups, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and fresh herbs. A good mixoligist wouldn’t dream of purchasing pre-made mixers to be used in their cocktails. Liquors such as Absinthe and Nopa were the norm and used to add unique flavor profiles to cocktails that hadn’t been seen for decades.
Many of these bars were small and served little or no food. This was the reemergence of the modern interpretation of a classic speak easy. Without the additional challenges of creating innovative food menus and extensive wine lists bar owners and mixologists could focus on making really great drinks. With the use of these ingredients the cocktails tended to be sweet and aromatic in nature.
Cocktails Mixed With Culinary Skill
As the craft cocktail trend permeates the industry and sweeps across the country the traditional bartender casually mixing together the basic cocktails with little or no precision is a thing of the past and we see these bars loosing market share to those bars that challenge themselves to be more creative and push the envelop.
We now see a trend towards expanding the flavor palate to include bitter, salty, sour, umami and in some cases sweet. With this wide variety of flavorings and ingredients mixologists are finding themselves creating cocktails with the same depth of flavor and complexity as a Chef desires in their prized signature entrees.
A variety of obscure ingredients are finding a new popularity. Bitters in flavors of all kinds such as rhubarb, chamomile, and celery, continue to improve too-sweet cocktails. It is believed Shrub, an even old concoction of vinegar, sugar, and fruit, will also be popular among mixologists in the coming years.
As craft cocktails become the norm, drinkers are more willing and excited to step outside of their comfort zone. Guests are seeking out cocktails with unlikely favorites like fernet, amore and St. Germain, which have risen from obscurity to mainstays of glasses in hipster bars and upscale joints alike.
This newfound love for bitter has put Jägermeister back on the map. It has a lush mouth feel combined with loads of baking spices like ginger, cinnamon, and anise. Some of the better mixologists are mixing Jägermeister into old classics such as the Old Fashioned or a riff on the Margarita with grapefruit juice and dry curacao.
Trend Setting Liquors
During the prohibition era, bar patrons enjoyed gin martini’s but as the speak easy movement faded giving way to restaurant bars, vodka became the white liquor of choice in the modern martini as gin was being viewed as too floral and piney to drink as a martini. Then a new crop of unconventional botanical-laden brands of gins such as Monkey 47 and Fords Gin among them—arrived on the scene, offering alternatives to the traditional London dry style. Bartenders were slowly showing guests that a Martini made with gin, not vodka, is far superior.
Peruvian pisco has been steadily on the rise, often seen in the form of Collins-style cocktails and sours due to its versatility. “It can be mixed with almost anything, and the pisco sour remains a very popular drink,” says Eric Carasella bartender at Plancha Restaurant in Orlando, FL. The high-proof, crisp brandy is also big in swizzles and smashes due to its versatile profile. Basically, you can put it in anything — or mix it with nothing — and it’ll be delicious.
Also gaining popularity and making resurgence on cocktails lists across America is a combination that hasn’t been around for decades…the boilermaker. Previously composed of the cheapest beer found and an equally inexpensive well bourbon back, restaurant owners and mixologists are pairing with locally crafted drafts and high quality independent distilled bourbons. In both cases guests are enjoying pairing higher quality options and the nuances associated with both items.
It seems every major metropolitan market has at least a dozen independently owned distillery’s producing limited amounts of high quality spirits. Mixologists are opting to stock their back bars with these products showing the clientele they prefer to support local businesses and prefer providing unique products to their guests.
We believe, as 2016 approaches mixologists will be reaching for Latin American spirits, fruit infused brandies, bourbons, gins and mescal as the new liquors of choice. These ingredients will be used to create spicy and savory cocktails.