Go Simple, Back To The Basics
EXPECT CUSTOM-DESIGNED ICE, SHRUBS MORE THIS SEASON
No doubt about it, the cocktail craze is far from finished. While the trends of kooky concoctions and flavored spirits appear to be finally losing ground, the art of mixology is hitting its highest peak.
Take a look around the bar at any craft cocktail-focused restaurant or lounge, and you'll see what we mean. Market-fresh ingredients beyond the typical limes, mint and lemons line the counter. You'll also encounter little bottles filled with honey, freshly squeezed juices and other goodies everywhere. And, of course, a number of small-batch and artisan spirits shows up on menus in classic and contemporary cocktails.
This summer, as tipples are expected to be more inventive than ever, experts say that they will also be cleaner, simpler and easier to drink. For Caroline Galzin, co-owner/beverage director of Fifty First Kitchen & Bar in the up-and-coming Nashville neighborhood of The Nations, one of her biggest focuses is to stay micro- seasonal. She credits that advantage to the large, on-premise garden at the restaurant.
"We will have a large bounty of produce," says Galzin, who owns the 50-seat, American contemporary restaurant with husband and chef Tony. "We will be trying to pull as much as we can from the garden. The thing is that we might get strawberries for only a month, so we have to take advantage and use them wisely."
She also plans to use the Italian herbal liqueur amaro in many summer cocktails this season. "Amaros are perfect because they have low alcohol content and are the perfect thing to sip all afternoon. It's not just for after dinner anymore," she says.
Though the restaurant is American-focused, the Galzins plan to showcase tiki-inspired elixirs all summer as an excuse to show off Tony's vast collection of tiki glassware and memorabilia. She says the cocktails are fun and summery, and as long as they're prepared with fresh ingredients and premium rum, they will never go out of style.
"Everyone's doing classic cocktails, but tiki cocktails are still hot and not going away anytime soon," she adds. "Everyone's getting excited about rums, especially those you can drink like a cognac when they are aged. Rum is the spirit that everyone's gravitated towards."
But in the end, she stresses, bartenders must keep cocktails as simple as possible to assure happy guests and a solid bottom line.
"We all want to serve our guests something that is innovating and exciting, but we are trying to run a business. When you're creating a cocktail program, it is important to keep your bottom line in mind. It's easier to make them quickly and delicious and efficient. People cannot be waiting 20 minutes for a drink.
"I think that a lot of your restaurants cocktail programs will go back to basics because it shouldn't take that many steps to make a great cocktail. (At Fifty First Kitchen & Bar), we're keeping it simple and concentrating on high quality products."
On the East Coast, New York bartender John McCartney aims to keep sippers simple for summer. He plans to elevate the process with mixology techniques dating back to the 17th century. Shrubs, for example, originated in England and consist of a fruit liqueur typically made with rum or brandy mixed with sugar and the juice of citrus fruit.
McCartney works at the Prohibition-style cocktail lounge Bathtub Gin and craft cocktail bar Cedar where he has the freedom to put new spins on the classics. For the summer, he plans to switch out citrus fruit for the tartness of raspberries and tropical, tangy flavors of fresh pineapples. "It's a way to have the fruit without it going bad," he explains.
Other big trends he's looking forward to include extremely dry Sherries in drinks such as a Margarita-inspired El Jerez cocktail ("It's the type of thing you make by the pitcher"), vintage punches ("[Bartenders] are looking back at punches because it was the classic way to drink for large groups.") and, of course, custom- designed ice.
"People have gotten geekier about ice. I even have a friend who buys ice from an ice sculptor," McCartney says. "Perfect ice is such a beautiful thing. Most craft bars use Kold-Draft ice because the ice cube quality is so noticeably different. You can taste the difference of the cocktail on the ice. It's a very different (drinking) experience when you have good ice."