Summer and drinking, they go together like winter and … drinking! Most of us love a good craft beer, but these days I find myself yearning for something less predictable, meaning it’s time to make room for a fancy cocktail or two.
This year, there are a few trends that are making happy hour (which, for me, is any hour that features cocktails) a lot more fun and tasty. Bartenders, who are no longer just actors waiting for big movie roles, are using their full array of mixology skills to create innovative beverages that are taking the tippling world by storm.
A standard whiskey-ginger will always have a place in my repertoire, but today I’m going to run through the trendier, more elaborate offerings that you’re going to be seeing at the finest watering holes this year. Whether you’re reading this in the sweltering summer or the dead of winter, you’ll find something suitable for the season!
Speciality whiskey cocktails
Speciality whiskeys have been a mainstay on “trendy” lists for a while, but they continue to gain popularity. Rye whiskey brands from Canada are bringing the high-end product to liquor store shelves everywhere. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, or DISCUS as the kids like to call it, say that the rise in rye whiskey has been meteoric in nature; over the last five years, consumption has grown by a whopping 536-percent.
And rye is a great base for cocktails, giving drinks an extra punch. Most rye-based cocktails are perfect for sipping in autumn as the leaves turn.
The Moscow Mule
The Vodka Buck (what other people call it) is a cocktail made of spicy ginger beer, lime juice, and vodka, and served in a copper mug with a wedge of lime.
This drink originally showed up in North America when bartenders found themselves with too many cases of Smirnoff and ginger beer, two ingredients that nobody wanted in the 1940s. Many people point to the Cock ‘N’ Bull in Hollywood as the grandfather of this cocktail in the States. Regardless of its origins, it’s the perfect drink if you are new to the cocktail revival; it’s not overpowering and easy to drink. Too easy, especially when the thermometer is rising in the summer.
The traditional copper mug is also making a comeback. Back in the day, bartenders would use limited edition copper mugs from Russia. But the family who used to make them stopped doing so and, for a time, most Moscow Mules were served in inauthentically. Now, with Moscow Mules making a comeback, themselves, that Russian family is back in the mug business.
In case you can’t get your hands on a copper mug, don’t worry, there are many similar cocktails that don’t require a specific vessel. There is the Kentucky Mule, Mexico Mule, Irish Mule, and the Glasgow Mule. You name the country, they probably have a mule. Here is a great list of variations. Nostrovia!
Adding food to drinks isn’t anything new, but who doesn’t like a little sustenance in their cocktail?
Incorporating food has become a fun and sometimes artistic challenge for bartenders during this current cocktail renaissance. Now, the kitchen and the craft bar are starting to work together to bring you amazing culinary beverages.
Which ones are going to be the most popular. Given how trendy bacon smoked pork has become, I’d hazard that this Bloody Mary with bacon (recipe below, courtesy of the Daily Meal) is the most likely.
Butternut squash and bacon Bloody Mary
- 2/3 cups butternut squash puree
- 1/3 cup vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish
- 1 dash of salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 ounce vodka or bacon-infused vodka
- chopped bacon, to garnish
- lime wedge, to garnish
Prep: Because this is a “culinary” drink, it means there is a bit of prep time involved. Obviously, you need to start by making some bacon (some for the drinks and some for you to eat just because). Next, create a pre-mix of vegetable stock and butternut squash puree, boil it together, and then let it cool. Mix it together until it’s V8-like in consistency. Mix in some freshly grated horseradish if you want some added taste. Add a dash of salt and freshly grounded pepper. Add the vodka, serve on the rocks, and add the pièce de résistance: crispy smoked bacon. Garnish with a wedge of lime to add a wee bit of acidity.
Mezcal, a distilled beverage born from the agave plant, is seeing a serious rise in popularity, especially as a cocktail base. By Mexican law, only mezcal made from blue agave can be called “tequila,” but there are actually 30 different varieties of agave out there.
The world is loving the smoky smoothness of mezcal-infused cocktails these days, so much so that demand has created a shortage, which has put a lot of pressure on small Mexican agave farmers. (Caveat emptor: large liquor companies have started buying vast tracts of agave fields and mass producing sub-par product at a very expensive price. The behemoths don’t adhere to the traditional methods of ambient fermentation that gives mezcal its distinctive flavor. So be careful in what you purchase; it’s becoming an expensive taste, but find a bottle from a local farmer.)
Most people in North America don’t associate tequila and its brethren with refined cocktails. It has more of a, let’s say, debauched reputation. But it’s not just a drink for frat boys on holiday. It can be a great base for mature pallets, as well.
There’s far more to tiki drinks than cute little umbrellas and grenadine-and-fruit juice. If you like great rums, tiki drinks should be right up your alley, and the cute little umbrellas only add a little fun (if you ask me).
As 2016 rolls on, rum will start to get the love it deserves. (Nothing beats a good Mai Tai on the patio!) If you get on the bandwagon now, then, in true hipster fashion, you can say you were a connoisseur before everyone else. If you’re new to this trend, this list of great tiki drinks has a fit for any occasion.
This Italian digestif is not for everyone, but it has gained popularity in North America over the last few years. Not only will Amaro add some bitterness (that’s literally what “amaro” means in Italian) to a cocktail, but will also provide subtle flavors of all the herbs and spices that are used to make it.
It’s not an easy spirit to add, but craft bartenders are finding more subtle ways to infuse it into their after-dinner drinks for a nice touch. Invented in European monasteries centuries ago, it was first used as a medicinal aid for digestive discomfort. Hey, that would make this Caffe Coretto (recipe below, courtesy of Saveur) a perfect cocktail after a plate full of hot wings on game night!
Glass: Rocks glass
- 1 1⁄2 oz. chilled espresso
- 3/4 oz. Caffé Borghetti espresso liqueur
- 1/2 oz. Fernet-Branca
- 1/4 oz. simple syrup
- 3 espresso beans, for garnish
Prep: Grab your cocktail shaker and fill it with some ice. Throw in some chilled espresso, Caffé Borghetti espresso liqueur, Frent-Branca, and simple syrup and shake to some Italian music. Garnish with some espresso beans so it looks like you know what you’re doing.
Beetroots are seeing a bit of a revival in the cocktail world, especially golden beetroot which has a better flavor and won’t give your drink a purple color. They are chalk full of vitamins, minerals, and powerful antioxidants, but also have a strong taste that can overwhelm a drink, so you have to be careful during the prep. If you want other flavors to shine, I recommend using a small beetroot or “baby beets” as they’re called.
There are myriad reasons why beet-based cocktails are eschewed. First and foremost, they’re a bit of a pain – not to mention messy – to prepare. But this Beetlejuice (Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice; sorry, couldn’t help it) recipe – courtesy of Difford’s Guide For Discerning Drinkers – makes that lingering pinkish tinge on your hands totally worthy it!
- 2 chunks of baby beets (larger for stronger flavor)
- 40 ml Blanco tequila
- 20 ml Green Chartreuse
- 3 small chunks beetroot
- 3 raspberries
- 3 coriander leaves
- 5 ml acacia honey
- 5 ml lime juice
Prep: Muddle up raspberries, coriander, and beets (see here for proper muddling technique) in a cocktail shaker. Add the remaining ingredients, shake your heart out, and strain into a chilled glass. Now you have a Beetlejuice.
Everyone adds liquor to coffee, but tea wants in on the fun, too! It’s not just a stuffy drink for librarians and accountants. Tea time is a lot more fun when you spike the pot.
Adding tea to a cocktail infuses your drink with subtle spice notes, tannins, and aromas. Europeans have been doing it for centuries. For a dreary winter day, I recommend a little Earl Grey with bourbon which many call a hot toddy. But there are also many different cold tea cocktails out there for warmer times of year.
I know what you’re thinking: frozen cocktails are not a trend, they’re a rite of passage in our drinking lives, and one we’re happy to leave behind as our teenage years wane.
But you’re starting to see more bars serve craft frozen daiquiris or even frozen gin and tonics – yes, please! Basically, we’re getting Slurpees for adults.
Have you heard of the frosé (recipe below, courtesy of bon appetit)? It’s what happens when a Slurpee meets a nice rosé. I’m going to spoil the ending: they hit it off!
Glass: Wine glass
Ingredients (makes 4-6 servings):
- 1 750 ml bottle hearty, bold rosé (such as a Pinot Noir or Merlot rosé)
- ½ cup sugar
- 8 ounces strawberries, hulled, quartered
- 2½ ounces fresh lemon juice
Prep: Grab a full-flavored, full-bodied, dark-colored rosé, pour it into a 13×9″ pan and put it in the freezer. Leave it in the freezer for about six hours. (It won’t fully freeze due to the alcohol.)
Since you’ll be waiting, introduce the sugar to a 1/2 cup of water and bring to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir it for about three minutes until the sugar dissolves. Add some strawberries to the mix and let it sit for about thirty minutes. When it’s ready, strain your syrupy goodness through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl (do not press on solids); cover it up and let it chill out in a fridge until it’s cold.
Now take your rosé out of the freezer and scrape it into the blender. Add the lemon juice, 3½ ounces of that strawberry syrup you made, and a cup of crushed ice; purée until “smoothé.” Take that blender jar and put it back in the freezer until thickened to a milkshake-like consistency (about 25-35 minutes).
Blend it all again until you have your slushy and divide among glasses.
Feature photo credit: Marler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.