Tag Archives: trends

Baijiu: it’s coming for you, America

Image

Front view of the ByeJoe box.

Are Americans ready for baijiu, China’s overproof firewater?

 

No, they are not. But baiju is coming for them anyway.

 

Here’s what’s going on:

 

Baijiu – a clear, rice- or grain-based spirit produced in China – has long been a staple of business culture in China. A friend living in Shanghai explained it to me this way “that’s what Chinese businessmen drink, and if you’re doing business in China, may as well get used to it, because repeated baijiu toasts at long banquets are de rigueur for doing business here.”

 

Usually, it’s distilled at a tongue-numbing 100 proof or higher (by comparison, vodka usually is bottled at 80 proof), and it’s downed as a shot. Matching your host shot-for-baijiu-shot at a banquet is a test of endurance and solidarity. To the Western palate, it “tastes slightly worse than petrol,” my friend insists.

 

But times are changing in China. Younger drinkers in China are favoring Western-style tipples (wine, beer, whiskey, brandy) over traditional baijiu. And most troubling of all: a crackdown on Chinese officials’ lavish spending has affected domestic sales of baijiu, a customary drink at those legendary banquets and a common luxury gift.

 

Uh-oh.

 

So baijiu producers are setting their sights on Western drinkers. Never mind that baijiu is the top-selling liquor in the world (according to International Wine & Spirit Research, baijiu accounts for more than a third of all spirits consumed globally). Outside of Asia, few have heard of baijiu. But by this time next year, that may change.

 

Signs of the times:

 

More baijiu bottlings are coming to the U.S.: The San Francisco World Spirits Competition, often a harbinger of trends in the marketplace, wrapped up a few weeks ago. Of note: increased entries of the Chinese spirit, Baijiu.

 

More producer-led industry education is available: Moutai (a producer of baijiu) has been sponsoring events at conferences (LA cocktail week, Tales of the Cocktail), hiring brand ambassadors to promote the spirit. And Americans seem interested in learning more: at the upcoming Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans, the “Baijiu: Demystified” seminar has already sold out.

 

More English-language information is becoming available: Author Derek Sandhaus has a new English language)book called “Baijiu: The Essential Guide to Chinese Spirits,” released by Penguin Books Australia.

 

More baijiu cocktails suited to Western palates: London (a particularly adventurous and forward-looking cocktail city), held its first-ever Baijiu Cocktail Week in January (timed to coincide with the Chinese New Year).

 

More baijiu cocktails suited to AMERICAN palates:  In LA, Peking Tavern opened a few months ago, calling itself a “Beijing gastropub.” It’s probably the only place in the US right now where you can sip baijiu cocktails like the “Bloody Mei Lee” (Bloody Mary variation, natch). Peking Coffee (baijiu, coffee and horchata liqueur) or Wong Chiu Punch (baijiu, hibiscus, fresh lemon juice).  My opinion: cocktails are the only hope for getting Americans to drink baijiu.

 

American-made baijius are starting to pop up:  Personally, I think these stand a better chance of gaining traction than Chinese-made versions – they tend to be lower proof, and have packaging that’s more accessible to American buyers. Houston, Texas-based distillery Byejoe USA is importing a baijiu base that is then filtered and sold in the U.S.  (It’s 40% abv, infused with fruity flavors, and tastes like vodka, in my opinion. It’s also packaged in a cutesy-poo box that looks like a Chinese food takeout container.) Meanwhile, Portland, OR-based Vinn Distillery is producing a small-batch artisan baijiu.
baijiu_2

Top of the ByeJoe box.

 

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10 cocktail and spirits trends for 2014

crystal_ball

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.

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Pictorial: throwing booze around

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:

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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.

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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!

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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….

alturias_2

…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.

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Low Octane Libations: “cocktails are balanced libations that bring people together to celebrate life.”

From left to right: Amanda Boccato, Greg Best, Joaquin Simo, Kirk Estopinal

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:

  • Amanda Boccato, brand ambassador from Lillet, noted that “historical cocktails can be reinvented using lower proof spirits as the base, such as a Lillet Julep.” Unprompted, later on in the session Joaquin Simo of Pouring Ribbons noted that he had tried out a Lillet Julep spiked with Green Chartreuse. “It was so good,” he said.
  • This comment, from Greg Best of Holeman and Finch:  “As stewards of cocktail culture, we’re obligated to define cocktail culture endlessly. No one ever said it has to be boozy with bitters – there’s no rule.” Then he paused to define what cocktails are: “Balanced libations that bring people together to celebrate life.” The audience applauded!
  • Joaquin Simo on the rising phenomenon of Bartender’s Choice cocktails: “It’s an opportunity to bring out that coffee-infused vermouth – not Red Stag. If [guests] are giving you that much latitude, let’s not abuse it.”
  • Kirk Estopinal’s Pineau de Charentes Cobbler. All the cocktails were top-notch (and props to our Cocktail Apprentice leader, Christopher George and his team for making that so), but I especially loved how he defined the garnish:  as “good snacks on top.” His cobbler was topped with a quarter-wheel of lemon,  sprinkled with bitters and then sugar. How to get more guests at bars drinking cobblers? Here’s Simo’s idea: “Tell them the Cobbler was the Cosmo of the 1800s.”
Here’s the drink recipe:
Pineau de Charentes Cobbler  (Kirk Estopinal, Bellocq)
1 1/2 oz Ferrand Pineau de Charentes
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup (1:1)
¾ oz Calvados or Cognac
Boston Bitters-coated lemon pieces, for garnish
Powdered sugar, for garnish
Add all (except garnishes) to a tin and shake hard with big ice. Strain over crushed ice and top with garnish.

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July 25, 2013 · 3:58 pm

Negroni Sbagliatos for a crowd

Image courtesy Manhattan Cocktail Classic

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.

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Talking and tippling with the 3 “Vermouth-kateers”

The "Vermouth-kateers":  Carl Sutton, Neil Kopplin and Andrew Quady

The “Vermouth-kateers”: Carl Sutton, Neil Kopplin and Andrew Quady

Julia Child splashed French vermouth into much of her cooking. James Bond added Italian vermouth to his famous “shaken, not stirred,” martinis. But American-made vermouth is what’s now taking the cocktail world by storm.

So on April 8, it was my pleasure to moderate a panel of West Coast wine and vermouth producers, “Fountain of Vermouth,” at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in San Francisco.

The three panelists- who jokingly refer to themselves as “vermouth-kateers“-  were Neil Kopplin, a former bartender and current partner of Portland, Oregon’s Imbue Cellars, who makes his Bittersweet Vermouth with Willamette Valley Pinot Gris; Carl Sutton, owner of Sutton Cellars in Sonoma, Calif.; and Andrew Quady, a Madera, California-based winemaker who also produces vermouth under the Vya label.

Quady first provided the attendees with a definition of the aromatized, fortified “wine-but more than just wine,” including an overview of some of the botanicals used to flavor it.

That was followed by a lively debate between Kopplin and Sutton, who have divergent philosophies about what makes for good vermouth. Sutton said he starts with both wine and brandy that is “absolutely neutral” in character: “I want a completely blank canvas, something I can project onto.” He then adds as many as 17 ingredients for flavoring.

Kopplin, for his part, insisted that since the wine makes up 75-80% of what’s in the glass, it should be “the bright shining star” that the botanicals are selected to complement. He fully expects his vermouth to change from year to year, he added, since he switches up the base wine with each vintage. This year, he’s using local Pinot Gris; next year, the base will be Sémillon.

To cap it all off,  Sutton mixed up a round of Bamboo cocktails for the crowd – here’s the recipe:

Bamboo Cocktail

1½ oz. Lustau amontillado sherry

1½ oz. Sutton Cellars dry vermouth

2 dashes orange bitters

1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir together all ingredients with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass.   Garnish with a lemon peel twist.

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Is this the future of cocktail menus?

Cocktails are seeing all kinds of innovation these days — but not often the menus that list those drinks.  Sometimes it seems like nothing much has changed since the invention of those always-sticky laminated menus.

But in recent weeks, I’ve noticed some innovative and compelling approaches to cocktail menu presentation. Of course, there’s the “axis approach” on Pouring Ribbons’ menu, which plots all the drink on an axis spanning from “comforting” to “adventurous,” and from “refreshing” to “spirituous.” And there are the growing ranks of iPad menus, which sometimes use technology to provide a little extra information about items, such as winemaker videos.

But the two following menus display a tremendous amount of thought about design and drink concepts, as well as high production values.  Are either of these  likely to set a new template for cocktail menus going forward?

Exhibit A:  Menu-as-Book:  Dead Rabbit

The Bar at The Merchant Hotel in Belfast made waves years ago when they started publishing cocktail menu books, and I spotted a couple of copycat menus-as-books during a trip to Dublin a few months back. But the idea hasn’t caught on here in the U.S. But now that Sean Muldoon has moved stateside to open his new Dead Rabbit outpost in NY’s Wall Street area, he’s brought his menu books — and their high production values — here as well.  A look at the menu:

DR_full monty

This is the full monty: the hard-backed drink menu book on the left, a seasonal drink update in the middle, and the soft-backed spirits list book on the right.

DR_cocktail menu

A closer look at the cocktail menu. It feels like soft leather, and is published by Drinksology.com. Can’t help wondering how the cover will hold up after a few drinks are spilled on the outside.

DR_illustrations

A look inside the book: one of the few spreads with more than a minimum of color.

drink page

A listing of punches, served in individual portions. The format here follows throughout the menu pages – illustration and quote on the left, menu on the right.

DR_TOC

It’s an extensive little book – so extensive as to require a Table of Contents to navigate.

DR_Spirits

Here’s a look inside the Spirits List. It lists not only product name and the price per pour, but also extensive tasting notes, the proof, the country of origin, and for ryes and whiskeys, the mash bill! I’ll be hanging on to this document for future reference.

 

Exhibit B:  Menu-as-Newspaper:  The Vault at Pfaff’s

Another interesting use of medium – instead of the super-permanent book, The Vault at Pfaff’s has opted to go with the super-disposable newspaper format. The top lists cocktails, and wines are listed inside, spirits on the back. It’s a clever nod to the fact that The Saturday Press was published in the same space that now houses the bar — 157 issues of the literary weekly were published from the 1850s through the 1860s, with a hiatus for the Civil War. (An aside: thanks to Lehigh University, you can browse copies of The Saturday Post online.)

Although it’s an eye-catching and tactile experience to hold newsprint, a nice nod back to the historic space, it has failed in one way, beverage manager Frank Caiafa confided:  “We thought people would want to take them home, as a keepsake,” he said. “But people seem to think they’re too nice to take!” Luckily, I had no such compunctions, and here are a few snaps of my menu:

VP- menu

The front of the newspaper-style menu. Insane scrawlings and circles are mine – not part of the design!

VP_inside

A look inside the newspaper. I’m not sure how this works on nights when the bar is crowded – I have trouble finding space to open a newspaper on a subway, let alone a crowded bar.

VP_ad

A closer look at one of the “ads” on the inside — they’re not advertisements at all, and no one has paid to be featured in the menu, Caiafa says. Some are antique scraps of text, others provide information about a specific brand (here, Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin) that Caiafa thought guests would want to learn more about.

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13 Cocktail and Spirit Trends for 2013

crystal_ballIt’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 2012 predictions?) So….here’s what might happen in 2013:

1. Cider-tails. We’ve seen plenty of wine- and beer-based cocktails. But given all the excitement around hard ciders now, I predict that 2013 will see the rise of cider-based cocktails.

2. Vermouth will be the new bitters. By that, I mean that we’re going to see a spate of new products coming on the market, including hyper-local variations and fun, unique vermouths from bartenders and commercial producers alike.

3. Vintage in the glass. Look for more well-aged vintage spirits and cocktails ahead. 2012 brought lots of vintage whiskeys (30, 40, 50 years old); Karlsson’s released their second single-year vintage vodka; I’ve been invited to a tasting for 60-year-old gin (I’m skeptical….details later); bars like Pouring Ribbons in New York and Bellocq in New Orleans are making names for themselves with old bottlings of Chartreuse and other spirits.  I’m even coveting this “Antique Manhattan.” Clearly, this is a trend.

4. We’ll put a bottle on it. I’m not bold enough to suggest the demise of glassware, but expect to see lots of cocktails served in bottles. One of the hits at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic was the “Bottled Negroni,” and bars like the Experimental Cocktail Club have been serving drinks that are carbonated and bottled. But that’s just the start:  for example, Germain-Robin has been experimenting with bottled drinks like the Saratoga and the St. Nick, to wonderful effect.  And there are home-entertaining applications for this trend too (self promotion alert!!) – I have a book coming out in May (Cocktails for a Crowd), and yes, I’ve devoted a whole damn chapter to DIY bottled cocktails.

5. Low-Alcohol Libations. If 2012 was the year of cask-strength, overproof, seriously high-octane spirits (and cocktails to showcase them), expect a backlash in 2013 to kinder, gentler drinks.

6. We’ll drown in a sea of whiskey. There seems to be so much of it coming to market in the year ahead.  New Japanese whiskeys. Earnest local grain-to-glass bourbons. Fiery white whiskeys. Canadian whiskeys in wacky flavors.  Scotches with backstory.  So. much. whiskey.

7. “Stunt spirits.” Speaking of backstory — now maybe I’m imagining this, but it seems like there’s an increase in spirits (particularly whiskeys) that are garnering attention because they are recovered from deep within arctic ice (Shackleton’s) or launched into space (Ardbeg Galileo). Luckily, both have yielded fine whiskeys. But I suspect the rule of diminishing returns applies:  from here on in, the stunts will get sillier, and the spirits less notable.

8. Gin will get exciting. This is an extension of my “new gin” prediction from last year.  There’s more envelope pushing in the gin area:  barrel-aged gins. savory gins. gin-based liqueurs. weird and wild gins.  Can’t wait to see the cocktails that result, either.

9. Canadian whiskey will get flavorful. I’m less optimistic about this trend, but it’s coming, all right:  Canadian whiskeys will increasingly become vehicles for flavorings — maple, blueberry, cinnamon, and so on.

10. A barrel on every bar. The barrel-aged cocktail trend is going mainstream this year. Look for a (small) barrel on a bar near you by the end of 2013.

11. The line will blur between wine and spirits. It’s not just that fortified wines, wine-based vermouths and aperitif wines like Lillet have become more interesting. It’s not just that more cocktails now feature fortified wines like port and sherry.  It’s not just that cocktailians are using wine’s methode champenoise to carbonate drinks. It’s not just that we’re seeing vodka-wine hybrids or cognac-wine hybrids coming to liquor store shelves. But put it all together, and it has the potential to steamroll, with nary a tired “wine-tail” in sight.

12. Asia will provide drinking inspiration. Hard to say whether that will come in the form of the growing ranks of affluent drinkers in China (hey, Wine Enthusiast even launched a Mandarin edition in 2012! – plus, I’m hearing of more spirits producers making special, often sweeter bottlings just for the growing Chinese market) having a greater say in drink trends or an influx in Asia-made tipples like baijiu coming to U.S. bars.

13. Glassware gets more attention. Whether that means antique cut-glass coupes for cocktails or specially shaped snifters for Scotches, I’m anticipating that the form and function of the glass itself will get as much attention as what’s in the glass.

So there you have it – 13 possibilities for 2013. Please feel free to add your opinions — and predictions! in the comment box below.

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If whiskey is for women, is Cognac for chicks?

Is Cognac for chicks? (This seems especially relevant today, as it’s International Women’s Day.) 

That was one of the assumptions at the International Cognac Summit I attended mid-January, in France’s Cognac region. In fact, the event, hosted by the BNIC, revolved around how to persuade more women to take up Cognac.

It’s taken me a while to organize my still-scattered thoughts about this trip, and it seems best to post them in three tranches — a few general ideas, then a look at the “big 3″ Cognac houses, and finally, some snaps from an independent Cognac maker.

A few takeaways:

The French don’t drink Cognac. “In France, this is a digestif for old men,” we were informed by Elise Gartio, a sociologist with LadyVin (yes, that’s the name of the research firm). When we met with reps from the Cognac houses, they underscored this point: most Cognac is exported to the United States, followed closely by the United Kingdom. Physician, heal thyself?? Considering how women around the world follow French fashion, perhaps it’s time for French women to become Cognac ambassadors.

The cocktail is regarded as the savior for Cognac, particularly to attract female drinkers. This makes sense; most spirits are consumed in this format. There was a lot of talk about how to do for Cognac what “Mad Men” did for whiskey and gin. I suggested resurrecting the Japanese Cocktail, but I don’t think I sold anyone on that idea.

We had a cocktail making “competition” – the winner was the Lady Coeur (team led by Willy Shine):  VSOP Cognac, Carpano Antica, lemon and orange juices, brut Champagne, dusting of cinnamon, orange zest). It’s a good cocktail, although I still can’t shake my misgivings about creating a cocktail “for the ladies.” This is a good cocktail. For human beings. Whatever (eye roll).

Packaging matters to Cognac drinkers. Frankly, I think this is true of all spirits categories. Lest you think this was just another cushy press trip, let me assure you that we had to sing for our supper:  for every Cognac tasted, we were expected to fill out a lengthy form evaluating the appearance and packaging, aroma and flavor profiles for each product. (Nearly 1,400 forms were collected from the group of about 30 people…you do the math!)

After the survey dust settled, the bottles that ranked highest among women (or among men who thought they were predicting for women) were generally XO Cognacs (the oldest and most delicious) housed in perfume-like bottles described as “luxury, rounded, original” and featuring soft/round aromas with “tasty” notes (the charming French translation for food-like aromas such as vanilla, spices, fruit or dried fruit, or pastry-like aromas). Sommelier Dominique LaPorte summarized that women “are looking for elegance, not power, in Cognac aromas.” I suspect that’s true of drinkers of any gender, though.

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12 Cocktail and Spirit Trends for 2012

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 2011 predictions?) So….here’s what might happen in 2012:

1.  Rum will be the new “it” spirit. Although in 2011 whiskey was the belle of the ball, for 2012 rum seems to be on a speedy ascent. I’ve tasted some utterly amazing aged rums in the past few months. Online magazine Got Rum? relaunched in 2011, and a new rum advocacy group got off the ground during the year as well. And rum-soaked tiki drinks and punches continue to have legs. Let the rum-running begin.

2. We’ll let them eat cake. File this one under trends I wish would go away, but just won’t:  cake-flavored vodka. And marshmallow fluff. And whipped cream. Oh, and I just saw an ad in Cheers magazine for a Swedish fish-flavored vodka. Can some mixologist/dentist please pull this sweet tooth, and soon?

3. Cocktail conference overload! It’s official:  there are too many cocktail festivals for me to keep up with all of them. Just when I had the MCC/Tales thing down, festivals (and good ones, too!) popped up in San Francisco, Portland, Vancouver. Tales of the Cocktail keeps taking Tales on the road – I think most recently, roadtripping through Texas. I hear Scottsdale, Arizona is hosting a cocktail conference in February. Not to mention festivals devoted to whiskey, rum (see above), indie spirits, etc. etc. etc. I suspect there will be more to come.

4. We’ll roll out the barrel. Barrel-aged cocktails have become a certifiable international bar craze. Add to that extra cask-aged spirits (i.e., whiskey “finished” in sherry barrels) and even barrel-aged beer. I’m waiting for someone to debut barrel-aged appetizers to pair with any of the above.

5. Tipplers will get it on tap. Wine. Americanos. Vermouth. Barrel-aged martinis. I’ve seen ‘em all spouting from a tap in recent months, and expect to see still more.

6. Lushies and slushies. Can you believe the frozen Margarita was invented 40 years ago? And now, four decades later, they’re back, in the slightly more sophisticated guise of “Sno-Gronis” (frozen Negronis) at the Tippling Lounge in Chelsea or Moonshine-spiked blackberry sno-cones at The Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta. Alco-popsicles and spiked milkshakes abound too.

7. Bitter will be the new black. Not just cocktail bitters (and there’s a new one every minute, right?) but also spirits and cocktails with bracingly bitter flavors, from Fernet to Cynar. I’ve been wild about some new cocktails with a bitter edge, many of which are compiled into Brad Parson’s groovy new book, Bitters.

8. We’ll all be Ready-To-Drink. The RTD category, as the trades abbreviate, is on the upswing. Some of them aren’t half bad, but I’m hoping that the bar can be raised beyond premixed Margaritas and Mudslides. Can we get the Pimm’s Cup in a can, like they have in the UK?

9. Carbonated Cocktails. I’m blaming crediting Jeff Morgenthaler with popularizing this one too. Every bartender with a Perlini will be adding a bit o’ bubbly to drinks in the year ahead.

10. “New Gin.”  New-style gins have been rolling out at a fast and furious clip. Some are “New West” style, such as St. George – which went as far as releasing THREE new gins at a go, including “Terroir,”  infused with Douglas fir. Others are what I’ve been thinking of as “Anything But London Dry” gins – the profile isn’t that far from a London Dry, but the base spirit hails from Ireland or Scotland. And then there’s the “Florals” – I can’t count how many new gins seem to be packed with a florist shop’s worth of pretty botanicals, from rose to lavender. Now…is anyone drinking all these new gins?

11. You’ll make Your Own Damn Tonic Water. You can use one of the three new ‘tonic syrups” which debuted on the market within the past few months (Tomrs, Jack Rudy, Commonwealth from Bittermans). New gin, why not new tonic? (NOTE – the “bittering agent” gentian also gives tonic syrup a brisk bitter edge, so this might go hand in hand with prediction #7.)

12. Cocktail books will become e-books. Have you been to the bookstore lately? The cookbook section has shrunk considerably, and cocktail books have taken the worst of it. (my Barnes & Noble now allots one measly shelf to the cocktail genre). More narrative-driven wine books and “food lit” books seem to be holding up OK, as are more general cookbooks. But cocktail books — essentially, smallish recipe collections– seem destined for e-book territory sooner rather than later.  Frankly, I find this terrifying. (Have I mentioned that I’m writing another cocktail book, due out in 2013?  How the heck will book-signings work without books or for that matter, bookstores?)  Personally, I will go kicking and screaming, but I can see that it’s coming whether I like it or not.   The good news? Your vintage copy of The Savoy Cocktail Book just became more valuable.

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