Cocktail revival

Posted in Business + Economy, Sport + Leisure by expresscheckout on 3 December, 2008

Let 100 (O.K., eight) Bartending Philosophies Bloom
By Oliver Schwaner-Albright
December 3, 2008
The New York Times

TEN years ago, cocktail seekers would have been hard-pressed to find a bar that used fresh juice in sour mix (never mind adding microplaned zest), and ordering an Aviation would have earned a cold look instead of a refreshing but potentially lethal mixture of gin, lemon juice and maraschino liqueur. Today drinkers don’t need to search far to find bartenders who not only squeeze their own citrus, but make their own bitters, have an encyclopedic knowledge of drinks and stock spirits imported, on the sly, in a suitcase. But as the number of ambitious bars has proliferated, so have their ways of doing things. Interviews with dozens of bartenders around the country suggest that the cocktail movement is becoming so diverse and sophisticated that it encompasses several distinct approaches and philosophies.

Some bartenders fastidiously devote themselves to resurrecting century-old recipes, while others use chemicals and modern techniques. Seasonal fruits and fresh herbs come to the foreground at certain bars, but play a minor role in other establishments that try instead to wring maximum effect from the bottles on their shelves. Sometimes, these approaches overlap. A bartender might add in-season blood oranges to a 19th-century-inspired punch, for instance. And there’s some danger to naming distinct schools of thought in an industry whose practitioners can’t even agree whether to call themselves mixologists, bartenders, bar chefs or some other name. Nevertheless, some of the leading bars in the country may be placed in one of the following categories.


Philosophy This school is inspired by the late 19th and early 20th century, when bartending was a public and flamboyant art. Commonly if incorrectly called pre-Prohibition (some great drinks were invented during the dry years), the pre-repeal revival represents a complete aesthetic, from dress (arm garters and waistcoats), to décor (mahogany, gaslights), to language (menus that read like broadsheets), to grooming (the waxed mustache). Guiding spirit Jerry Thomas, author of “How to Mix Drinks or the Bon-Vivant’s Companion: The Bartender’s Guide,” first published in 1862. Bars, bartenders and drinks At the Clover Club in Brooklyn, Julie Reiner (also of the Flatiron Lounge in New York) has revived punch and with it, the punch bowl. Sasha Petraske, of White Star and Milk & Honey in New York, gave the speak-easy ethos an edgy, downtown cool.


Philosophy Often confused with pre-repeal revivalism, neo-classicism updates long-forgotten cocktail recipes by bringing in such cutting-edge techniques as fat washing (infusing a high-proof spirit with a fatty ingredient, like brown butter). Just as important are the atmospheric decisions: the person making a classic cocktail might be wearing jeans and a T-shirt and playing Talking Heads on the iPod. Guiding spirit The online Cocktail Database (, the most complete resource for all manner of mixed drinks, past and present. Bars, Bartenders and Drinks Audrey Saunders infuses gin with tea for the Earl Grey MarTEAni at Pegu Club in New York. Other practitioners include Jim Meehan at PDT in New York, Charles Joly at the Drawing Room in Chicago, Daniel Hyatt at the Alembic Bar in San Francisco and Murray Stenson at Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle.


Philosophy Rather than being structured around a primary spirit, like whiskey or bourbon, farm-to-glass drinks are driven by produce, usually seasonal fruit or herbs: persimmons in fall, anise hyssop leaves in spring. The movement is at its fullest flower on the West Coast, with its 12-month growing season, and in restaurants, where there’s a daily bounty of produce and other ingredients not normally seen in bars. Guiding spirit Scott Beattie, whose “Artisanal Cocktails: Drinks Inspired by the Seasons from the Bar at Cyrus” (Ten Speed, 2008) is shaping up to become the indispensable cookbook of farm-to-glass cocktails. (Interestingly, Mr. Beattie identifies more with the liquid locavore movement.) Bars, bartenders and drinks At the two Hungry Cat restaurants, in Hollywood and Santa Barbara, Calif., the Rhumpkin is made from rum and kabocha squash syrup. Other locations include Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va., and T’afia in Houston.


Philosophy Nine craft distilleries operate within the city limits of Portland, Ore., and it’s a point of pride for some bartenders there to fashion a drink around local spirits. Northern California also has a surfeit of craft distilleries, and Chicagoans craft drinks with the gins made by the city’s North Shore Distillery. Guiding spirits Craft distillers like Miles Karakasevic of Charbay in St. Helena, Calif., and Lee Medoff and Christian Krogstad of House Spirits in Portland, Ore. Bars, bartenders and drinks At Cyrus in Healdsburg, Calif., Scott Beattie’s Meyer Beautiful incorporates Charbay Meyer lemon vodka. At Clyde Common in Portland, Ore., Kevin Ludwig rebuilt the Negroni around Krogstad aquavit from House Spirits.


Philosophy It’s no longer uncommon for bars to make their own bitters, but some take the craft to the next level, devising their own recipes for fortified wines and other infusions. Guiding spirit Tenzing Momo, a store in Seattle that has rare and exotic dried herbs, spices and mixers. Bars, bartenders and drinks At the Bel Ami Lounge in Eugene, Ore., Jeffrey Morgenthaler serves a gin and tonic made with his own recipe for agave-sweetened quinine syrup. Daniel Shoemaker at the Teardrop Lounge in Portland, Ore., crafts his own vermouth, falernum, blueberry shrub (a kind of cordial) and 15 bitters.


Philosophy A minimalist cocktail typically contains no more than five ingredients, and changing any one of them (rather than adding a different flavor) results in a new cocktail. It’s a firm but respectful pushback against the sometimes baroque concoctions inspired by classic drinks recipes. Guiding spirit Ice. The proper ice is to the minimalists what a ripe white peach is to the farm-to-glass movement. The Violet Hour, in Chicago, uses eight kinds, depending on the drink. Bars, bartenders and drinks Toby Maloney of the Violet Hour prepares three iterations of the martini: “wet” (two parts gin to one part dry vermouth), “lopsidedly perfect” (gin with more dry than sweet vermouth) and “double reverse perfect” (more sweet vermouth than dry). Greg Best at Holeman & Finch Public House in Atlanta tries never to use more than four ingredients. Other exponents include Jamie Boudreau at Tini Bigs in Seattle and John Gertsen at Drink in Boston.


Philosophy Strictly speaking, molecular mixology refers to the application of science to the bar, and the use of stabilizers and other compounds for surprising effects. Some prefer the term “progressive cocktails,” pointing out that many of their techniques are old-fashioned, such as smoking or infusing. Still, most drinks pack a gee-whiz punch, as seen in the current fascination with solid, edible cocktails. Guiding spirits Modernist chefs like Ferran Adrià, Wylie Dufresne and Heston Blumenthal. Bars, bartenders and drinks Eben Freeman at Tailor in New York tops his variation on the Blood and Sand with foamy orange juice stabilized by Versa Whip and xanthum gum. The Manhattan at José Andrés’s Bar Centro in Los Angeles is garnished with a solidified sphere of cherry juice.


Philosophy Faux tropical bars start with the proposition that the Mai Tai and Singapore Sling were once respectable cocktails. Mixing fresh juices, homemade syrups and a dozen or more other ingredients, these bars seek to restore the reputation of tiki drinks. Guiding spirits Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic. Bars, bartenders and drinks Martin Cate’s Forbidden Island in Alameda, Calif., offers a Don the Beachcomber formula called the Nui Nui, with fresh citrus, pimento liqueur, cinnamon and vanilla syrups, and aged Barbados rum. Luau, which opened in Beverly Hills in October, revives recipes from a bar of the same name opened in 1953 by one of Lana Turner’s seven husbands.

Refer to the article for an extensive list of US-based bars ‘on the cutting edge’.

See also: Alex’s Cocktail Recipes


2 Responses

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  1. Susan Karakasevic said, on 3 December, 2008 at 18:32

    Amazing article – you’ve captured the professional edge for this revival of bar art, especially the part about basing cocktails on superior ingredients It’s been a refreshing cocktail wave that cleaned up the mess of Happy Hours gone tacky. We so agree with the “10 years ago you couldn’t find…” boy do we know. When we started putting the whole fresh fruits into our vodkas we had to rewrite the cocktail recipes. The bars were limited that wanted to make the switch… but the leading bars that were ready and looking for the next new thing grabbed at the chance and they remain front runners. Creativity is alive and well around the world thanks to inspired bartenders/barchefs/mixologists… and those who support them.
    The circle is complete – it’s a wonderful time to go out and have a great cocktail!

  2. Rum Punch Cocktail Drink Recipe said, on 5 December, 2008 at 13:14

    […] Cocktail revival « (express checkout) global musings […]

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