It’s time to return to the classics — but with attention paid to the details. I asked a group of top mixologists and spirits writers what they’re looking forward to drinking more of in 2017, and with the explosion of cocktail complexity in recent years, the desire for simplicity abounds. And, for the third year in a row, the steady drumbeat for Amaro continues — it’s time to catch on, America.
Beaufort Bar, Savoy Hotel, London. (Photo by Adam Morganstern)
Vermouth — Ann Tuennerman, Founder of Tales of the Cocktail
“While long a ‘second fiddle’ in the cocktail world, Vermouth is now enjoying a contemporary renaissance. Even Martinis, which used to boast the most minimal amount possible, have now come full-circle, with the 50/50 variation back in vogue. I love their complex flavors, and the fact that it is low-proof makes it perfect for sipping when I’m in the mood for something lighter. Vermouth on the rocks with a twist is a go-to drink for me.”
“I love the creativity that goes into designing complex and nuanced cocktails, but often people come into my bar and want a simple gin and tonic. I’m starting to see more thought being put into these highballs — at Tiger Bar in Paris they created a beautiful menu of different gins paired with spices, herbs and homemade tonics. At BlackTail we’re becoming known for our highball program of reinvented classics. I think other bars will start offering elegant combinations of spirits with homemade sodas and tonics. Simple, quick to execute and with endless pairing options.”
The Boilermaker — Estanislado Orona, Bar Manager at Raven & Rose
The classic combination of a whiskey shot and a beer (or oftentimes a shot of whiskey dropped into the beer) has a hard-edged reputation, but Estanislado Orona sees a golden opportunity. “I know it sounds a little rough, but I believe the pairing aspect is becoming more refined. I’ve noticed Scotch distilleries suggesting that their juice be enjoyed alongside a well made Porter, Stout or anything with a heavily roasted malt. Talk about heaven! I enjoy Highland Park’s Dark Origins paired with Pelican Brewery’s Tsunami Stout. And for slight variation try a Del Maguey Tobala (mezcal) with an Aval Cider.”
Anything New York State — John Winterman, Managing Partner at Bâtard
“We are drinking hard in 2017 — not a particular spirit but New York State! With what we have in our own backyard, why look further afield? Specifically, American Beauty from Empire Spirits Project, distilled in Yonkers. They may be the first American gin producer to break the mold of what gin can be — elegant, fragrant and almost revolutionary. We are also excited about the Apple Brandy from the team at Neversink, up in Port Chester. The apple brandy they produce is the bracing backbone of our Daisy cocktail here at Bâtard, wherein the dominant flavor is ‘apple meets COLD.’ Plus they have a stand at my local farmer’s market.”
Asian Whiskies — Jake Emen, Writer at Man Talk Food
“It’s not news that they’re making sensational whisky in Asia — that said, maybe you need one final jolt to actually go out and nab a few bottles. Move quick, because whatever I see on the store shelf is coming home with me. I’ll be drinking highballs with Suntory Toki, or even better, Hakushu 12 year, while cherishing the finer points of any Hibiki or Yamazaki I can find. Also Coffey Grain or Coffey Malt from Nikka. And it’s not just Japan. Check out Kavalan from Taiwan and Amrut and Paul John from India. The number of great whiskies from all across Asia is only increasing, so there’s plenty to explore.”
“There’s such an interesting array of flavors found in the tea world, and it’s a fun challenge to support those flavors with a spirit and make them shine in a cocktail. Everything from elegant, floral notes to smoky, earthy funk. At Dear Irving, we use Jasmine Pearl, a floral tea, in our Pearl Collins cocktail, with gin, lemon, cocci americano, mint and jasmine.”
Aquavit — Nathaniel Smith, Mixologist at Spoon & Stable
“For the same reason I love gin, I’ve come to love Aquavit. Living in Minneapolis, a particularly Nordic-influenced region, learning about the caraway and dill infusion to spirits and their applications to cocktails is my new fascination. Highballs, gimlets, daisies, fizzes — there’s nothing like adding aquavit to them and tasting the plants, botanicals and stories of a region. It brings history and flavor to a cocktail.”
Agave Spirits — Barbara Sibley, Creative Director at Holiday Cocktail Lounge
“In 2017 I’m going back to my Mexican roots. The variety of agave spirits now being introduced to the market means that I can sip traditional tequilas, like a Siete Leguas Reposado, or enjoy newcomers like Fortaleza Blanco, Tromba Anejo or the 101 proof El Luchardor. There is great nuance in agaves and it is exciting to see expressions that incorporate terroir, vintage and varietal such as Artenom, Mezcales de Leyenda and Del Maguey Tobala. I am dreaming of the flights I can come up with!”
Vodka — Pamela Wiznitzer, Creative Director at Seamstress NY
“I’ll be drinking more vodka — more interesting vodka, that is. Brands like Belvedere Unfiltered, St. George Green Chile and Citrus, Born & Bred and Absolut Elyx all challenge the notion that vodka is odorless, colorless and tasteless. In fact, it has a lot of complexity and can be the perfect spirit for a killer cocktail or to drink with a large ice cube. I’m also going to continue my low-proof imbibing with lots of ‘amaro and soda’ — a very refreshing and a great way to ease into the night.
Simple Booze, Low Booze and No Booze — Prairie Rose, Writer at Bit By A Fox
“I love the simpler direction that a lot of cocktail programs are taking this past year. Looking forward to getting back to the basics, with quality spirits and very few ingredients. I’m also loving the low alcohol and teetotaler cocktails that we’ve been seeing pop up on menus recently. While I will always appreciate a traditional drink, it’s an exciting time for people looking for mocktails, with products like Seedlip, a non-alcoholic distilled spirit, now entering the market.”
Glassware And Beyond — Robert Haynes Peterson, Spirits Writer
Who’s cares about what’s in the drink, what’s it being served in? “I like all the creative, inventive glassware we’re seeing pop up, even at sedate cocktail lounges and speakeasies. This used to be the realm of Tiki bars, molecular restaurants and holiday pop-ups. Now we’re seeing them in craft spots like
Pouring Ribbons, Slowly Shirley and ROKC — there’s a drink that arrives in a freakin’ conch shell! On the spirits side, rye increasingly draws my attention away from bourbon and single malt Scotch, and I’m loving some of the ‘flavored’ gins, like Uncle Val’s Peppered Gin and ESP’s ‘NoHo,’ featuring saffron, cardamom and orange in its botanical mix.”
Mezcal — Chris Grotvedt, Bar Manager at The Thief, Oslo
“I always want to see more aquavit, because of my country, but personally I want to drink more agave spirits, especially mezcal. I love the smokiness, the texture and how different they are from producer to producer. I love them straight and in cocktails. And if you want interesting glassware, Robert Haynes Peterson, hop on a plane to Norway. At The Thief Hotel, they’ve put together a list of 12 cocktails — all based on movies and served in something unique. 7 Years In Tibet comes in a gorgeous Tibetan singing bowl, with matching cushion, the Ocean’s Twelve is in a Fabergé Egg and the Inception is served in a glass that levitates and spins above its stand.
Small Production Bitters And Amari — Emily Arden Wells, Writer at Gastronomista
“I’m really excited about small producers making their own bitters and amari with local flavors — the category has exploded within the craft spirits industry. Brands like Leopold’s out of Colorado are making amazing things, and Luxardo just released a clear bitter that I think is going to be a game changer. Additionally, I’m excited about the tiki trend continuing strong in 2017. So many fantastic tiki bars have opened, all with fresh new takes on tropical drinks, as well as more tiki-inspired drinks on classic bar menus — all of which makes me ridiculously happy. “
“I’m always in the corner for a brandy and eau de vie renaissance every year. It’s gotta happen someday! I’m also eager to work with champagne cocktails and to play with more exotic spices in some new drinks.”
Think Like A Chef — Hemant Pathak of Junoon
“The entire mixology world is going back to basics and I’m looking forward to drinking more classic cocktails like highballs, sours and flips. This also means having the best possible ingredients — a drink is only as good as the weakest component. Mixologists are going to be working with suppliers the way chefs have for years — to get the best fruits, spices and herbs — not just ordering them generically.”
Amaro — All Of The Above
Even when I didn’t write it, they said it. All of them.