The one place I wasn't looking for a brawl: Saturday's "Cocktails on Tap" seminar, where bartenders and bar owners debated pre-batching and serving cocktails that way.
"It's dumbing down the industry."
"But it saves time and money."
"How do you promote it?"
"How do people know there's enough booze in a draft cocktail? They haven't seen you make it."
Customers want theatrics - the measuring, stacking, shaking.
Customers want a great quick cocktail, delivered in seconds.
A front-row girl became the voice of reason, the prime minister of cool: "How about we think of them as craft batched cocktails?" She might have added that batched, carbonated drinks are nothing new (flavored carbonated water, or Italian sodas, were on tap in soda shops by the early 1900s).
Draft cocktails are work on the front end: you'll adapt the recipe to account for a lack of ice and dilution; you'll buy an industrial juicer (to batch dozens at once); you'll keep the draft lines clean. You'll accept that some cocktails (the Sazerac) shouldn't be carbonated.
But whether you use nitrogen or CO2, cocktails on draft have a pleasing crispness and quick-draw that work, especially in a heated barroom.
Other trends to watch:
Far Eastern influence. Asia is having a moment in the cocktail world, manifested in the Tales' run through Kyoto (with Japanese whisky) and in the presentation of 100-proof Moutai, a premium brand of liquor distilled from sorghum grasses. (The spirit belongs to the category of Chinese white spirits, baijiu, made from either rice or grains.)
Named for the mountain village in southern China where it's made, the recipe for Moutai is centuries-old. You toss it back, then show the empty glass to your host as a courtesy.
The drink itself is silky-textured, with a kicky pear palate and wheat finish. I'll bet it's good mixed with citrus.
Molecular mixology and tiki. We flirted with these trends at Tales. Oxley Gin recruited our own Meltdown Popsicles to create boozy pops (gin paired with grapefruit and lavender, or carrot and ginger), and tiki expert Jeff "Beachbum" Berry and drinks historian David Wondrich led us on a rollicking trip through the Panama Canal.
Adult teas. Rooftop at the Omni Royal Orleans, we lined up for a taste of lemon tea vodka, Belvedere's sunny new flavor infused with black, green and chamomile teas, lemongrass and ginger, and quadruple-distilled for balance. Tea-based cocktails are in full swing, the leading edge in what I think will be a greater use of herbs, roots and flowers.
Belvedere's head of spirit creation, Claire Smith, chatted with me poolside about tea's universal appeal, as well as the next big cocktail flavors (herbs like sage, rosemary and verbena; tropicals like mango and papaya); her favorite drink at home (Belvedere vodka unfiltered, for its honeyed flavors and creamy, mellow texture); and the cocktail industry's biggest risk (over-serious bartenders).
And the lemon tea vodka? It's smoothly lemon with a hint of tea, and I plan to try it mixed with juice from one lemon, and a half-ounce of simple syrup.
Beertails. I'm not crazy about the name (would we say winetail?) but the blending of beer and spirits can be sublime. In the "Beertails" seminar, we got small pours of Belgian amber, lambic, saison and stout beers, tasting them alone and then each floated into a cocktail.
Beer adds flavor and texture, and can spark up a whiskey sour, round out a mezcal drink, bring complexity (by way of caramel tang) to a Dark and Stormy.
Start with a well-balanced cocktail and a quality beer, this in the same proof as the average wine (no more than 12% abv, and no "slutty" 40-proof beers, please.)
Shandy town. When word got out that St. Germain was mixing shandies (and you saw it if you follow me on Twitter), Tales-goers thronged to their truck. Luckily, I also got the recipe: Stir together 5 ounces Pilsner beer and 1.5 ounces St. Germain in a pint glass half-stacked with ice. Squeeze 2 lemon wedges and dunk them in the drink.
Tales and trucks. Easing us out of Tales was a Sunday garden of food trucks and booze at Lafayette Square. A tasting band got you free cachaça punches, whiskey sour teas, and - my favorite - an Orient Punch of Martin Miller's gin, green tea, ginger, cucumber and honey.
In fact, the event's best-made drinks were the pre-batched punches, so maybe we'll see carbonated, bottled cocktails served truckside, come next year. Stay tuned!
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