Cool new cocktails materialize when bartenders get together in the Big Easy
At Tales of the Cocktail, an annual drinks convention held last week in New Orleans, there was no spirit or cocktail ingredient you couldn’t try. (Goji liqueur from organic berries, anyone? Vinegar-spiked cocktails? Czech liqueur? Mushroom bitters?) With bartenders from around the world gathered in one place, and all kinds of drinks available for sampling, conversations flowed as easily as the cocktails. Here are a few things folks were buzzing about at this meeting of the spiritually-minded.
NEW IS NEW: All whiskey begins as a clear spirit. It picks up its amber color - and a good deal of flavor - from years resting in oak barrels, absorbing sugars from the wood. But a number of American producers - big and small - have begun to showcase their whiskey in raw form. Often referred to as “new make,’’ or “white dog’’ in distillers’ colloquy, these spirits tend to be hotter on the palate and higher in alcohol. Without time to mellow, the elemental flavors of the grain come to the fore. Used in a manhattan, the whiskey reveals a different personality of the familiar drink. It’s a new frontier for bartenders to explore.
SMALL IS BIG: Craft beers took hold in the 1990s and they haven’t let go. Taking their cue from those prolific microbreweries, indie-minded entrepreneurs in almost every state are eschewing the global spirits market. They’re building distilleries and turning out hand crafted gins, rums, whiskeys, fruit brandies, and vodka distilled from everything, it would seem, except unicorn tears. (See: lye, quinoa; there was even a mention of old doughnuts.) A common practice throughout the craft community? Raw materials are often sourced from local farms, and distillers put a premium on organic crops. Spirits are taking their place on locavores’ tables.
COCKTAILS TAKE A BEAUTY REST: If, as mentioned above, a spirit mellows with the time spent in barrels, logic dictates that aging must have an effect on a cocktail. The curious and the bold behind the bar are experimenting with this new age, giving freshly mixed manhattans and negronis a rest in wood for a few weeks. The time allows for extreme integration of the ingredients and for the mixture to absorb elements from the wood. It emerges softer and silkier. Talk about old fashioned. (Cambridge’s Temple Bar and Allston’s Deep Ellum have already started dabbling in barrels.)
NEVER MIND THE SNIFTER: There was a time when aristocrats of French society wouldn’t think to drink their Cognac neat. After some forensic research involving bottles of the French brandy produced in the 1800s, cognac maker Pierre Ferrand discovered the spirit was brawnier then. It held up better in cocktails. Pierre Ferrand’s brand new 1840 Original Formula Cognac , an affordable reproduction of the real deal, is too powerful to drink straight. When the cognac is used in vintage cocktail recipes, bartenders will only enhance a drink’s authenticity.
A LATIN LIBATION’S LIBERATION: Just as cachaça has the caipirinha, pisco has the pisco sour. But the Peruvian brandy, distilled from grapes, is moving beyond its signature drink. A variety of new piscos are arriving from south of the border (look for: Campo de Encanto, Pisco Portón), shedding light on the fact that Peru is where new world viticulture began. Meantime, Macchu Pisco, which was founded by Harvard Business School alum Melanie Asher, is fostering the growth of the spirit’s cocktail repertoire. Asher organized a cocktail competition series over the past year in honor of the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu. The brandy is reaching new heights.
Liza Weisstuch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.