Cocktails are like fashion. What’s in today is out tomorrow, and yet the classics never die. As the Apple Martini and the Cosmo go the way of the Ugg boot, we set out to discern what the current and up-and-coming trends are by talking to seasoned industry tastemakers.
As with so many trends that have come and, in some cases, gone, what’s hot and what’s not is often determined in the major cities. So we sought out mixologists and bartenders in five key markets to tell us about the current cocktail trends. The short answer? Latin flavors are hot, gin is king and brown spirits are making a comeback. Now for the long answers ...
NEW YORK CITY
Jason Kosmas, part owner and bartender at Employees Only and Macao Trading Co.
Two of the best-selling cocktails at Employees Only and Macao Trading Co. are gin drinks, causing Kosmas to confirm that gin is in. Fraise Sauvage, a twist on the French 75, is Employees Only’s top seller. “It is made with Plymouth Gin and mixed with our house-made strawberry purée, which is cooked down with vanilla, ginger and lemon zest. At Macao, our Jimlet is really popular – it’s a play on the Gimlet. We infuse Plymouth Gin with kaffir lime, mix it with lemon juice and agave nectar and serve it in a glass seasoned with a few drops of Green Chartreuse and garnished with a kaffir lime leaf.”
Sales of the juniper spirit have exceeded expectations, leading Kosmas to consider rethinking one of the bar rules. “We have a no-substitutions rule, but recently we were tempted to bend the rule when someone asked if we could make one of our vodka cocktails with gin instead.”
Aisha Sharpe, founder and co-director of Contemporary Cocktails Inc.
As a consulting mixologist, Sharpe recently created drinks for Pranna, a trendy Asian-fusion restaurant in New York City. Pranna’s off-the-charts libation is the Dragon Fly, inspired by the restaurant’s chef’s food. Sharpe enlightens, “The drink is made up of orange-peel-infused Level Vodka, Thai chili, kalamanzi honey and lemon juice, served straight up.”
The Dragon Fly might feature vodka, but Sharpe has her bets on an up-and-coming brown spirit with unconventional provenance. “It’s not quite there yet, but I really think Japanese whisky will be the next thing. I use [Suntory] Yamazaki 12-year-old [single malt whisky] in cocktails,” she explains. “It’s not in-your-face peaty like Laphroaig can be, and yet it still has those smoky hints.”
Paul Sevigny, Mixologist, 8 OZ
“Cocktail trends are very distinct in Miami. Because it’s a vacation town with a sub-tropical climate, people want tropical drinks,” informs Sevigny.
According to Sevigny, rum is hot and appeals to the large Latin population here. His box office thirst quencher is a mix of two classic cocktails. “The Perfect Storm is a drink I created based on the Mojito and the Dark ’n’ Stormy. It’s the perfect drink for Miami,” he says. The cocktail consists of muddled mint, Atlantico Rum from the Dominican Republic, Domaine de Canton, simple syrup and lime juice, shaken and strained into a rocks glass, finished with an ounce of Reed’s Ginger Brew and garnished with mint.
Mike Flannery, bartender at Mondrian Miami
The stylish Mondrian Hotel in Miami houses a lounge that turns into a nightclub on weekends, where cachaça is the thing to drink. “We focus on cachaça, and have a specialty Caipirinha cocktail list,” Flannery explains. “When we opened, we looked at cachaça and figured it’s where tequila was at 15 years ago. Our staff favorite and best seller is the Chili Passion, made with Boiron passion fruit purée and the usual cachaça ingredients. We use Leblon as our house spirit, but people often request Cabana and also Sagatiba.”
Tobin Ellis, principal, Bar Magic
Bar Magic is a consulting company that assists operators with the A to Z of nightlife, including concept developing, drink styling and more.
The popular cocktail in Vegas, according to Ellis, is a classic Italian aperitivo. “The Negroni, served straight up or on the rocks, has become a staple in Vegas,” he says. “A lot of people say the best Negroni is made at Red Room Saloon — they call themselves the most glamorous dive bar. The cocktail is doing so well it’s spawning spinoffs like the Zamboni, which is a Brazilian Negroni but the gin is replaced with cachaça.”
Ellis also pinpoints a comeback drink: the Gin and Tonic. He credits its revival to the launch of artisan tonic waters and the boutique gin craze. “Gins are taking off. Two of the most popular ones are Plymouth and Hendrick’s. Aviation and Right Gin are doing well, too.”
Patricia Richards, mixologist for Wynn Las Vegas and Encore
Richards is in charge of a mass scale cocktail program at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, and though she doesn’t point to a specific “It” cocktail, she does shed light on the popularity of certain flavors. “There is a trend toward exotic ingredients as the world becomes smaller. The taste is for flavors like yuzu, guava and tea. One of my popular cocktails is an Earl Grey-infused Martini.”
H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor of Elixir
Cachaça is on a roll at Elixir in San Francisco. Ehrmann puts it down to two reasons: “First there are the cachaça producers coming onto the market with a big push, such as Leblon, Sagatiba and Cabana, and secondly, bartenders are embracing the spirit.” Ehrmann’s own interest in the sugar cane spirit was evident in his hugely popular cocktail, a twist on the Caipirinha.
“There are a lot of spins on the Caipirinha. I’ve had a honey kumquat one on the menu for quite awhile. I’m taking it off now, only because kumquats are out of season. I’ll be replacing it with another version soon. I’m waiting for cherry season to roll in.”
Dominic Venegas, bar director at Gitane Restaurant
Gitane is a Belle Epoque-styled restaurant where the popular cocktail is a variation on the classic Last Word libation, the Gypsy. “It features Right Gin, Green Chartreuse, St-Germain liqueur and fresh lime juice, shaken and served up in a cocktail glass,” Venegas shares. “I substituted the Maraschino with St-Germain. It’s a staff favorite and they love to push it. It’s a drink that is very approachable for having aggressive spirits and a beautiful jade green hue.”
Marcos Tello, resident mixologist at The Edison
The cocktail scene has taken root in L.A. As one of many cool cocktail bars downtown, The Edison specializes in retro drinks that tell local stories. “We’re looking specifically at historical cocktails that were invented in L.A.,” asserts Tello. He adds, “Throwback cocktails are a big trend.”
One drink that sells like hotcakes at The Edison is the El Diablo. “It’s made with tequila, ginger beer, crème de cassis and lime juice, built in a Collins glass. The drink was named El Diablo because when L.A. was first built it was a criminal city. They called it the city of angels, but everyone knew it wasn’t. So this refers to its more apt moniker of City of Devils,” he explains.
Tequila is all the rage in the city as well. “You better have a good tequila selection here because of the large Latin population. We have awesome tequila. A lot of people ask for Partida, and 4 Copas is another popular one.”
Kim Haasarud, founder of beverage consulting company Liquid Architecture
Haasarud has created cocktail menus for the likes of Bottega Louie in downtown Los Angeles, and throughout her time, she has noticed a growing love for classic cocktails and dark spirits, such as bourbon. One of the best-selling mixed drinks on the menu at Bottega Louie is the Ward 8, featuring rye whiskey, simple syrup, lemon juice, homemade grenadine and a lemon twist.
Despite the rising interest in brown spirits, she notes vodka’s continuing popularity. “Vodka is still very much requested, especially in Los Angeles. We have some vodka cocktails on the menu, but it’s with a twist. Our Cosmopolitan Fresh is made with muddled lime wedges.”
So at the end of the day, it seems the Cosmopolitan, like the Ugg boot, isn’t quite dead yet. NCB