Mixologists weren’t going to let sweet and savory eats take the spotlight for too long at the StarChefs International Culinary Conference (ICC). And while the conference theme Cooking with Respect: Better People, Better Food lent an overall whole-foods lean to all things edible, when it came to cocktails? Creativity helped push boundaries with mixing a little old, a little new, and a lot from all over the world.
Body-friendly beverages continue to be an umbrella trend showing no sign of slowing. As noted by StarChefs’ Eddie Velazquez, spirit-free cocktails are the next wave coming from the most welcoming of bars. But for those peddling booze? Expect more low-alcohol punches and spritzer-like classics, like Sharon Halkovics’ take on the Singapore Sling packed with fresh juices frothed in a Vitamix and shaken with gin, garnished with carnival amaranth.
Orson Salicetti of New York’s Middle Branch noted that most cocktails crafted in the past had no consideration for how one felt after drinking. “People are more considerate about lower sweet, and they understand food and greens more. We’re making things cleaner.” He regularly uses vegetables, microgreens, and wasabi to pull floral notes from gin or balance sweetness, layering flavor without syrups.
Tyler Fry of Spilt Milk in Chicago topped his woody scotch and ginger with peak-smoked olive oil for texture and aromatics. Peter Marquez of Brooklyn’s Bar Beau used turmeric and salt with rye, gin, and Forthave Red aperitivo.
“It has a lot to do with the food culture exploding as it has,” said Cory Bonfiglio of Beer Street about the similar trend in the sour beer world. He sees the digestive properties of sour beer and their food-forward nature as a body-friendly win for the beverage world, with demand rapidly continuing to rise.
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Asian ingredients across spirit bases and cocktail cuisines are another trend rising. Pam Wiznitzer of Henry in New York says she swears to her Flavor Bible. But adding yuzu to the heavy herbal notes of Strega and floral Del Maguey mezcal along with cinnamon and green apple let her cocktail balance all four flavor components of sweet, sour, spice, and bitter. Jesse Vida and Sam Casuga’s soju-based cocktail balanced vermouth, the buttery banana notes of Giffard Banane du Brésil, and Velvet Falernum syrup to particular success, too, converting several attendees.
Masa Urushido of Katana Kitten added a touch of tamari into his Kalhúa take on a classic milk punch—a cocktail showing steam in the geeky beverage scene, but one mixologists aren’t sure will hit the mainstream. “The touch of tamari soy sauce gives it a richer flavor, a touch of salinity, and it brings out other flavors in the cognac, like coffee spice,” Urushido said. He chose tamari because it’s the old-fashioned, “bolder” soy sauce (that also happens to be gluten-free).
These food-forward, ingredient focused trends were definitely StarChefs ICC material. When it comes to a more mainstream audience?
“In the cocktail world, you're still seeing blue drinks,” Wiznitzer advised an attendee at the Symrise ICC roundtable. She called out Empress Gin from Vancouver for how it’s “so blue when you get it,” so mixologists employ its color more than its taste. But as the vibrant indigo comes naturally from infusion with butterfly pea blossoms (an ingredient that chefs are simultaneously jumping at for the blue-tinting qualities), it also befits the “respect for ingredients” trend. And it changes color when hit with acid: drop a twist of lemon into the cocktail, and the pink-melting-into-blue is Instagram ready. Trends on trends.
And with the rise in small-batch distilling that saw American gins and vodkas hitting new heights, keep an eye peeled for the return of the after-dinner sip: American brandies. Wiznitzer predicts the next five years will bring styles we never seen before.