Even though I spend just about every night at one of the two Manhattan establishments where I tend bar—Gramercy Tavern and Pegu Club—I’ve done some of my most rigorous cocktail making in Food & Wine’s Test Kitchen. For the past nine months, I’ve perfected drink recipes Food & Wine’s forth-coming Cocktails 2007 book, with editors acting as willing tasters, ultimately settling on the 150 best and newest cocktails from bartenders around the country. Some of these mixologists are famous, but the majority are up-and-comers who are too busy creating great cocktails to spend time getting the publicity they deserve. All the drinks have stories behind them, and I’ve spent a lot of time searching through old bar books and scouring the Internet to track down their origins—some of which go back 200 years—because many of the world’s best bartenders are its worst historians. Although I’m fascinated with history, I’m also curious about trends. Here are a few that excite me the most, with cocktail recipes from some of my favorite hometown hangouts to match.
Three New Drink Trends
For decades, there’s been just one brand of widely available bitters in the United States, Angostura. However, three years ago, bar guru Gary Regan launched an eponymous brand of orange bitters, and Angostura will release one this spring. In addition, Fee Brothers from Rochester, New York, recently added lemon to its extensive bitters line, which includes peach and mint. New companies such as Germany’s The Bitter Truth are offering orange, lemon and aromatic bitters. Even bartenders have gotten into the game: Molly Finnegan at Roux in Portland, Oregon, and Eric Simpkins at Trois, in Atlanta, are mixing drinks with house-made bitters.
The comeback of rye, rumored for a few years, has finally happened. Made predominantly from—what else—rye (a grass similar to wheat), this herbaceous, spicy whiskey is replacing bourbon in drinks made with high-proof, flavorful liqueurs such as Bénédictine. San Francisco’s Anchor Distilling recently released a rye called Hotaling’s, a complex, fruity whiskey aged in bourbon barrels. Heaven Hill Distilleries in Kentucky has brought out a special bottling of 21-year-old Rittenhouse. And Hurricane Katrina fund-raisers are reinforcing the need to promote classic New Orleans cocktails, such as the rye-based Sazerac.
Ten years ago, bartenders rinsed their martini glasses with inexpensive, generic vermouth and then dumped it out before mixing the drink. Now there are plenty of dry and sweet vermouths on the shelves that deserve to stay in the glass—including Carpano, Noilly Prat and Boissiere. Because he hated to see expensive spirits mixed with cheap vermouth, Andy Quady of Quady Winery in Madera, California, has begun making both a sweet and a dry vermouth under the label Vya. Mixologists are pairing vermouths such as Carpano Antica Formula with bittersweet spirits such as Campari and Cynar.