Shaking It Up
We’ve been watching the rise of mixology for some time now, but this past year we saw an explosion in the behind-the-bar movement. Everywhere we’ve traveled recently—from New York to San Francisco, Chicago to Whistler, Seattle to San Diego, and Boston to Charleston—we observed a feverish cocktail scene, even in comparison to just last year.
Yes, mixologists are shaking up impressive drinks, but what makes this current cocktail craze noteworthy is the way it has permeated the culinary scene and developed a critical mass in the restaurant market. While dedicated mixology has continued to grow, it’s also started to become an essential part of restaurants everywhere. And beyond just being an exciting trend, there is an economic consideration as well—we’ve seen a number of cases where the mixology program is pulling the full weight profit-wise for the restaurant.
For the talented mixologists we’ve come across, this isn’t just about making high quality cocktails (although that is, of course, important)—it’s about an extreme attention to detail, from house-made bitters to the type and shape of ice used, to unexpected mixing techniques (to see an example of high level of artistry behind the bar, don’t miss our awesome ice cube sculpting technique video with Takaaki Hashimoto).
Today’s newest cocktail bars offer attentive service with Old World touches, like vest-clad bartenders and proper shaking technique (for some of the best shakes in New York, check out our shaking video here). Each bartender has their own personal style and philosophy behind their cocktails, which comes through both in their method and the final product. Mixologists are going to great lengths to make innovative and memorable cocktails—from researching recipes, styles, and ingredients—and they take great pride in executing them correctly every time.
New York City Death & Co. alum, Philip Ward, has an Old World grounding but has taken a New World spin at recently opened Mayahuel in New York's East Village. With his large repertoire and impeccable execution of the classic cocktail as his landing pad, Ward branches off in this new venture with a tequila and mezcal-focused bar. Even beer makes its way into cocktails at Mayahuel, like El Jimador’s Shifty, which has pineapple-infused mescal, cane syrup, lime juice, and Negra Modelo beer and is rimmed with a mix of salt, sugar, and cayenne pepper. Beer cocktails are another emerging trend we’ve seen—for more about this, check out our Beer Cocktails feature.
The speakeasy trend is going strong and recession-era cocktails have extended their reach beyond bars with secret entrances. Dutch Kills, for instance, is Sasha Petraske’s new bar that’s off-the-beaten-path (it’s in a working class neighborhood of New York’s Long Island City). Mixologist Richard Boccato of New York’s Little Branch and Milk & Honey built Dutch Kills from scratch, creating a cocktail menu that is largely inspired by the early 20th century—the bar’s Netherland Cocktail is based on a drink from the Waldorf Astoria’s 1935 menu.
The farm-to-bar movement is another tendency we’ve seen growing across the country, with fresh local ingredients becoming more of a mainstay in cocktail recipes. The mise en place for your average bartender now includes fresh fruit, house-made bitters, and obscure ingredients like uncommon herbs and spices. Even at an unassuming restaurant like Jack the Horse in a residential part of Brooklyn, NY, Mixologist Maxwell Britten has multiple bitters, infused syrups, fresh fruit, and exotic liqueurs at his fingertips.
The rise of mixology has spilled beyond the bar with restaurants that incorporate mixology as an integral part of their concept. Much like a wine or pastry program, a cocktail program has the power to differentiate a restaurant from its competition and bring in extra revenue. And more then ever, restaurateurs are hiring outside mixology consultants to design comprehensive cocktail programs for their restaurants (for a glimpse into mixology careers that aren’t behind the bar, read our Cool Careers feature on Somer Perez, President of Couture Cocktail Concepts and our article on John Kinder, Brand Ambassador)
For a restaurant that’s placed just as much emphasis on its bar as on its kitchen, check out New York’s Yerba Buena, where Chef Julian Medina works with Mixologist Artemio Vazquez to pair his fiery Latin food with south-of-the-border inspired cocktails. For more on cocktail and food pairings, check out Latin Street Food and Cocktails, featuring New York's Macondo, and A New Cocktail Frontier.
With the weather heating up, outdoor cafes are packed and everyone is clamoring for refreshing cocktails. Our Summer Drinks feature highlights some of the best warm-weather cocktails we’ve tasted this past year; and with Father’s Day quickly approaching, make sure to check out our feature on sandwiches, burgers and house-made condiments.
As we head into summer, we’ve noticed on our tasting trips a pick-up in business. We are not out of the woods yet, but there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.
Lastly, don’t forget about our Napa Sonoma Rising Stars! For information on the winners and how to purchase tickets for the Rising Stars Revue, visit the Napa Sonoma Rising Stars page.
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