While you’re sitting at your favorite bar, it’s hard not to be intrigued by a long, long list of cocktails. So the question is simple but sweeping: what do some of the world’s foremost experts in spirits identify as the next cocktail trend on the horizon? Where is the world of cocktails headed?
We spoke with a range of experts–movers and (cocktail) shakers in our home base of Brooklyn and New York and stretching as far as Singapore and London–about everything from particular ingredients and specific techniques to movements in a broader cocktail zeitgeist. Needless to say, your next cocktail has never looked more delicious.
“I think we’re seeing a general orientation towards comfort and fun,” says Paul Clarke, author of The Cocktail Chronicles.
Our new golden age of cocktails began with Prohibition-style watering holes–hushed, dimly lit spaces in which bartenders dress formally and cultivate an aura of mystery. Don’t get us wrong: these places are still wonderful, but the trend is moving away from them.
“The new orientation is away from those bars that maintain a certain degree of rigidity, and towards fun, relaxed, high-quality cocktail bars,” Clarke says. “You’re going to see more places that offer vintage arcade games or bowling alleys, places that had they opened 10 or 15 years ago, would have served standard-fare bar cocktails, but will now serve really quality drinks. The cocktail is now becoming part of the experience, not the main attraction. It’s becoming normal for regular bars to serve truly excellent cocktails.”
While applying molecular gastronomy to cocktails has been going on for a few years, this trend is going to become increasingly commonplace, says Ivy Mix, Spirited Award’s 2015 American Bartender of the Year, and a driving force behind Leyenda and Speed Rack. “Dave Arnold’s book Liquid Intelligence came out last year, teaching and encouraging people to make these very scientific, dynamic, complex drinks, and I foresee a lot of people bringing this approach into their practice,” she says. “I think we’ll see more labs in more bars … It’ll become more the norm.”
“Firstly, the flavor taps into nostalgia,” says Ryan Chetiyawardana, of famed London cocktail establishments White Lyan and Dandelyan and author of the upcoming Good Things to Drink With Mr. Lyan and Friends. “Additionally, we’re starting to see bars apply their expertise in working with flavours to those that were previously relegated to overly confected or artificial serves.”
“Going to many cocktail bars in New York, the drinks can be very strong,” says Jack McGarry of The Dead Rabbit, which swept the Spirited Awards again this year. “When I’m out drinking cocktails, I can literally have only two or three, or then there’s a hangover. So the trend of lower alcohol drinks, that’s what I’m most excited about on the horizon, and what we are currently working on developing at the moment. We call them session cocktails–you can can add more longevity to your night, and drink four to six [cocktails] instead of two to three.”
Latin American Spirits
“I’m not just saying this because of Leyenda, I really think it’s true–it’s amazing to me how many spirits are trending from that part of the world,” Mix says. “Cachaca, as a category, is just blowing up–we’re going to be seeing more of cachaca, partially because of the spirit’s capabilities. You can age it in all sorts of materials, experiment with how long your sugarcane juice ferments. …”
Clarke agrees that the trends will be coming from Central and Latin America. “Mezcal in particular has been the belle of the ball for a couple of years now, and that mezcal train is going to keep rolling,” Clarke says. “We haven’t reached peak mezcal. Rum is also entering a new phase, in that we’re seeing some really expressive bottlings of rum coming out that are also really affordable, which makes it easier for bars to pick it up, put it on their menu, and really show it off.”
“Fermentation is coming through strong in bars – home fermented products, but also orange wines, long-aged sparkling wines, unfiltered beers, and biologically-aged sherries,” Chetiyawardana says.
“When we talk about tiki, ‘resurgence’ isn’t even the applicable word anymore,” Clarke says. “It’s thriving. Even Chicago has four or five tiki bars now. But when Latitude 29 opened in New Orleans at the very end of 2014, I think it was planting the flag for the next wave of tiki bars to come–we’re going to see only more of them.”
More recent than farm-to-table, farm-to-glass establishments have still been trending for a few years. In the future, however, ingredients’ origins and sourcing practices are going to be considered more important by mainstream bars. “As chefs engage with their ingredients–caring about where they come from and how they’re grown–and take more ownership of that process, I think more bartenders are headed in that direction too,” says Sean Hoard of Teardrop in Portland. “I recently visited a company in Washington called Starvation Alley–they make cranberry juice. Two or three years ago, you would just buy whatever crappy cranberry juice, but now we’re going up and harvesting cranberries … bartenders are trying to engage with what’s going into the drink and what’s going into the guest’s body.”
We’re going to start seeing more cocktails that incorporate new–and sometimes seemingly contradictory–ingredients. “We had a workshop last Monday, and one of the drinks involved goat’s cheese. Another featured rice milk,” McGarry says. “I love seeing new drinks that have counterintuitive ingredients.”
A Focus on Flavor and Authenticity
“A backlash of sorts has developed against the perceived pretension and preciousness of cocktail culture, and many veteran bartenders have responded with a turn to simplicity in concept, recipe development, and even naming conventions,” says Joe Alessandroni, Creative Director of the internationally renowned 28 HongKong* Street in Singapore, which has been killing it at Tales of the Cocktail for a few years now. “While I think this return to roots is important, it can also be used as a crutch to stop reaching for greatness, and I believe the future and long-term viability of the cocktail world needs to take much the same journey that chefs have taken over the past couple of years: focus on creating flavour and telling a story grounded in authenticity. We have to use the canon of classic cocktails as a guide and template for creativity without being constrained by them. Celebrate beautiful products and produce, while using technology, technique, and exotic ingredients to refine and enhance their natural flavours rather than as a gimmick. We need to learn and be inspired by the amazing work others are doing around the globe, but be true to ourselves.”
*This original article misspelled 28HongKong Street’s name; we regret the error.