Fluorescent blues and shades of fuchsia recently illuminated the main hall of the New York Public Library at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, which kicked off under a star-flecked ceiling as dapper guests were serenated by a Gatsby-era band. The opening night gala commenced a five-day tippler showcase through New York City and Brooklyn, with everything from technical seminars to mixology classes to tiki safaris packing the schedule. Most of all, it was a chance to take stock of the ever-evolving spirits scene and toast the innovative bartenders who keep the industry fresh with classical riffs and forward-thinking renditions. What trends are dominating cocktail culture across the U.S. right now? Not surprisingly, it depends on whom you ask.
Leo Robitschek, bar manager at The Nomad and Eleven Madison Park
“I’m really into nitro-infusions right now. It’s perfect for drinks made with mints and herbs because it eliminates the bitter qualities that you sometimes get by muddling. It also works great for chocolate or vanilla bean.”
Adam Seger, Mixologist for IPIC Entertainment and Creator of HUM and Balsam Spirits
“I travel extensively and see nothing hotter right now than Vermouth. With the renaissance of classic and pre-prohibition cocktails, Vermouth takes a staring role. Manhattans and Negroni's have never been hotter and places like the cutting edge Tavernita in Chicago even have sweet and dry vermouth on tap. I see bars coast to coast upgrading their house Vermouths as well as bringing in the best of the best like Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Dolin Blanc and Carpano Antica. The mixologists who matter are behind this and this is a trend that is not going away anytime soon.”
Tobin Ellis, owner of BarMagic of Las Vegas, a hospitality design & consulting firm working with major Vegas hotels and casinos
“Approachability is manifesting itself in concept development, where the birth of the "cocktail dive bar" has given us hope that we can all show up to a great watering hole in jeans and flip flops and enjoy a Negroni and some Johnny Cash. There is a growing segment of the craft cocktail world that is finally realizing we are not curing cancer, and to stop taking everything so seriously.”
Robert Ferrara, head bartender at Swine Southern Table & Bar
“The trend that I am really doing is just keeping it simple. Using the highest quality spirits and the freshest ingredients. Being in Miami it's pretty much summer all year round, so we have awesome citrus, fruit, veggies, and herbs. I’m especially into the classic 50-50 gin martini: equal parts Plymouth Gin & Dolin Dry Vermouth with a couple drops of orange bitters and a lemon twist. A properly made martini is a beautiful thing.”
Jacques Bezuidenhout, head mixologist for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants
“At Jasper's Corner Tap in San Francisco, they have been offering a Negroni on tap for a couple of years now. I love how this program brings attention to this cocktail. Cocktails on tap are great for bringing awareness to a drink as well as ensuring consistency and can help with speed of service.”
Charleston, South Carolina
Jackson D. Holland, general manager at Cocktail Club
“Here in the south we are still doing things "farm to shaker" and really using the bounty of products available year round in the south. Canning and pickling are southern traditions, so we will have jams (strawberry basil, peach habanero) that we make and use in drinks, and pickles (okra, hot peppers, cakes, zucchini) as well. That's how I grew up eating and how I continue to think about cocktail creating.”
Nate Storey is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter at @StoreysTL.