As someone who knows a bit about how agricultural commodities work and lot about how cocktails work, I’ve been following the recent ascent of lime prices, which has been causing bartenders considerable pain. If you love Margaritas, Daiquiris or or any other drink that depends on lime for its citrusy zing, you may be feeling the squeeze yourself.
What’s going on? In brief, Mexico, which produces 98% of the limes consumed in the U.S, is now seeing a shortage of limes thanks to a perfect storm of poor winter weather, plagues and threats from organized crime. As a result, we’ve seen lime prices spike from an average of $14 to $25 a case to an unprecedented $100 (or more) per case. You can read more on the backstory here or watch a video here.
If we were taking about the price of burgers, it would make sense to talk about cattle futures as a hedging mechanism. But lime futures don’t trade on U.S. commodity markets — or anywhere else in the world, that I know about. (Feel free to educate me if you know of a market where they are traded.)
In the meantime, what does the spike in lime prices mean to your next cocktail? It means one or more of the following scenarios:
[Shameless plug: if you find this explanation interesting and will be in the NY area on Wednesday, 4/2, I'll be reading from The Secret Financial Life of Food (and talking a bit about the "limepocalypse") at DISH, a food and beverage-themed literary event at Housing Works in Soho.]
photo credit: flickr/Troy Tolley
The first mocktail I ever had was a Virgin Tequila Sunrise: orange juice with a bit of grenadine poured on top for a dark-to-light effect, but no tequila. Around age 12, we’d order them non-stop at bar and bat mitzvahs, until the harassed bartender would pretend to run out of grenadine. (PS: no, I don’t count the Shirley Temple, which is not a “mock” drink – if anything, it’s the rum-soaked Shirley Temple Black that’s the “mock” version of the original).
Later on in college, the standard Tequila Sunrise was one of the first drinks I learned to order by name. It was fruity and it wasn’t beer, and that was all that mattered at that point in time, well before the craft cocktail movement brought better options even to college dive bars.
And that was probably the last time I sipped a Tequila Sunrise — until about a month ago. While researching this story for The Wall Street Journal about revitalized 1970s cocktails, I found my glass full of minty green Grasshoppers and vanilla-citrus Harvey Wallbangers. And this updated classic, which didn’t make it into the final article, but is worth making at home. It speaks volumes about how much has changed in recent decades: non-mixto tequila, fresh-squeezed juices, and pomegranate juice or syrups instead of sugary fake grenadine. Finally – it’s a Tequila Sunrise you don’t have to be embarrassed to drink as a grown-up.
Created by Don Lee for Golden Cadillac
1 ½ ounces Siete Leguas Reposado Tequila
1 ounce Passion Fruit juice
1 ounce Orange Juice
1/2 ounce Pomegranate juice
In a cocktail shaker, combine the tequila, passion fruit and orange juices with ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a Collins glass over pebbled ice. Gently pour the pomegranate juice over the rounded bowl of a spoon to “float” the juice over the top of the drink. Garnish with a half orange wheel.
It’s that time again…time to gaze into the old crystal ball and predict what we’ll all be drinking in the year ahead. (I tried this last year as well – how did I do with my 2013 predictions?) So….here’s what might happen in 2014:
1. Fun will make a comeback at the bar. I suspect the goofy fun factor of places like Golden Cadillac (retro 70s) and Butterfly (retro 50s) will start making its way into the mainstream – like the way tiki used to be fun. It’s not a coincidence that cereal is now a hot (if silly) drink ingredient. After years of super-serious mixology, we’re ready for some fun and decadence again.
2. The Nordic food trend will spill over into cocktails. I’m waiting to see smoked hay and sea buckthorn in my glass.
3. The bartender will become obsolete. Okay, I’m exaggerating for effect. But in terms of format, definitely seeing more pre-batched kegged drinks (lookin’ at you, Derek Brown) and bottled & canned & other “batched” cocktails – even high-end Ready-to-Drink cocktails that are actually worth drinking. And I’m not the only one who sees this trend on the horizon.
4. We’ll fortify our drinks with sherry and other fortified wines (but mostly sherry). Sherry cocktails in particular are ramping quickly. But port, Madeira and others are not far behind.
5. Low abv and even no abv drinks will go mainstream. I totally admit to lobbying for this trend. But I’m hearing more about lower proof drinks, and seeing better and more interesting low-alcohol and no-alcohol drinks on menus. I foresee this going mainstream this year.
6. We’ll find hard cider cocktails in our glasses. Buzz is building. I think I was too early with this one last year.
7. Flavored whiskey will continue to expand at a rapid-fire clip before burning out altogether. And – what the hell – I’m already calling flavored tequila as a trend for 2015.
8. We’ll develop a heated affection for Asia whiskeys: some of the best products I’ve tasted this year have been whiskeys from Japan and – much to my surprise – Taiwan. Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are.
9. Consumers finally will wake up to coffee cocktails. Some of the craziest, most euphoric, no-holds-barred experiments I’m seeing now all seem to involve coffee-cocktail hybrids in some way. (I’m still thinking about the experimental cold brew coffee made with White Pike Whiskey seen at the Dizzy Fizz Holiday Spirits Bazaar a few weeks back – and that’s just the tip of the highly caffeinated iceberg.) I suspect we’re not quite there yet, since the coffee flavor still seems to dominate the drinks in a clumsy way- but man oh man, we’re getting closer to something wonderful.
10. Vodka will develop character. Usually, vodka bores me. Most have been distilled and filtered to a very limp death. But lately, I’ve been seeing growth among new and interesting vodkas — no longer “odorless and flavorless.” Some have been single varietal vodkas, others (like Karlsson’s, for example), have introduced new vintages each year, reminding me of whiskey or wine. I predict that we’re about to see variety in vodka explode in coming months.
Okay, folks. Have a happy happy and a very merry. See you back here next year.
Who knew there were so many different ways to do this? As in, quite literally tossing it around, whether from bottle to cup, cup to cup or even from vessel directly to thirsty, open-mouthed consumer. Here’s exhibit A:
Dave Wondrich, demonstrating the “Blue Blazer” technique he has re-popularized. You can’t tell from this image, but he takes a flame to high-proof hooch, and pours the flaming liquid from one pewter mug to another, and back again, increasing the distance between the two until he has a thin blue flame streaming from one mug to the next.
This pitcher-like vessel, called a porron, is sometimes used to serve (and share) wines in Spain. Here, it’s used for pisco (this was at the StarChefs International Chefs Conference a couple of weeks ago). Bottoms up!
And finally, here is a pourer in action during cider week, at Tertulia. Apparently, this is part of the culture of the Asturias region in Spain: the cider typically is held up high above the pourer’s head….
…and poured in such an elongated stream that I couldn’t capture the action in a single shot. The more experienced pourers don’t even look down while they pour.
A few weeks back, while in Washington DC, I had the good fortune to spend an evening at Mockingbird Hill, a shiny-new, sherry-centric bar. In the company of owner, bartender and sherry-phile Derek Brown, I enjoyed jamon and jerez pairings, and we chatted about why bartenders are having a particularly torrid love affair with sherry these days. Sherry’s not exactly the new kid on the block, I noted, so why is it having a revival now?
“There’s been no good reason to know about sherry until now,” Brown admitted. But during a trip to Spain, he fell hard for the fortified wine. “I just fell in love with it,” he continued. “It’s like the song that gets stuck in your head, and you can’t forget it.”
Sherry has been very much on my mind right now, in part because I interviewed bartenders about sherry for a Wine Enthusiast article on the topic (my WE colleague Mike Schachner wrote the feature, I wrote the sidebars about cocktail usage).
But again – why the revival now? Schach makes this keen observation:
As long as I’ve been covering Sherry, the message out of Andalucía has been that Sherry is being rediscovered en masse. Or, that Sherry producers, believing that their wines are about to take off, are mounting yet another global marketing campaign. Or, simply, that Sherry is the most underappreciated, yet perfect wine to pair with food.
But according to tastemakers—i.e., the sommeliers who sell Sherry daily—there’s something different this time around, adding traction to the latest movement.
Here’s what’s different: this time, the bartenders are firmly on board, not just the somms.
This wave of the revival has much to do with cocktails. When I talked with Dan Greenbaum, co-owner and bar manager at The Beagle here in NY (another sherry-enthusiastic outpost), he astutely noted that “historically, Sherry has had a huge place in the evolution of cocktails.” Indeed, sherry first entered my radar screen as a cocktail ingredient, when I had a sherry cobbler at Bellocq in New Orleans, almost two years ago.
Greenbaum praised sherry’s versatility – a refrain I’ve now heard from many other bartenders as well. It’s not a one-sherry-fits-all situation. Rather, it seems like there’s a sherry for every mood, from the briny, delicate acidity of fino and manzanilla, to the nuttier, more oxidized notes of amontillado and oloroso, to the sweet, raisin-like richness of Pedro Ximenez. It folds into a wide range of cocktails.
But this isn’t purely a bartender story. They may have beat the drums most loudly, but sommeliers have re-discovered how well sherry pairs with a wide range of foods (as I learned at Mockingbird), from savory to sweet. It’s the confluence of both bars and restaurants, cocktail and food culture, that has reinvigorated sherry as a category, elevates it beyond mere trend, and will give sherry some staying power going forward.
Still don’t believe me? Here’s a shortlist of some of the sherry bottlings that bars and restaurants are loving right now – and there are some big guns on this list. For more about sherry, go read the Wine Enthusiast article for an informative overview and bottle recommendations (from Schach) and cocktail recipes that feature sherry (from me).
La Ina Fino: At The Beagle in New York, co-owner and bar manager Dan Greenbaum frequently mixes La Ina into cocktails – young, bone-dry and crisp, it stands up to vermouth, amaros and other spirits, he says. It’s also a fine sipper alongside light nibbles such as Marcona almonds.
La Guita Manzanilla: Spanish resto Manzanilla in New York (recently named to Wine Enthusiast’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants list) showcases the mouthwatering saline and bright apple notes of this sherry in its signature Manzanilla Martini.
Pedro Romero Amontillado: Crowned with fruit and plenty of crushed ice, this is Bellocq’s pick for their signature sherry cobbler. Off-dry and featuring notes of hazelnut and spice, it’s a natural companion to cheeses and savory appetizers, too.
Toro Albala ‘Don PX’ Pedro Ximenez: “PX,” as Pedro Ximenez is often shorthanded, is noted as the sweeter side of the sherry spectrum. This bottling is served by the glass at Vera, a tapas restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop area, usually as a dessert pairing – but on the savory side, keep an eye out for the PX syrup drizzled over Vera’s cocoa-dusted foie gras, too.
Lustau East India Solera: With its tawny hue and appealing mix of rich fig, raisin and cocoa, consider pairing this bottling with a traditional Spanish flan. Yountville, CA’s famous French Laundry includes this bottling on its extensive wine list.
This good-lookin’ crew was my panel from Tales of the Cocktail. We had assembled to talk about “Low Octane Libations” — and although I’ve long been a fan of lower-alcohol cocktails, there’s nothing like hearing the gospel straight from the bartenders. In retrospect, I think this topic hit a sweet spot, sandwiched among seminars and tasting events that focused on vermouth, sherry and other lower alcohol options, and I’ve been tickled to see post-Tales roundups listing “lower alcohol” as a trend in the making.
Although I was preoccupied with moderating the panel, I did manage to scribble down some insightful comments from the panelists. Highlights included:
My article about super high-proof spirits (“Idiot Proof“) went up on Slate yesterday morning.
Although I stand behind my opinion — that I prefer lower-proof spirits, and that above 90 proof, most spirits lose what makes them nuanced and drinkable – whoo, those Slater/haters sure do love to argue! The contentious comments have stacked up fast. Luckily, the editors at Slate encourage provocative topics and good arguments.
Yet, I can’t help wondering how the haters might have responded to this comment about rising alcohol proofs, which had to be removed (because it’s not attributed):
“It’s gotten over-the-top,” one well-known producer (who asked not to be named) told me over shots of (pleasantly 80-proof) bourbon. Some distillers use high-proof spirits to attract attention, he hypothesized, comparing pumped-up alcohol volume to a dramatic boob job. “It’s like they’re trying to be the flashiest girl in the room,” he continued. “It’s a way of saying, ‘look at me, look at me!’”
Funny how timing works out, too. The article was written months ago – but now, it’s being published only days before my Tales of the Cocktail seminar on Low Octane Libations. That seminar will focus more about praising lower-proof cocktails rather than bashing higher-proof variations. Then again, Tales is about the cocktail lovers — not the haters.
The Manhattan Cocktail Classic has officially drawn to a close. This is one of those epic events where bartenders serve hundreds — in some cases thousands — of cocktails at a go. There were plenty of mediocre offerings, to be sure. But there were a great many memorable drinks too. And this was perhaps the most memorable drink of them all.
Likely, I was particularly attuned to this drink because of the Cocktails for a Crowd book. No doubt I was paying closer attention than ever before to how batched drinks were presented, ranging from the punch served in painted ceramic punchbowls at Dead Rabbit to colorful pink and orange Palomas decanted into swing-top glass flasks and arrayed on silver platters during a seminar.
But Campari topped them all, offering wee cans of Negroni Sbagliato cocktails. It’s a relatively simple classic cocktail: Campari, sweet vermouth, and dry sparkling wine, like Prosecco. I first heard of it after Frank Bruni wrote about it a couple of years ago; it started popping up on drink menus shortly thereafter, though it’s still lesser-known vs the Negroni (Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin). The cans were handed out at the splashy MCC gala, as well as at a party thrown by the brand a couple of nights later.
Apparently, the genesis of this canned cocktail began at last year’s gala, where Negronis were pre-batched, carbonated and bottled. At the event, bartenders merely popped off the bottle caps and inserted a straw. It was on-trend — arguably, ahead-of-trend– fun to drink and speedy to serve. The canned cocktails had been floated for the 2012 gala, a PR rep told me (as we sipped Sbagliatos, natch), but tabled until 2013.
Apparently, a great deal of effort went into those canned cocktails. They had to be specially made, the cocktail had to be made in large quantities, and they had to be shipped over. The red-and-white striped plastic straws (not paper, which disintegrate quickly), were sourced from Etsy.
Everyone noticed them. From a drinker’s perspective, it was a good cocktail — truly, the most important part of this equation — and it was fun to drink, so people actually walked around and drank from the cans. It wasn’t too big and it wasn’t too boozy, so it was one of the few cocktails I actually finished at the Gala. From a marketer’s perspective, it was clearly branded — no mistaking the distinctive Campari red, and it was labeled in big letters anyway, identifying the brand and the name of the drink. It was memorable and everyone asked where to get one. It was clever and not too ostentatious. Even the straws reinforced the branding, but in a tasteful way.
Now here’s where things fall apart. Despite this marketing coup, no one can buy this product. And I heard many people say they would gladly purchase a six-pack of Sbagliatos (I was one of them). You can buy a cans of Pimm’s at convenience stores in the UK, yet in the United States, the Ready-To-Drink category is limited to pouches of awful slushy Margaritas made with fake lime flavoring. If Campari brought the canned Sbagliato product to market, I would consider it to be an outright marketing success. If not, it was just a clever flash-in-the-pan that will need to be topped again next year.
My article, “Put A Stalk In It,” about celery-spiked cocktails, is in the May/June issue of Imbibe Magazine.
Although it may seem like an obscure ingredient for cocktails, once I started looking around, I found myself spotting celery everywhere, in various forms. Erick Castro has a Paloma riff at his new bar, Polite Provisions, subbing Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda in place of grapefruit Jarritos. Celery foam tops Bloody Marys. A Celery Gimlet is on the menu at Saxon + Parole, one of my new favorite bars — with celery juice and Maldon sea salt. Celery shrub here. Celery bitters there. Celery seed-infused syrups. Housemade celery cordial at Dead Rabbit. In researching a separate article on Rock & Rye, I came across a 1902 reference to “La Rue’s Celery Rock & Rye.”
It’s enough to make you want a good drink. So here’s one to try. Although it didn’t fit into the Imbibe article, it’s a mighty refreshing cocktail nevertheless.
Tona Palomino, Trenchermen, Chicago, IL
The menu description reads simply: celery gin and tonic. “A lot of people thought it was celery gin,” notes Palomino. “Rather, it’s a celery-flavored gin and tonic.”
1.5 oz. gin
1.5 oz. fresh celery juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. lime juice
I dash Bitter Truth Celery Bitters (optional)
1 oz. tonic water
Measure everything but the tonic water into a cocktail shaker. Cover with ice and shake. Strain into a 12-ounce Collins glass filled with fresh ice. Top off with the tonic water.