Cocktail trends reflect aspects of the modern world – both good and bad
Since the 1980s – as most of us regrettably know – society has increasingly polarised between the haves and have-nots. An excess of disposable income at one end of this scale has fuelled some heavy competition, especially in the US, to develop more and more exotic cocktails (seemingly at ever higher prices!). Some people now travel across the world to visit a famous cocktail bar as indeed they do to dine at a world famous restaurant.
Gastronomic Cocktail trends
The trend toward new or exotic cocktail ingredients mirrors similar trends in gastronomy. One development carried over from luxury food preparation – is the use of gels, foams, and chemical emulsifiers, and machinery already borrowed by out-there restaurants from laboratories – like centrifuges and sous-vide machines.
Meanwhile a contrasting vogue in cocktails as in gastronomy is for savoury foraged materials e.g. wild honeysuckle, truffles, seaweed, or pine needles. You can be sure someone somewhere is already using powdered locust or deep fried scorpion. The range of possibilities has become truly enormous – Carnegie Cocktail is “a liquid deconstruction of Carnegie Deli’s famous pastrami sandwich” – it’s believed to combine dry rye gin with Combier Doppelt Kümmel Extra liqueur, Lillet, mustard oil, and a requisite pickle.
Cocktails on tap
A lot of the theatre of preparing cocktails – the juggling and “shaken not stirred” and newer affectations – just have no practical place in a busy normal modern bar so, as with development of bottled cocktail liqueurs like Pimms in the 19th Century, we’re again seeing the emergence of ready-made alternatives. In most bars at the moment though your cocktails are still prepared relatively fresh – but instead of one glass at a time they are prepared in a bucket that will keep you and your friends going for an hour or two.
Barrel aged cocktails
Back at the luxury end of the market, barrel-aged cocktails are a comparatively fast alternative although speed is not the purpose of them. As with vintage wines and spirits like whisky the principle is that they are believed to acquire a quality all of their own purely through the aging process and infusions from their container. Which cocktails will gain and which lose from this practice will, necessarily, take time to discover.
The distinction between a cocktail and a liqueur was always blurry, but traditional bottled liqueurs have been somewhat unfashionable, if not frowned-on in professional cocktail circles, but are now making a come-back both as ingredients or drinks in their own right; Chartreuse, Drambuie, Benedictine, Kummel, Campari, Grand Marnier, and Tia Maria are probably the best known in the UK.
Low alcohol cocktail trends
This new trend has far less spoilt motives. Those who can’t or don’t want to get legless have for decades had little to choose from at the average bar. Low alcohol cocktail trends may finally liven up those choices and encourage more people to visit bars, but drink more sensibly when they get there. This new variety owes a lot to the range of syrups and concentrated fruit juices now available.
At one time the only concentrated syrups anyone had heard of in connection with cocktails was probably angostura (for bitters) and grenadine (thanks to its close association with tequila which boomed in the 1970s). Grenadine was based on blackcurrants – pomegranate syrup is often used in its place – but today the range is huge – watermelon, white chocolate, cocoa, caramel, coffee, green tea, lavender, blueberry, mint, lychee, kiwi, rose petal, passion fruit, cucumber, vanilla, cinnamon, rhubarb, falernum baobab, hibiscus, ginger, tamarind, ditakh, pecan, tiramisu, aloe vera, or chamomile to name a few. Those that are hard to find in shops are easy to prepare at home or in the bar kitchen.
In cutting edge cocktail bars – where price and inconvenience is no object – presentation matters, and it isn’t unusual for a new cocktail to demand a customer made glass to serve it in. Some justify this by saying the glass affects the nose of the drink. Exactly what effect it has on the nose is a matter of some conjecture.