Trends Shaking Up the Cocktail Scene
Gin distilled down the street; cocktails aged like bourbon or moonshine; negroni’s infused with shallots. One quarter of the way into 2018 three cocktail trends are showing up at bars and restaurants across the country. This year, when you go out for a drink, ask your bartender about locally produced spirits, barrel-aged cocktails and culinary cocktails.
Small craft distilleries are popping up in small and large cities all over the country. The impulse to know where our food comes from is affecting our choices in drinks. The farm to table and locally grown movements continue to grow and it makes sense that they would spill over from restaurants to bars.
Just like craft breweries before them, local distilleries provide an opportunity to support one’s own community. The National Restaurant Association calls this trend hyperlocal. Expect locally produced spirits to show up in more of your favorite restaurants and bars soon.
The practice of barrel-aging wines and spirits has been around for centuries. More recently, craft brewers have barrel-aged beers to impart unique flavors to them. Now bartenders have discovered that the same technique can be applied to mixed drinks.
A mixologist prepares the cocktail, like a Cosmopolitan or Negroni, in a large batch (sometimes a gallon, sometimes more). The entire mix is then transferred to an oak barrel and allowed to age for days, weeks or even months, depending on the desired result. The barrels are often ones that have been used previously to age wine, bourbon or some other spirit, but they can also be new barrels.
While the cocktail ages, the alcohol interacts with the wood, extracting its color and flavors. The overall effect is a richer but softer cocktail. Oak barrels impart hints of vanilla and caramel flavors. The most common barrel-aged cocktails are those made with vodka, gin, bourbon and cognac of higher proofs. Lower proof spirits tend to become too sweet when aged this way.
Not cocktails you drink with your meal, but rather cocktails that include ingredients normally found in your food. Bartenders today are spending time in the kitchen and experimenting with ingredients like tomatoes, onions, peppers, cheeses and more to add new twists to traditional cocktails. The results are drinks that taste like meals.
The culinary cocktail concept may have evolved from what are referred to as scrap cocktails, where bartenders try to incorporate leftover ingredients from the kitchen in an attempt to minimize waste. But the current trend is driven by artistry, not economics. Curious and inventive bartenders are discovering that cooking techniques like smoking and sautéing can bring unexpected, interesting flavors to their cocktails.
Next time you find yourself at a bar or restaurant, unmotivated to have the usual but unsure of what to try, ask the bartender if they have any barrel-aged or culinary cocktails in their repertoire. Then get ready for a completely new taste sensation. And don’t forget to Drink Local.