The next time you visit your favorite haunt for a tipple, take a closer look at the bar. More specifically, the mixers and garnishes. Not long ago, you would have found the big plastic jugs of neon grenadine and sours mix, impossibly red cherries, and all sorts of other mysterious mixes with a shelf life that could outlast a nuclear holocaust. You may be surprised, however, to find that those “bar staples” no longer have a home behind the bar, or at least fewer of them do. The trend of using freshly prepared ingredients has found a new foothold in the cocktail world!
The Resurgence of the Cocktail Culture
Cocktails have endured a steady decline in quality from the heyday of prohibition era drinks – the classic cocktails. It started off with the creamy libations of the 50’s and 60’s, like the White Russian or Grasshopper; transgressed to the Martini mania of the 90’s, serving up fluorescent colored drinks like the Cosmopolitan and blue Kamikazes; and more recently, dove deeper into the fish bowls and buckets of the 2000’s. Now this isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the occasional White Russian or flaming coconut shell but, the path we took led us toward a world of highly processed drinks that are only, at best, a mere reflection of what our forefathers once enjoyed.
The Movement of Fresh Ingredients
The beauty of hitting bottom is that you can only go up. We have experienced the restaurant industry re-calibrating their menus to focus on sustainably sourced, local, and seasonal ingredients. The bar industry is no exception to that, although the execution of this transition has been part of a larger transformation of the industry. And, in many regards, it is out of necessity. The industry professionals dusted off century-old mixology books to find the essence of cocktails, effectively punching the big red button to re-start.
The original recipes included old world spirits and mixers that had either faded from existence or were too rare and obscure to find from a reliable source. Keen to keep with tradition, bartenders began to concoct their own mixers like varieties of syrups, grenadine, and bitters. Through this process, the renaissance of creating authentic drinks, with fresh and perishable mixers, began. A fitting parallel to the restaurant industry focusing on the source of ingredients and how they are prepared.
The Movement of Going Local
As with the everything else, cocktails have continued to evolve, albeit in a very different direction from its checkered past. Many bartenders have embraced local sourcing as a basis for their spirited sippers. It extends beyond having the freshest produce available– incorporating local ingredients adds a story and contributes toward building the community. In turn the community supports the bar program because they have a more intimate connection with it.
The Future of Cocktails
If I knew what the future held for the trends of cocktails, I wouldn’t be here sharing this blog with you. However, there are a number interesting trends that could indicate where the bar culture is headed. Italian Amaris and spirits have been an integral part of the cocktail scene over the past few years. They are here to stay. I have no doubt that there are many other regions of the world that have their own variation of bittered liqueurs and fortified wines that will find their way behind many bars. It’s simply a matter of the industry collectively discovering them.
Bartenders also seem to be working through old genres like Tiki drinks, and breathing new life into them. It makes sense that Tiki drinks are becoming more and more popular– the old-school Tiki drink can be a relatively complex cocktail incorporating ingredients like orgeat and fresh pressed fruit. That leaves endless possibilities for bartenders who are looking for ways to feature their in-house syrups and local produce.
The biggest movement is that more and more bars are adopting the principles and philosophy of classic cocktails. It’s becoming more mainstream, and it should. We all deserve a well-balanced and delicious drink, and we all deserve to open a cocktail menu without the fear of accidentally ordering a neon sugar bomb.
Regardless of the trends, I am confident that the dog days of processed ingredients are fading away, leaving us with many refreshing and delicious drinks ahead. Cheers!