Sounds like a bit of a stretch, but really not that far from reality. This summer thousands of bartenders from countries all over the world converged on New Orleans, Louisiana for an annual pilgrimage called “Tales of the Cocktail” or just “Tales” for short.
“Tales” celebrates everything wonderful and liquid that goes into a glass for you and me to enjoy. It identifies some of the newest industry trends, and gives attendees access to some of the world’s most creative minds when it comes to the bar. Rather than traditional tradeshow format Tales is delivered through a series of Bartending Seminars, hosted and moderated by leading mixologists and to a lesser extent Global Brand Ambassadors (although they are often one in the same.) This year 5 directors from BartenderOne joined the pilgrimage and the results were outstanding, not only did each of us learn a ton but we were inspired, something that many bars are in dire need of!
So without further delay, here are the big trends for 2011-2012
Spirit forward cocktails, made for sipping and enjoying not slamming…
What the heck does “Spirit forward” mean you ask? It means a resurgence of cocktails like the Manhattan, Gin Martini or the Negroni, that are based solely on spirits, liqueurs or aperitifs, without the addition of juices and sodas. This means that you taste the quality of the spirit (assuming the spirit is of a quality worth enjoying) without creating a fruit punch style mixer to go along with your spirit that masks the taste of the spirit altogether.
Cocktail Glassware takes a back to basics approach
Like the stock market, the cocktail market ebbs and flows. In the 90’s glassware got bigger, much bigger! Operators bought oversized “Martini” glasses and filled them up with the above mentioned fruit punch to make the guest believe that they were getting more, when in fact they were only getting more… juice. Glassware is getting smaller again, cocktail glasses (or martini glasses) have shrunk to their original proportions; 5oz instead of the staggering 12oz Martini Glasses that we were using (and many of us still are!) This means it’s time to archive those fishbowls and start serving cocktails in appropriate sized glassware.
Bitters are the new sweet
The Europeans have long enjoyed the “bitter” flavour profile far more than we on the North American side of the pond. That is changing. From the iconic Angostura bitters, to newcomers to the Canadian Marketplace like Fee Brothers, Bittermans, and the Bitter Truth (All except Angostura are difficult to find but not impossible) We have long enjoyed commercial bitters, anyone who drinks Campari or has had a shot of Jagermeister has had bitters, but the bitters I’m talking about are added by the drop, and are often compared to seasoning food with Salt and Pepper.
Artisanal spirits made by hand in small(er) batches
There is no shortage of companies emerging making small batch spirits, by hand, in alembic stills (or copper pot stills) where the distiller is far more capable of adjusting or crafting the spirit so it finishes with a specific flavour profile, the distillers signature. As the world trends away from mass produced food and drink, and toward concepts like the 100 mile diet, small batch distillers are often thought of as the anti-establishmentarian option.
Gin is the new Vodka
Last but certainly not least, the unified backlash towards vodka is stronger than ever. As an operator you might think this is absurd, depending on who you talk to, vodka makes up between 20% and 35% of all spirits that cross your bar. The dissatisfaction with Vodka comes from its perceived lack of character, often interpreted as a colourless and odourless spirit. Truth be told I am not a big fan of vodka unless it is being used to lengthen another spirit, I’d much rather drink something full of character that tastes like something, than something that tastes like nothing. With the resurgence in brown spirits, namely Whisk(e)y, Tequila, and Mescal, there are some wonderful flavours available to work with. Don’t be afraid to experiment by picking up a bottle or two of something that’s not on your weekly order form, and see how your clients like it.
If each person who reads this article takes one of these trends and applies it in their bar, Canada will time travel light years ahead and be well positioned to be a leader in bar culture. If you don’t believe me, sign yourself and maybe your head bartender for Tales of the Cocktail 2012, the investment will pay dividends in engagement and motivation… maybe we’ll meet up for a cocktail or two. After all, it is New Orleans, home of Bourbon St and the infamous French Quarter… And with thousands of bartenders in town, you can bet that it’s not too difficult to find a party either.