Moderated by Angus Winchester (Tanqueray Gin), the panel on Cocktail Culture and Trends: The US and the Beyond at Arizona Cocktail Week a few weeks back included panelists Andy Seymour (BAR Founder), Danny Valdez (Ron Zacapa), Todd Richman (Sidney Frank Importing), Marcos Tello (Bols Genever), Duggan McDonnell (Encanto Pisco), Aidan Demerast (Neat Bar), Sarah Mitchell (Juniper Society) and Danny Ronen (FAIR Spirits).
Angus caught us up on cocktail history. He explained America invented the cocktail in the 1800s and there was a golden age until Prohibition. Bartenders fled and people essentially forgot how to make drinks until about the 50s. That was the silver age of bartending. He’s calling our current times the bronze age. However, with the internet, this age seems to be about trends that come and go very quickly. What he’s seeing now are:
Even national chain restaurants like TGIFridays are doing fresh juice programs. They’re a bit of leaders with trends, having the cornerstone of flair bartending back in the 90s.
Twisted classics -
It seems every bartender is putting their own stamp on classics.
Angus asked how could we tell if it’s a genuine trend versus fashion. For instance, is it a trend if 100 bartenders are doing it or you can go to your local bar and get that “trendy” cocktail.
Andy Seymour mentioned he thought sherry and mezcal would be trendy years ago. A cocktail with mezcal, sherry, agave and Angostura bitters is very appealing now.
Sarah Mitchell explained how her Juniper Society came about. At her bar in London, she had a weekly tasting and discounted drinks. Pretty soon other bars followed suit with their own rum and agave (tequila) clubs.
The panel started discussing how vodka is not going away any time soon. It has a specific role to play.
Someone mentioned there were probably blog posts already about cocktail trends. As it so happens, I do have a post!
This distracted the panel as they started talking about how there should be a panel on “I Hate Bloggers/ I Love Bloggers.” But it did steer them to talking about how are trends being media driven. Bone Luge comes to mind. The panel seemed to agree that trends like cocktails on tap, carbonated drinks, barrel-aged cocktails were interesting but most people don’t care. Only the writers and cocktail geeks are into the trends.
And yet, we can’t help but be fascinated by cocktails from the 1880s, Madmen style cocktails, tiki, ice, bitters, punches, agave and what Angus calls bartender voodoo- resurrected old cocktails.
Todd Richman brought everything back to perspective by talking about what should matter- hospitality and how customer service comes first. The interaction between the bartender and guests is important.
There were a few noteworthy questions from the audience including a woman who wanted to discuss skinny cocktails as a trend. Clearly the panel was uncomfortable with this idea. They maintained as a group that spirits alone aren’t as high in calories. She insisted that she sells a ton of “vodka and fresca” which is practically calorie-free. But where is the joy of that?
We ended with Duggan instructing us to have the juice of the lemons he brought from San Francisco, reminding us what was really important — not just fresh juice was to a bar program but that we are alive and able to discuss such things.