4 Great Cocktail Trends Heating Up Summer Bar Sales
Experts Cite Luxury Libations, Classic Drinks Done Frozen & More
One bottle of L’Artisan Cognac No. 50 will set you back about $1,500. The unblended Cognac, made in the early 1960s, came straight from a single barrel in France. Only 485 bottles of the elusive, smoky Scotch-like liquor were produced, making it a rare and vintage spirit in high demand.
But that didn’t stop the chic NoMad Bar in New York from adding it to its “reserve cocktails” list in 2014. Here, bartenders have upgraded the classic, Cognac-based Vieux Carré into a luxury libation with L’Artisan Cognac No. 50 as the star. The drink also contains Thomas H. Handy Sazerac rye (another vintage spirit retailing for about $500), sweet vermouth, Benedictine, absinthe and Peychaud bitters.
NoMad Bar’s signature Vieux Carré cocktail is $198, and it’s one of the most popular requests at the Manhattan hotel lounge. Also on the menu is a $42 re-imagined version of the classic tiki tipple Jungle Bird. It features Campari from the 1960s
as well as Havana Club Seleccion de Maestros, a triple-barrel aged rum finished in small oak barrels.
There are several reasons why bars across the country are adding similar cocktails featuring rare and vintage spirits, and it has little to do with vanity. Some mixologists and connoisseurs see them as history in a glass, as these old spirits typically have fascinating stories behind them. Others see them offering unique experiences usually reserved for dining adventures.
“We keep seeing these very high-end restaurants open, with very experiential offerings and elevated ingredients, and they range from $250 to $300 per guest, observes Alex Renshaw of the Chicago-based Dogma Group, a specialty hospitality and beverage consulting firm that also includes veteran bartenders Clint Rogers and Brian Sturgulewski. “You’re going to see the bar scene continue to mimic that.”
And while the average bar won’t have bottles of L’Artisan Cognac No. 50 collecting dust, some may have higher-end products that bartenders may find difficult to move. Creating these luxury cocktails, says Renshaw, may be a practical solution.
“If the bar or restaurant has higher-end or premium products already in inventory, it’s a way to present those spirits in a different light,” he suggests. “I think it is smart, especially in (neighborhoods) with clientele willing to spend more money.”
Another way bars are cashing in on the ever-expanding mixology explosion is with large-format cocktails, says Renshaw. He stresses that these offerings are elevated versions of spirited punchbowls and are ideal for entertaining multiple people at once. “(Large-format cocktails) help drive sales for the bar as well as really get the group involved in the cocktail (experience),” he explains of the offerings that range anywhere from $50 to $300. “This is also a nice introduction and less intimidating way to enjoy some unique cocktails.” For instance, at venues he’s consulted for throughout the country, he’s utilized unique vessels resembling disco balls and octopuses to serve groups of four to eight people.
Another example is at Celeste restaurant in Chicago, where large-format rum, vodka and tequila cocktails are served in oversized copper containers in the shape of gnomes and owls. And, at New York’s NoMad Bar, the specialized drinks are dubbed “cocktail explosions,” which is true to form in presentation. They arrive in two-foot-tall crystal vessels that are dramatically decorated with fresh mint and lemon slices. Each is equipped with a spigot so that guests may pour their own drinks.
Another trend continuing to gain momentum is of the frozen variety, but now bartenders are using classic cocktails as the blueprint. A few years ago, Chicago hot spot Parson’s Chicken & Fish introduced a Negroni slushie, setting social media abuzz with images of the Italian-inspired cocktail in all its frosty glory. Then came the frozen Bee’s Knees (gin, honey, fresh lemon juice) from King Bee Lounge in Austin.
“Everybody who can fit a frozen drink machine behind their bar is doing so,” says Tracy Ardoin Jenkins of Nicky's Coal Fired in Nashville. “Last year it was rosé that we were seeing in the frozen variety, but this year it is more about classic, creative cocktails coming out of the machines.”
At the Italian-focused Nicky’s, she features a frozen Fernet & Coke, which she says resembles a boozy version of a Coke-flavored Icee. “It balances out really nicely,” she says. “It’s something we’re excited to offer. It’s perfect for summer.”
Finally, no spirit is hotter than agave spirits right now, and Milagro Tequila brand ambassador Jaime Salas gives credit to the current mezcal movement. He says that as industry experts and consumers eagerly embrace its origins, they also appreciate its authentic flavor.
“It’s beginning to get the appreciation, the respect, the acknowledgment that it should as a spirit that’s highly honed and focused on terroir, like Champagne, great distillates, wine, Armagnacs and cognacs,” says Salas. “People are now appreciating them for what they are and not trying to mask the flavors.”