The past few years have seen a boom in the popularity of cocktails. Bar “chefs” are spending hours concocting recipes, molecular drinks and classic revivals and pushing mixed booze into the limelight. Here’s a list of what’s trending.
1. Simple classic cocktails
Classic cocktails from the roaring ’20s and beyond are making a huge comeback in Canada, with the revival of retro favourites such as the Manhattan, Boulevardier and Whisky Toddy — all made with premium spirits and top-notch ingredients. The team at the recently renovated Rosewood Hotel Georgia’s lobby bar, 1927, is honing in on the category, offering drinks such as the Moscow Mule featuring Finlandia vodka, ginger beer, fresh lime juice and bitters. “Since the cocktail craze has hit over the last few years in Canada, we’ve had a few stages,” says Dave Mitton, president of the Toronto-based Ontario Chapter of the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association. “In the beginning, bartenders and guests were interested in learning about classic cocktails from the late 1800s and early 1900s and giving history lessons on each one. Then everyone wanted to make their own bitters, tinctures and sodas.” He predicts a return to the true classics and simple cocktails, with a subtle personal twist added by bartenders.
2. Bottled cocktails
“In the U.S. and Canada some bars and restaurants are bottling pre-made cocktails, some carbonated, some barrel aged, [some]in slushy machines,” says the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association’s Mitton. Yup. Adult slushies and bottled cocktails are a trend across North America. Frankie Solarik, owner/mixologist at BarChef in Toronto, was one of the first in Canada to work with molecular foams, gelatinous forms, smoke and infusions. Last Christmas, he created one-pour culinary cocktails (14-per-cent alcohol) that blew every other pre-mix drink out of the ice bucket. Sold at the LCBO, he created concoctions such as Crazy Uncle Blood Orange Rosemary & Maple Punch made from blood orange, vodka, a splash of lime, apple, maple syrup and a hit of purple carrot juice.
3. Designer ice
Quality ice is a bartender’s latest thrill. The perfect ice cube might be an oblong spear that runs the length of a glass with rosemary imprisoned in its centre like the bloody Caesar at Museum Tavern in Toronto. Bartenders at the Museum also freeze water at the bottom half of a crystal glass and pour the drink on top. Distilled water, filtered water or water put through reverse osmosis is often used by bartenders to remove minerals and impurities. For top-notch cubes, bartenders use Kold-Draft — a line of machines that produce ice cubes with a low dilution rate.
4. Fresh foods in a glass
Natural juices, fresh foods and building a garden in the glass are a part of the health craze that has hit the bar scene. Adding cucumber, rosemary, celery and lots of other garnishes makes a mini salad out of a drink. David Tetens, director of Beverage for the Sheraton North America Division, calls it bringing food into the glass, and it’s part of the Sheraton Selects program.
Bitters remain popular: both concentrated extracts (used by the drop) and amaro types (featured in a drink by the ounce or more). House-made bitters, small craft bitters, such as those from Vermont’s Urban Moonshine and Vancouver’s Bittered Sling are in vogue. In a recent competition, bartenders from 12 trendy Toronto spots created cocktails that showcased Averna, a Sicilian amaro. Charlie Lamont, a bartender at Whippoorwill and Rock Lobster, won first prize with “Bumblebee” — a mix of Averna with orange blossom water, coconut liqueur and Luxardo maraschino, garnished with lemon peel.