The Biggest Cocktail Trends of 2016 and How to Make Them
This may go down as the year literally everybody needed a drink, and considering the number of exciting trends that hit the bar scene this year, that's not a bad thing. There's still a little time left before the ball drops in Times Square, so if you still haven't sampled them all, think of this as your personal checklist for everything you've got to try before 2017.
The Seelbach cocktail is a rediscovered classic that's been poised for a comeback ever since Adam Seger, the bartender at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky added it to the menu, explaining he'd found the pre-Prohibition recipe hidden among the hotel's old papers. As it turns out, he made that all up. Seger came clean to the New York Times earlier this year, explaining that he'd simply made a tasty cocktail as a signature for the bar and thrown in the romantic story as a bit of seasoning.
MAKE YOUR OWN
Head over to the New York Times for a recipe for this tasty bourbon-based cocktail, which blends bitters and sparkling wine.
NEW SCHOOL SMOKY COCKTAILS
What could go better with some low-and-slow BBQ than a drink with a whiff of that same deep wood smoke? That's been on the mind of bartenders and spirit producers this year as well, leading to the introduction of smoked specialty liquors like ESP Smoked Gin, with flavors of applewood smoke, peppercorn, and caraway, or Corsair Triple Smoke American Malt Whiskey, made from barley smoked by three different types of wood. Bars are also getting in on the act at places like Bottle & Bine in New York City, where they've dedicated an entire section of their drinks menu to smoke.
MAKE YOUR OWN
2 oz Smoky Matcha-Infused Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
1 dash liquid smoke, preferably Applewood
.5 oz Brown Sugar
3 Dashes Peychaud Bitters
Add all ingredients into mixing vessel. Stir till cold (10 to 15 seconds). Strain into a double rocks glass over 2-inch ice cube.
From Moses Laboy at Bottle & Bine in NYC
OLD SCHOOL SMOKY
Of course, there are more traditional forms of smoky liquor—case in point: the increasingly popular mezcal. A few years ago, this relative of tequila was barely a blip on the American drinking radar, but now the market is positively booming, doubling over the last four years, and that trend shows no signs of losing steam. (Pun intended, because we can't help ourselves.) The artisanal nature of mezcal, made through a slow process that includes waiting the dozen-plus years for particular types of agave to mature, then harvesting, slow-roasting, and wild fermenting it, along with its nuanced, wine-like terroir, have helped attract a whole new set of drinkers, thanks in part to places like Leña Brava in Chicago, which boasts over 100 varieties of the spirit.
PITCH BLACK COCKTAILS
Charcoal has been an it ingredient in skincare for a while now for its toxin-absorbing properties and the inky black powder has started making its way into cocktails, too. Despite the sharp smell you may remember from backyard barbeques, the flavor is actually mild, with a faintly bitter, smoky effect, and of course that dramatic color. Just don't count on those lauded health benefits to stave off a hangover if you have a few too many.
MAKE YOUR OWN
The midnight hue of this cocktail belies its citrusy, margarita-esque flavor. Head over to the Drink Blog for the recipe.
CLARIFIED MILK PUNCH
"The trend of Clarified Milk Punch is in the midst of its second historical revival, and most of the world is rediscovering it in either technique or spirit," says Colin Asare-Appiah, an ambassador for Bacardi. "Milk Punch dates back to 17th-century England and the punch was the preferred tipple of diplomats, royals, and everyday drinkers alike." Unlike basic milk punch, which is like a simplified egg nog, clarified milk punch uses just the whey from whole milk, making it lighter and more brightly flavored.
MAKE YOUR OWN
Sapphire Spiced Milk Punch
For the base:
2 L Whole Milk
1.5 L Pineapple Juice
1 L Lemon Juice
1 L Apple Juice
1 L Sapphire Spiced Black Tea*
800 g Granulated Sugar
800 g Water
30 g Citric Acid
*Spiced Black Tea:
1 L Water
50 g Juniper Berries
100 g Orange Peel
25 g Coriander
100 g Angelica, fresh preferred
50 g Ceylon Tea
For the cocktail:
40 oz Milk Punch Base
60 oz Bombay Sapphire Gin
- Make the Sapphire Spiced Black Tea by boiling water and steeping Ceylon tea, juniper berries, orange peel, coriander, and fresh angelica. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Set up filtration rig by placing an ultra-bag over three liquid receptacles. Hang a ladle inside the filter to soften the landing of the liquid.
- Blend all products, excluding milk and lemon (acidic product).
- Bring milk to near boil, stirring the whole time to keep from burning.
- Slowly add lemon (acidic product) into milk, stirring slowly to break the curds from the whey.
- Promptly add Sapphire Spiced Black Tea and juice.
- Pour into ladle, inside of filter, very slowly, as to establish a dam of curds.
- Pour liquid that passes through filter back into ladle.
- Repeat until crystal clear.
- Season with citric acid and simple syrup (granulated sugar dissolved in water).
- Freeze, stabilize with alcohol, or consume within 10 days.
SOPHISTICATED GREEN FLAVORS
What peanut butter is to jelly, so is mint to cocktails: a pairing so natural it's become a classic. Don't worry, mint's not going anywhere, but just like almond and cashew butter have horned in on peanut's game, other bright green herbs have been cozying up behind the bar. Basil, mint's serious older cousin, is an obvious addition, but other herbaceous helpers like dill, parsley, rosemary, and sage have also popped up on cocktail menus all across the country, taking the idea of green juice to a whole new level.
80S COCKTAILS ARE BACK
If cocktail menus have been giving you a lot of Jazzercise and Aquanet flashbacks recently, you're not alone. "There was a time where 70s and 80s style cocktails were a no go in craft cocktail bars," says Adrian Biggs, Director of Trade Engagement with Bacardi. Now, he says, "Most craft cocktail bars are delighted to step up to the plate and showcase their adaptations." Major mixologists are giving classic sours, neon martinis, and salaciously named umbrella drinks a modern makeover with fresh juices, and more balanced flavor profiles that put the ultra-sweet sips of yore to shame.
MAIL ORDER DRINKS
With the success of meal delivery services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, it was only a matter of time before bartenders got in on the game. Swig + Swallow, which launched earlier this year after a successful Kickstarter campaign, does just that, supplying mixers full of fresh squeezed juices and specialty syrups—just add liquor.
For years, beer has been a cocktail alternative, not an ingredient, but all of that has been changing as more and more bar menus have seen the appearance of traditional micheladas and shandies as well as more adventurous preparations like beergaritas, Caip-beer-inhas, and even beer sangria.
MAKE YOUR OWN
2 oz cachaça
1/2 lime, cut into quarters
1 tablespoon sugar
1 oz IPA
Muddle the sugar and lime, add the cachaça, and shake with ice. Dump everything into a rocks glass, top with the IPA, and give it a gentle stir before serving.
From Jacob Grier
GOOD PRE-MIXED OPTIONS
We're all about being able to whip up a fancy cocktail right at your home bar, no bowtied, be-moustached mixology expert required, but there are some days when coming home and pouring something straight from the bottle is about all we have energy for. Clearly, we're not alone, considering the increasing number of companies coming out with pre-mixed cocktails. Feel like an old fashioned? Crack open Watershed Distillery's version—just plop in a couple of maraschinos and you're good to do. Or how about a Negroni courtesy of the one and only Campari? Or a moscow mule from Crafthouse Cocktails? Being your own bartender has never been easier.
HIGH-END FROZEN COCKTAILS
We can't say that frozen cocktails are ever "out" but if ever there was a year of the frozen cocktail, this was it. Just try finding a high-end cocktail bar without a churning slush machine, or better yet, plop yourself down on a bar stool and enjoy a very grown-up version of a childhood go-to, like the Frozen Basil Gin Lemonade at El Quinto Pino in New York City, or one of the rotating menu of options at Mother's Ruin. Or you could just whip yourself up a batch of the official drink of summer 2016: Frosé.
MAKE YOUR OWN
1 (750 ml) bottle of dry rosé wine
10 oz fresh strawberries (about 2 cups, sliced), plus more for garnish (optional)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
¼ cup vodka
2 tablespoons grenadine
Pour the rosé into ice cube trays and freeze until solid, 8 hours or overnight. Combine the strawberries and the sugar in the bowl of a blender and let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes, until the berries begin to release their juices. Add the vodka, grenadine, and rosé cubes. Blend the mixture on high until smooth. Pour into glasses and garnish with strawberries, if desired.
Aside from ye olde bloody mary, cocktails often skew toward dessert flavors—not everybody's cup of tea. Those looking for a more umami turn will be delighted by the spate of bright, verdant libations like the Roquette from Matthew Biancaniello that gets its zing from fresh arugula, or something silky like the foie gras-infused whiskey in the Naruhito cocktail at Hojoko in Boston. Others look to exotic tastes that defy simple flavor classification, like saffron or ultra of-the-moment turmeric, that play equally well with meats and sweets.
MAKE YOUR OWN
2 oz ESP Noho Gin
.75 oz durian/white nectarine cordial
.75 oz lemon juice
.25 oz Cointreau
2 dashes Cecil & Merl turmeric bitters
Shake well & fine-strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with safflower petals.
From Gates Otsuji at the Standard Grill, NYC
Vodka's a cocktail go-to, but that doesn't mean it's got a sterling reputation. After years of playing flavorless supporting roles in dubious "'tinis," boozy juices, and (shudder) alcohol-ified energy drinks, vodka has gotten a bad rap as the drink of choice for people who don't like to taste their alcohol. Luckily, craft producers and dedicated bartenders have been working to rehab the much maligned spirit, showing off the subtle nuances of different sources like grapes, potatoes, wheat, rye, and corn.
Cold-brew has officially conquered the world, bars included. And while java cocktails might make you think of steamy Irish coffee, bartenders are taking the opportunities of handy bottled cold brew to explore coffee's fruity, floral, and tannic properties.
MAKE YOUR OWN
Sand and Smoke
1 oz Drambuie
1 oz pineapple juice
3 fresh basil leaves
2 oz. Chameleon Mexican Coffee Concentrate
.5 oz Mezcal
Load all ingredients into a shaker with ice, shake, and serve in a tall glass over fresh ice. Add a splash of club soda and a fresh basil leaf for garnish.
AND TEA COCKTAILS TOO
Coffee's not the only morning beverage sidling up to the bar. Maybe it's just Founding Father mania, but tea-drinking has re-emerged as the new—or should we say old—hot thing, and bartenders are not exempt. Whether it's infusing floral Earl Grey into vodka, mixing up hot chai toddies, or frothing grassy, faintly bitter matcha powder into cocktails, antioxidants are everywhere. Try a dose of the green stuff in the Cha-Sen cocktail at Hamasaku in Los Angeles or the First Lady at the Garret in NYC.
MAKE YOUR OWN
The chai syrup that gives this Chai Whiskey Sour its tasty tea flavor is practically begging to become a home bar staple. Try it out in an old fashioned to make a quick cocktail feel extra special.
Aperitifs—lower-proof drinks meant to stimulate the appetite—have been on the way back for some time. There's something very old-school chic about a tiny glass of Dubonnet or Lillet, or a rocks glass with vermouth and a single briny olive, but those aren't the only popular options. This year, in particular, has seen a renaissance in that 80s favorite, the spritz. The light, refreshing taste of aperitifs makes them an appealing choice for those keeping an eye on sugary drinks, but there's also a certain European flare to them.
Farm-to-table's old news—the latest thing for bartenders taking their cues from the culinary world is focusing on fresh, seasonal ingredients. "The cocktail industry has seen a massive growth in the past decade with regard to fresher is better," says Hillary Jaroschy, who has worked as a brand ambassador and bartender at the Bazaar by Jose Andres at South Beach in Miami. That means taking advantage of what's on hand, even in the lean winter months—think apples, dried fruits and warm spices.
MAKE YOUR OWN
1.5 oz Old Forrester bourbon
.5 oz Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy
.25 oz dried cherry syrup
1 teaspoon Cruzan black strap rum
3 dashes bitters
2 drops Cider Vinegar de Normandie
Build ingredients in a mixing glass over ice and stir briefly to chill and dilute. Strain into a glass over fresh ice and garnish.
From Porchlight in NYC
Traditional cocktail wisdom says that you should choose one liquor to highlight, with additional cordials, mixers, and bitters thrown in to accent and underscore the dominant flavors. But why limit yourself? That's what many bartenders are saying now, putting together multiple distinctive spirits and letting their flavors sing in harmony. Think of the classic vodka-and-gin Vesper, smoky scotch and sharp rye, or a South meets islands combo of bourbon and rum.
MAKE YOUR OWN
1 oz Rittenhouse Rye whiskey
.75 oz blended scotch
.5 oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
.25 oz maraschino liqueur
2 dash grapefruit bitters
Stir all ingredients well over ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass, garnished with orange twist.
From Hemant Pathak at Junoon in New York City
Bananas are a love-em or hate-em flavor, and if you're hanging out at one of the coolest cocktail bars around the country, then you've probably been seeing a lot of love. The key to avoiding unfortunate banana-flavored candy memories in an up-to-date way is balancing out the natural sweetness of banana with other potent notes, like spice, acid, and bitterness.
MAKE YOUR OWN
Spiced Banana Daiquiri
1 oz Bacardi Banana rum
1 oz Oakheart Spiced Rum
1 oz lime juice
.75 oz Simple Syrup (1:1 sugar-to-water)
1 dash Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake vigorously and serve.