Seattle's bar and cocktail scene is evolving in ways we could have only imagined a few years back. Creativity abounds, as bartenders devise concoctions that push the boundaries of what we've always thought of as the classic cocktail. Herewith, the top trends we've noticed this year. For more of the Best Bars and Cocktails in Seattle, go here. Want happy hour suggestions? We've got 'em here.
1. Cocktail-making Classes
Anu Apte, owner of Belltown hot spot Rob Roy, whips up a drink for her Swig Well classes
Bring the cocktail revolution home by taking one of the many cocktail-oriented classes now offered by some of our best bars and bartenders. Sign up for one of the Swig Well Bartending 101 sessions (swigwell.com), run by Rob Roy owner and cocktail legend Anu Apte. I suggest one with bartender Kathleen Manley, if you can grab a spot. Feeling good about your shaking skills, but want to start making your own bitters? Keep an eye on The Barrel Thief’s events page (bthief.com/events), for its bitters-making workshops.
Aperol shines in The Samuel Pickwick from Oliver’s Twist in Magnolia
I can remember not long ago (it only became available stateside in March 2006) coming back from Italy with a suitcase stuffed with multiple bottles of the graceful Italian aperitif Aperol, with its taste of citrus with a tiny bit of bitter. Now, it’s hard to find a bar menu that doesn’t have an Aperol drink on it. It hasn’t yet become as big here as it is in Italy, where the spritz (Aperol and prosecco, or white wine, or soda) is the most popular pre-dinner drink. But cocktails such as the Vanity Fair from Good Bar, with vodka, Aperol, St.-Germain elderflower liqueur and lemon ($10), and the Samuel Pickwick from the Magnolia Oliver’s Twist
(oliverstwistseattle.com), with rye, Aperol, a rosemary-pear shrub and lemon, are not only spreading Aperol’s popularity to greater heights, but expanding how it’s used as a cocktail ingredient.
The literary-inspired A Farewell to Arms cocktail with tequila, sherry and amara, from Kirkland’s Bottle and Bull
Many picture sherry—a Spanish fortified wine made from white grapes and named after Jerez, the town near where the grapes are grown—being quaffed by older British gentlemen in drawing rooms after dinner (usually in an 1800s Victorian novel). But the wide range of sherries—and flavor profiles—are proving irresistible to today’s adventurous bartenders, who are using it in cocktails of all sorts, from the classic sherry wine punch ($12) at Rob Roy, with Amontillado sherry, orgeat, lemon and a little seasonal fruit jam, to the layered Port of Spain ($11) at Bar Code (Bellevue, barcodebellevue.com), which brings together a Solera 1847 sherry with dark Scarlet Ibis rum, crème de pêche and a dash of lemon bitters. Even Capitol Hill’s Southern-style Bar Sue (barsueseattle.com) is sharing in the sherry with the Daughters of the Revolution ($10), containing Dickel rye, dry sack sherry, locally made Scrappy’s aromatic bitters and cane sugar.
4. Spicy Spirits and Liqueurs
A spicy Monolith cocktail from Rob Roy, made with Ancho Reyes
For those of us who don’t mind a little heat in our culinary pursuits, the lack of a truly well-made chile-based bar spirit or liqueur has always seemed a shame—so many are just hot, or taste as if the flavor is from chemicals, not nature, or are lacking in depth. Ancho Reyes (anchoreyes.com), a liqueur made from ancho chiles in Puebla, Mexico, is the opposite, with deep flavors: chile and a little heat, sure, but also tamarind, chocolate, nuts and herbs. It’s delicious, and Seattle bartenders have taken notice. Take the Monolith ($12) from Rob Roy, which combines Ancho Reyes with lemon juice, pineapple juice and Angostura bitters, then tops it with crushed ice and myrrh oil, and a garnish of mint and pineapple. It’s amazingly refreshing, with hints of spice and herbs coming out under the fruit. Then, check out the sparkling Ancho Spritz, which bubbles Ancho Reyes up with Aperol, soda and an orange twist ($12) at Kirkland’s Bottle and Bull (bottle-bull.com).
5. Bottled Cocktails
The Kentucky Road soda bottled cocktail at Essex in Ballard
Tell prospective drinkers they should try a bottled cocktail and most will tend to look confused, remembering tasteless big-company liquid monstrosities. But back away from that idea, because the bottled cocktails that our local bars are serving are tip-top, both in twist-off form and with pop caps, like bottled soda. Why are they showing up? According to Andrew Friedman, owner of Liberty and Good Citizen, whose menu will feature bottled cocktails and other pre-batched drinks, it’s simple. They provide “fast service, 100 percent consistency in each drink—what’s not to love?” he asks. It’s not all new. World-famous Canon (Capitol Hill, canonseattle.com) has been serving up bottled cocktails for a while, with lovely labels to boot. It has bubbly numbers bottled like old-fashioned sodas (courtesy of the Perlini carbonation system, of which Canon owner Jaime Boudreau was an early adopter), but I like its twist-top bottled Hanky Panky best: gin, sweet vermouth, Fernet-Branca, orange ($11). You’ll also find bottled cocktails at Ballard’s Essex (essexbarseattle.com), such as its delicious Kentucky Road soda, on which the bartender pops the top right at the bar, with bourbon, scotch, lemon, house-made ginger syrup and the finest hint of vanilla ($10); and at Porkchop & Co. (eatatporkchop.com), where you can channel J. Bond with a bottled Vesper: Capitol vodka, Gun Club gin and Lillet ($12).
Scrappy’s and Sun Liquor lead the local bitters-making scene
Taking a little time off from the booze, but want to still have aromatic and intriguing drinks at home? Or perhaps you’ve had a little too much to eat, and want to sip something to ease the gustatory distress a tad? Meet bitters and soda. A super-simple duo with now nearly endless varieties thanks to the explosion in the market of new bitters—essentially cocktail flavorings made from a wide array of herbs, spices, fruit and more (they do contain alcohol, though, so are not nonalcoholic). Bitters and soda is as easy to make as it sounds: a little ice, three or four dashes of bitters and soda water. Start with local bitters powerhouse Scrappy’s Bitters’ (scrappysbitters.com) flagship lavender bitters, then move to its sublime Seville orange bitters and then the cardamom. But don’t miss local Sun Liquor’s (sunliquor.com) orange bitters, either, which have an intense orange and spice taste.