January 01, 2008

Boutique Mixers

A trio of new tonics is elevating the standard gin and tonic to a serious cocktail. Stirrings is the least bitter of the three, with a citrusy freshness that gin deserves. Organic agave nectar gives the sweet and extra-bubbly Q Tonic a slightly earthy flavor. Fever-Tree gets its pleasant bitterness from natural quinine, which is extracted from cinchona (the "fever tree") bark.

Locavore Cocktails

The locavore movement was born in and around San Francisco, so it’s no surprise that the same area has produced a new trend: locatails. Mixologists–including Jardinière’s Thad Vogler, Cyrus’ Scott Beattie and Elixir’s H. Joseph Ehrmann–are creating drinks using not only juice from local fruits and house-made mixers, but also spirits from area distillers like Hangar One, No. 209 and St. George Spirits.

Barrel-Aged Beers

Aging beer in oak barrels, a trick borrowed from the Belgians, adds intriguing wood and vanilla notes (and tangy fruit, when old wine barrels are used). At the forefront of this trend are ambitious craft brewers like Russian River Brewing Company and Allagash Brewing Company.

Green Beer

There’s no business like the green business these days, and breweries are no exception. At New Belgium, the home of Fat Tire ale in Fort Collins, Colorado, methane fuels a generator in the brewery, and steam released by the kettle heats the water used on-site. At Blue Lake, California’s Mad River Brewing Company, local livestock eat spent barley malt; the brewery also has its own wastewater treatment plant to minimize its impact on the Mad River. Even Australian beer giant Foster’s has started using a microbial fuel cell to generate energy from wastewater at its Yatala Brewery.

Superlative Sake

Proof that sake is finding fans beyond the sushi-bar crowd: the recent opening of NYC’s first all-sake shop. At Sakaya, in the East Village, owners Rick Smith and Hiroko Furukawa offer tips and tastings for food-and-sake pairings, with both low- and high-end bottles. A favorite is the honeydew-scented Watari Bune Junmai Daiginjo ($98; sakayanyc.com).

Long-Lost Spirits

Minnesota-based importer Eric Seed has been likened to "the Indiana Jones of lost spirits" for hunting down rare and obscure bottlings from around the world and introducing them to America, which in turn is spurring a revival of all-but-forgotten drinks. From Austria he brought the flowery, eggplant-colored liqueur Crème de Violette, which is an essential ingredient in the classic Aviation cocktail. In Indonesia, he found Batavia Arrack, a spicy, rumlike spirit that was a staple (especially in punches) of the 19th-century cocktail pioneers. He has also unearthed various European eaux-de-vie and liqueurs, including apricot, pear, pine and walnut. Seed’s latest discovery is Allspice Dram from Jamaica, a rum-based liqueur made with allspice berries (alpenz.com).

Hand-Pumped Cask Ales

Inspired by England’s long-running real ale movement, ambitious beer bars in the U.S., among them Brooklyn’s Spuyten Duyvil, have started featuring hand-pumped cask ales. Typically served from wooden or metal casks at around 55 degrees (warmer than most beers) and without added carbonation, these full-bodied ales have an intensity of flavor that purists swear by.

Miso Lager and Other Japanese Beers

Importers have been busy bringing superb Japanese foods and drinks to the U.S., from artisanal soy sauce to high-end mirin. Now there’s excellent beer. Kinshachi’s Red Miso Lager has a miso-inflected finish; its Blue Pilsner is bright and citrusy. Echigo Stout challenges Guinness with roasted malt and char notes, and Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout tastes like a great espresso shot.