“Cocktail Weeks” allow bartenders, cocktail fans and alcohol brands to converge, drink, create new trends, rehash old trends, pronounce dying trends dead and party.These events go down in places like New York City for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic (MCC) in May, New Orleans in July for the massive Tales of the Cocktail (TOTC), London’s Boutique Bar Show in September and Portland (PDX Cocktail Week in October).
Here’s what attendees are talking about this year.
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It's not a new trend, but boozy riffs on childhood favourites hit its stride this year. From a frozen Coco Puffs cocktail at the ChocoVine (yes, wine and chocolate) website to Three Olives Bubble Gum Vodka and a new Adult Limeeade (tequila, lime flavorings and agave nectar), packaged goods are liquoring up the kid in us.
Meanwhile, you'll find an increasing number of bars from Toronto to Los Angeles pouring high-octane slushies and spirited shakes. Tequila snow cone? Yes, please.
The carbonated cocktail continues to be the darling of 2012. The very posh Spoonbar in Healdsburg, California's H2Hotel recently jumped on board with made-to-order carbonated Corpse Reviver No. 2s and other riffs on classics, while the Perlini Carbonated Cocktail system received a Spirited Awards nomination for Best New Product at Tales of the Cocktail.
The fresh look at bubbles involves more than carbonating the base spirit for a quirky new interpretation. At an MCC seminar sponsored by Perrier, London's mad cocktail scientist Tony Conigliaro said, 'We've been doing research on carbonation and aroma. Adding sugar to your carbonation, either separately or in the soda you're using, changes the aromatics of the drink.'
New York's Karin Stanley concurred on the significance of sparklers. 'There's a bit of a debate going on in the bartending world about all of this: Do we leave room for carbonated water? Carbonate the base? Should the water be sodium-free or not? It all depends on what you want to serve, how diluted or bubbly you want it to be. The flavored Perriers can give us another interesting way to play. People are so specific about the vodka in their drink, why not their soda?'
Speaking of the other ingredients in your vodka drink...
'Locally produced ice can vary in taste and quality. With Glace Ice, the customer can expect consistent quality at home or anywhere in the world Glace Ice and their favourite spirit is served.'
So says Roberto Sequeira of Glace Luxury Ice, a company promoting the concept of status ice. Yes, you'll soon be paying more for that vodka tonic with Glace or other 'designer' ice. Willingly.
While serious bartenders have been hacking chunks of crystal clear ice off high-density, handcrafted blocks or throwing a monster Kold-Draft cube in their Old Fashioneds for almost a decade, writer/historian Wayne Curtis thinks we're set to see another revolution in cocktail ice. He and San Francisco author Camper English presented a seminar on frozen H20 at MCC, complete with a 15,000-year-old iceberg sliver chilling everyone's Ron Zacapa rum.
'Ice was a luxury at one point,' says Curtis. 'It's nice to remember it still can be.' In addition to glacier and hand-harvested 'pond ice,' English pointed to innovations in flavored ice, laser-engraved 'logo' ice and the increasing popularity of labour-intensive, hand-carved ice 'diamonds,' a Japanese contribution. 'Shaped ice is now a category,' he says pointing to places like Chicago's molecular cocktail haven Aviary and chef Daniel Boulud's mini-empire in New York (where your cocktail is served inside the ice ball).
Party booze--the kind you slug back at nightclubs and rooftop bars--is going through its own mini revolution. While most of the flavored offerings tend to be as sickly sweet as an episode of Bunheads, a new wave of hot and spicy libations are crowding Gummi Bear-themed vodkas off the front shelf.
This year saw the launch of Southern Comfort's Fiery Pepper (a blend of SoCo and Tabasco), the jalapeño-infused Stoli Hot (adding a whole lot more 'body' to body shots) and the meteoric rise in popularity of Fireball Whisky, a cinnamon-stoked Canadian whisky that blends well with honey, herbal liqueurs and other ski-lodge/hot-tub fun.
You're also more likely than ever to come across established 'hotties' like Tanteo's jalapeño-infused tequila and Mazama Infused Pepper Vodka out of Oregon (excellent in Bloody Marys). Stoke the fires and bring the heat.
We kind of thought we'd seen everything that can be done with barrel-ageing cocktails: Throw two or three boozy ingredients for a Negroni or Manhattan into a used bourbon barrel, let it sit for a month or two, drink. But bartenders continue experimenting with this fantastic method for securing round, smooth and funky drinks.
During an MCC 'Behind the Bar' seminar (cosponsored by AskMen) at The Beagle in Manhattan, bar manager Dan Greenbaum ran attendees through a half-dozen aged concoctions with new twists. His experiments included curing a barrel in Tomr's Tonic syrup or Fernet Branca prior to placing the other ingredients inside (essentially, the barrel itself becomes another ingredient in the cocktail), and using mini three- and five-liter barrels (great for DIYers also), allowing for more experimentation with less booze.
They are also experimenting with a solera-style fractional blending, using multiple barrels. Owner Matt Piacentini (who also co-owns Portland's Clyde Common, where contemporary barrel ageing really got its kickstart) is quick to note, 'We're not being overly scientific here. The idea of this is that it's fun.'
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, just in time for TOTC, the renovated bar inside the Hyatt French Quarter launched its barrel-ageing program. While waiting the several weeks for the encased libations to do their thing, the bar manager discovered that small, one-liter charred barrels imparted initial flavours within the first hour, meaning you can order an 'aged' cocktail on demand. Hats off and glasses up!
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