For the past few years, merging the old with the new has been a bar side preoccupation, with bitters being a prime example. Once down to perhaps two widely available brands, now even supermarket shelves proffer a shiny spectrum of bitters bottles, suitable for every flavor twist and turn.
Bartenders by now have tacked back from the bitters border, with fewer house-made varieties featured now that the commercial market has managed to fill out neatly. But there are other ingredients and tools that have undergone makeovers to be refashioned as more suitable participants in the cocktail revolution.
For instance, in the Boston area, bartenders now have a new sort of limbic beer available for their mixological sleight of hand. Lambic beers, spontaneously fermented with high to very high levels of fruity esters and sourness, can sometimes present an acidity difficult to manage in cocktail-making. Lambise, a blend of Belgian Lambic and Belgian Ale, was crafted as a half-way step between strong lambics and less assertive brews specifically with cocktailing in mind. Smooth but tart, pretty aromatically but with a gentle fizziness, the two varieties - Classique and Ginge - make a neat base for beer cocktails. Says brewmaster Jerome Pellaud, the creator of the beers, “Lambise was specially crafted to be versatile and bring a new dimension of sourness and balanced complexity to cocktailing that has been unattainable with other ingredients.”
It's not long before other brewers in craft-mad America turn to the obvious idea of brewing beers ready for mixing, but in the meantime, bartenders still like reshaping the world of spirits, too, as we've seen from large and small distillers looking for their help. Perhaps it's time to turn to a part of the world where distilling has been going on for centuries: Gascony and Normandy.
The fine Armagnacs and Calvados made in these two regions at opposite ends of France don't get the respect that their big bully relative Cognac does, but any bartender with half a creative urge would be advised to check out the white versions of these classic spirits - Blanche de Normandie and blanche Armagnac. Like any other unpaged spirit, they offer the essence of the base ingredient (four types of grape for Armagnac, apples and pears for Calvados), the punch of unpaged spirit and the robust and somewhat rustic tang of traditional distillation unchallenged by the need to get bigger and more efficient each year. Priced well below their aged brethren, they also allow for more experimentation with an eye toward pour costs.
Even bar tools are being scrutinized these days, with superb results in the case of Jackson Cannon's new bar knife. "After years of working with knives that just didn't seem to be suited to what we do behind the bar (mostly citrus, of course) I asked my friends who operate R Murphy to bring several examples of other trade tools from the 19th and 20th century. Thus began a process of trying these different blades out. Eventually we repurposed this design from a 19th century shoe leather knife and chose to forge the blade in a specific way to make it stand up to bar work."
Cannon, bar director of Boston's Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar and partner in The Hawthorne, says the blade's sharpness helps prolong fruit’s fresh-cut appearance and a squared off tip does double duty in notching citrus for glass garnishes and removing seeds from fruit.
Balanced and thoughtfully designed to meet the needs of a busy professional bartender, it deserves a place in a bartender's constantly evolving tool kit - find out more HERE.