10 cocktail and spirits trends for 2014


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.

Cocktail experiment: Sweet Broiled Lemon Margarita (by way of Tony Conigliaro)

grilled lemon

When I was in San Francisco a few weeks back, I popped into the awesome Omnivore Books and picked up a copy of Tony Conigliaro’s new book, Drinks.

It’s a really interesting book:  deeply scientific, with lots of rumination about concept drinks and recipes that most people can’t make at home unless they happen to have sous-vide equipment and malic acid on hand.

This is not one of those recipes.

Rather, this is from the “Culinary Skills” chapter (aka Chapter 2), one of the more accessible chapters in the book — although readers still will need to flip to the back of the book to learn techniques like say, how to make Grilled Lemon Juice.

Note:  Conigliaro’s recipe is called the “Grilled Lemon Margarita.” I used the broiler on my stove rather than an outdoor grill, so to my American mind the key ingredient is “Broiled Lemon Juice” — not “Grilled Lemon Juice.”

Semantics aside, Broiled Lemon Juice is worth the effort — it tempers the tartness found in uncooked lemon juice, and creates a lightly caramelized flavor and slightly thickened texture. Explains Conigliaro:  “Grilling the lemon relieves the fruit of its acid bite by caramelising the fructose and killing its vitamin C.”

Conigliaro rightly points out that the caramelized/caramelised lemon juice is a perfect match for the caramel and toffee notes found in reposado tequila. I also experimented with rye whiskey — also full of caramel and vanilla notes — and it was an equally harmonious match.

Home bartenders will find two hurdles in trying to make drinks from this otherwise fascinating book. First, there’s the molecular wizard hurdle — I don’t own a Superbag or a homogenizer, so in the recipe below I’ve adapted it using tools I have in my own kitchen. Second, he’s English, so recipes are given in milliliters (um, millilitres) instead of ounces, as American recipes use. So in effect, I’ve translated this recipe twice.

Take that as a hint:  make two drinks.

Sweet Broiled Lemon Margarita

adapted from Drinks, by Tony Conigliaro

Step 1: Make Broiled Lemon Juice

This makes about 1/4 cup lemon juice – enough for 2 drinks, with a little extra. (Conigliaro calls for 5 lemons; I cut this down.)

2 lemons, cut in half

Place lemons, cut side up, under a broiler. Grill under high heat until golden brown. (Note – Conigliaro calls for “medium heat.” My oven doesn’t have that setting. It took 12 minutes for the lemons to turn brown.)

Juice the broiled lemons. (Note – the lemons will be HOT. Allow them to cool first. Happily, the lemon halves will now juice as easily as if they’re made of butter.)

Strain using cheesecloth. (Conigliaro calls for a Superbag.)

Step 2: Make the cocktail


1 1/2 ounces reposado tequila

3/4 ounce broiled lemon juice

1/2 ounce triple sec

Sugar, for the rim

Combine all of the ingredients except the sugar in a cocktail shaker and shake with cubed ice.

Fine-strain and pour into a chilled coupette with a half sugar rim.

5/7/13:  UPDATE:  Apparently I’m not the only one translating measurements. An Americanized version of Conigliaro’s “Drinks” book will be published on July 16, under the name “The Cocktail Lab.”

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.

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.