Four Local Drink Experts on the Future of Cocktails

By: 
A.J. Rathbun

Few things have changed as much as the drink landscape in the past 10 to 15 years. As bartenders focus on combining fantastic ingredients with inspiration from the past, all while using ultra-modern techniques, they’re churning out more good and inventive cocktails than ever before. But what’s going to happen next? To find out, I picked the brains of four local bar-and-spirit stars.

Anu Apte (owner of the legendary Rob Roy and of Swig Well, a Seattle Drinking Academy):

What do you think will change most in the world of cocktails in the next five to 10 years?
I think that back-of-the-house crews will start getting more involved in the cocktail world. I already know that many chefs are getting into making ingredients for drinks and have conversations with their bartenders to perfect balance and texture. We'll start seeing more restaurants that have top-notch bar programs as well as food programs.

Do you think there will be significant changes to the focus of cocktail bars in that time? And if so, why?
In the next five to 10 years, craft bartenders will find a happy marriage between ingenuity, creativity and customer service. Right now it seems to be one or the other—not a good mix of all.

What spirits or liqueurs do you think will become more popular in cocktails? What will drive the popularity?
With access to old recipes and distilling licenses, we’ll see more obscure ingredients being resurrected. Also, many international distilleries are growing and have started to import their goods to America.  We'll start seeing gins from Australia, quality liqueurs from France and obscure liquors from India.

Are there any drinks, or drink families, that you think will rise from just regional/local popularity and become more well-known countrywide?
Food and beverage preferences vary greatly from region to region. A person's palate can change with external atmosphere: temperature, humidity, smells in the air. Therefore, I don't think there will be one family of cocktails that gains in popularity in the next few years.  Bitters, amaros and dark spirits will continue to be popular in rainy gray areas, and sweeter, crushed iced type drinks will continue to gain popularity in hot climates. Photo: Courtesy of Drinking in America.Com


Paul Clarke (cocktail and spirits writer extraordinaire, Cocktail Chronicles helmsman):

What do you think will change most in the world of cocktails in the next five to 10 years?

Change in cocktails is now becoming the province of the higher-end bars and restaurants that have the specialty equipment (sous vide machines and centrifuges) and access to esoteric ingredients needed to pull off the increasingly complicated drinks that are now in demand. In the rest of the world—in your average bar, and at home—I think we'll continue to see improvements in the availability of specialty and high-quality spirits. Distillers and importers have noticed our taste for interesting things to drink, and that tap is starting to flow.

Do you think there will be significant changes to the focus of cocktail bars in that time? And if so, why?
Other than the really envelope-pushing places like Canon and Canlis, which will likely continue to blow our minds, there's a swing back toward simplicity in drinks—easily assembled, accessible concoctions that have the benefit of being delicious.

What spirits or liqueurs do you think will become more popular in cocktails? What will drive the popularity?
Aperitifs are clearly having a moment. Many of them are not only relatively new to American drinkers, but they're tasty, and they're lower in alcohol, so you can enjoy a couple without getting sloshed. Now we're seeing a growth in American-made vermouths and aperitif wines, especially on the west coast (such as Imbue from Portland), and I think this area is going to be really fascinating to watch.

Are there any drinks, or drink families, that you think will rise from just regional/local popularity and become more well-known countrywide?
It seems like every year has its cocktail of the moment—recently it was the Old Fashioned and the Negroni, and this year seems to be a time for the daiquiri. These are all very simple, classic drinks, and it's great to see them having some renewed time in the limelight. Who knows, we may even see the old-time, vermouth-heavy "50:50" martini (which has its devoted adherents in New York) make a comeback in Seattle. I'd drink to that. Photo: Joshua Trujillo/Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Amanda Reed (assistant bar manager at Tavern Law):

What do you think will change most in the world of cocktails in the next five to 10 years?
Craft cocktail bartenders are going back to the basics. We have all witnessed bartenders create these over-the-top, 10-ingredient cocktails. What ends up happening a lot of the time is that the drink loses focus and identity. Three and four ingredient originals and classics are definitely making a comeback.  I am also seeing people mixing base spirits more liberally. I noticed this trend was especially popular in New York City. For example, I saw a lot of cocktails with both gin and scotch. I have become especially excited about mixing whiskeys and rums, as there are so many unique flavor combinations.

Do you think there will be significant changes to the focus of cocktail bars in that time? And if so, why?
We’ll continue to become more and more manipulative with the flavors in our cocktails. House-made tinctures, syrups and bitters have become more of a standard everywhere. Many bartenders are playing around with molecular mixology. Barrel-aged cocktails are another concept that is especially gaining enthusiasm here in Seattle. Cocktails on tap are another trend I think we will be seeing more of in the near future.

What spirits or liqueurs do you think will become more popular in cocktails? What will drive the popularity?
Local spirits and liqueurs are a huge market here in Seattle. As someone who hasn't lived in Seattle long, I was really surprised by how passionate people were here for the local craft producers. People are becoming increasingly interested in more traditional, cultural and artisanal spirits.  Mezcal has a huge cult following. Rhum Agricole, cachaca, and pisco are all finding a larger fan base, especially those produced by family-owned distilleries.

Are there any drinks, or drink families, that you think will rise from just regional/local popularity and become more well-known countrywide?

Definitely Mezcal cocktails. Rum is really popular right now, gaining favor more recently in Washington. There are so many different styles and countries of origin. It's a beautiful spirit, and is used in many different styles of drinks.
As far as drink families, I think classic punches are really catching on, especially with the movement to simplify cocktails and increase efficiency. A great punch is such an easy and delicious way to impress just about everyone’s palate. Photo: Courtesy of McCracken Tough Restaurants

 

Andrew Bohrer (Vinum Importing spirits director, the jolly Cask Strength CEO):

What do you think will change most in the world of cocktails in the next five to 10 years?
The definition of a base spirit is about to be expanded: It’s not tequila anymore, it's hundreds of Mezcals from dozens of agaves; brandy isn't just Cognac, it's single barrel Spanish Jerez, pisco, and Armagnac. And the concept of what an American gin should taste like is as free form as a finger painting by a 6-year-old Montessori student.

Also, the future of cocktails is about an educated consumer. Service, freshness, and technique are what they want. The only way anyone will ever care about your neighborhood cocktail bar is for service, which is why the change will come a lot on the service side; on making guests more comfortable and have more fun.

Do you think there will be significant changes to the focus of cocktail bars in that time? And if so, why?
Custom ingredients are the new rage. I love and hate this because these can be truly innovative and make a unique experience, but are very rarely executed well and with consistency. To make menus like this work, bars will have to function more like kitchens, using fresh sheets or having extensive prep.  At Mistral, my shift was 50 percent prep, 50 percent service, a ratio akin to fine dining.  I think we'll see more bars such as Aviary that embrace the bartender as a real chef, and that bartenders will earn that title.

What spirits or liqueurs do you think will become more popular in cocktails? What will drive the popularity?
I don't give a crap about popular spirits.  Bartenders these days mix small batch bourbon with hand-crafted artesian amaro and say “look how good my drink is.” I'd posit that you mixed gold and sunshine, of course it is great.  Again, this is where I'd like to see bartenders take their cues from the culinary world.  Oxtail, bone marrow, monk fish – these are the unlikely heroes (if not now over done) of the culinary world, and there are hundreds of spirits that barfolk can pick up, dust off and make shine.

Are there any drinks, or drink families, that you think will rise from just regional/local popularity and become more well-known countrywide?
The daiquiri is easy. Fresh limes are easy. When a chain restaurant realizes that the new consumers will pay $12 for a fresh daiquiri, it will become the new norm. But people want more than just a great cocktail, they want a show. Guests want to talk with the bartender and have an experience, this will and already has to some extent let flair rise like a Phoenix from the ashes. I'm not talking about juggling bottles. I'm talking about flaming orange zests everywhere, shaking drinks like dancing the mambo and tossing Sazeracs high in the air. Simple fun things about being in a bar will come back because we all got too serious. Photo: Michelle Broderick

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