While newbie hybrid vegetables like kalettes, rainbow carrots and broccolini are trending in the kitchen this year, bartenders are turning back the clocks, revisiting the classic craft cocktail. During this year’s StarChefs International Chef Conference (ICC) guests explored this trend—and more!—tasting the best boozy beverages created by mixologists from coast to coast. Here’s what’s on trend:
The Bar: An Extension of the Kitchen
With the rise of the craft cocktail, the days of pairing wine with dinner may be dwindling. Both diners and restaurateurs expect bartenders to take culinary cues from the kitchen. “I love that I work with a clear, dedicated food and beverage program,” said mixologist Trevin Hutchins of Tempo Dulu (Portland, ME). “I’m definitely influenced by what’s coming out of the kitchen. I want the cocktails to complement the menu.”
Chefs are also looking to extend the life of ingredients by incorporating them into their boozy concoctions. Andrew Whitcomb of Colonie (Brooklyn, NY), for example, refers to his homemade pantry when creating the cocktail menu. “Vegetables we pickled from last season may end up in this season’s martini,” he said.
While sustainability transitioning from kitchen to bar was one trend, another guests at the Congress Cocktail noticed was the ramped up flavors of Asian and Latin American influences. It’s no coincidence Latin spirits are on the rise, with both Jaime and Felipe Torres of Raymi (New York, NY) and Orson Salicetti of Lumos (New York, NY) using Macchu Pisco, a Peruvian grape-based spirit.
Standout Spirit: Hutchins was inspired by the Asian cuisine of Tempo Dulu and created a Sake Snow Cone with Nogori Sake, ginger, yuzu, smoked pineapple, salmon caviar, and a Laphroaig mist.
Classic Cocktails Reign King
From a Manhattan to a Julep, an Old Fashioned to the Gimlet, the classic cocktail is back—but with a twist. Mixologists are introducing new flavor profiles and mixing up old favorites. During the Congress Cocktail, guests sipped on several versions of the Negroni. The Italian cocktail— traditionally made with Campari, gin and sweet vermouth—received a serious upgrade, with additional ingredients like sherry, rum, coconut and citrus.
Standout Spirit: The ABCDEF Negroni seemed to have everything BUT the kitchen sink—Aperol, Beefeater Gin, Campari, Dolin Dry Vermouth, Encanto Pisco (a Peruvian Brandy with notes of citrus and spice), and Fernet Branca (a bitter herb liqueur). The cocktail’s creator, Jeff Bell, was named a Rising Star mixologist, and is from the not-so-secret secret bar PDT in New York, NY.
Spicy, Savory and Sweet—Oh, My!
Clove, nutmeg, cinnamon (hello, Fireball) and even hot pepper are spicing up spirits. The Violet Hour’s (Chicago, IL) Toby Maloney included St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, a rum-based liqueur with clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper to balance the flavors of the Coconut-infused Fords Gin and Plantation Pineapple Rum in her version of the Negroni. The rise of dessert cocktails, on the other hand, was also front and center with mixologists replacing the over-sweetened liqueurs of yesteryear with all-natural, quality products. Although hand-crafting each cocktail takes time, James Beck (The Patterson House in Nashville, TN) returned to bartending’s roots, adding whole egg and a cinnamon stick to his “Dee-Dely-Dee" Negroni.
Standout Spirit: Robert Krueger of Extra Fancy (Brooklyn, NY)
Gin is a Thing
The spirit that became popular in Prohibition-era American is making a comeback, no longer just matched with tonic. While the previous bottled versions may have proved too piney for most, higher-quality new brands have a much smoother taste that blend well with citrus, spice and juniper flavors. “It just pairs well with so many flavors,” said from Matt Dorsey of I Forgot It’s Wednesday (New York, NY).
Standout Spirit: Dorsey kept the ingredients of his “The Translucence” Negroni short and sweet—Hendrick’s Gin, Dolin Dry Vermouth, Cointreau, and St. George Absinthe.
Smoke is Hot
Ingredients aren’t the only thing moving out of the kitchen—sous vide machines and centrifuges found their place among the whiskeys and ryes, shakers and strainers. The smoke machine was the most popular toy used by mixologists presenting at ICC, infusing whiskeys and ryes with not only smoke, but smoke-infused flavors.
Standout Spirit: Hutchins stole the spotlight (again!) with the “Jakarta,” a blend of a Chinese five-spice infused smoked Knob Creek Rye, Averna Amaro, Cynar, Carpano Antica Vermouth and an Absinthe Mist. “I could infuse the rye with smoke, but I thought, why not add the Chinese five-spice blend,” said Hutchins. “I really loved the way the cinnamon and clove came through in the smoky flavor.”