Sunday, January 26, 2014

Tipple Trends 2014 - Spotted at Tales of the Cocktail - New Orleans

Every year in the sweltering heat, the cocktail industry swarms the city of New Orleans, drinks their body weight in cocktails, and then leaves, slightly damaged with a few more (or maybe a few less) memories.  Tales of the Cocktail is hands down the most important event of the year, the place where brands launch products, where cocktail gurus unveil new discoveries, and where you can rub elbows with everyone from brand owners, to brand ambassadors, to master distillers, to legendary authors and bartenders, all paddling around in the Hotel Monteleone Rooftop pool whilst sipping on a tipple.  Tales is without a doubt the best place to meet people in the industry, discuss and taste new projects, and share ideas.  The week of Tales of the Cocktail is always the highlight of my year, not only because it's so much damn fun, but because I learn so much.

Tales of the Cocktail HQ - Photo via Wikipedia
Countless amazing products and ideas were unveiled at this year's Tales of the Cocktail, and as to be expected, they are already becoming big trends within the drinks world.  Without further ado, here's my list of Tipple Trends of 2014, all born at Tales of the Cocktail.  

1.  Bottled Cocktails:  Everyone is buzzing about Bottled Cocktails right now, and with good reason.  They are extremely popular at busy bars since they are great to bottle up ahead of time, thus taking pressure off of bartenders.  We've seen bottled tipples for a few years now, most notably at Saxon + Parole, the New York City bar that won Best Restaurant Bar Program at this years Spirited Awards.  One of my favorite bottled cocktails I had during Tales was Naren Young's concoction made for the Absolut Vodka party, and contained Absolut Citron, Aperol, Pink Grapefruit Juice, Lime Juice, Agave, Orange Flower Water, and Sparkling Water.

Naren Young's Bottled Aboslut Cocktail
While not a completely new trend, Tony Conigliaro was notably the first in recent years to make bottled cocktails, paving the road with his bottle-aged Manhattans in his London bar, 69 Colebrook Row.  More bartenders are getting on the bandwagon, London bar White Lyan serve only in house bottled cocktails. 

Where the trend gets really exciting is with bottled cocktails for the consumer market.  At Tales last year (2012), I tasted Hochstadter's Slow & Low Rock and Rye and was blown away.  I was thrilled to see Rock and Rye on the shelf at one of my favorite bars recently, and am very impressed with the new branding of their package.  It comes in a handsome bottle with a defining neck, reminiscent of the vintage brand Jacquin's Rock and Rye.  The modern version takes 98-proof six year-old rye and macerates it with rock candy, citrus peels, horehound, and honey.  The result is delightfully delicious, it's essentially an old fashioned in a bottle.



I'm extremely excited to see what other bottled cocktail products pop onto the market in the coming years.  I believe there is a huge market for them, and are an wildly creative development within the spirits industry. 


2.  Airport Drinking:  If you're an avid spirits drinker, you probably already know that one of the best places to find limited edition releases is in Duty Free.  Travel Retail, as it's known in the industry, is an enormously growing market, especially in international airports.  I was recently in San Francisco International Airport, and I swear the Duty Free shop was the best liquor store I've ever been in.  They had a fantastic selection of rare release whiskey, rum, and tequila, priced from $50 to $4,000.  

Johnnie Walker Limited Edition ($3,498)
Airports have become luxurious shopping malls, and with millions of people passing through everyday, and it makes complete sense that brands would choose the airport as a place to showcase luxury goods.  Even if they don't buy, people will take photos and talk about the amazing rare bottle they saw at the airport (just like I did).

This year at Tales, one of the most talked about seminars was Airport Bars with Jacob Briars, Bacardi's head of education, Charlotte Voisey, Portfolio Ambassador for William Grant & Sons USA, and Doug Draper.  Although much of the seminar was spent discussing how bad airport bars generally are and "safe" cocktail options, they did name a list of their favorite airport bars.  While American airport bars have been traditionally terrible and will never hold a candle to Zurich International Airport, they are getting better and there is starting to be more exciting news of development for established restaurant favorites expanding into the airport market.  

And for in-flight cocktails, as far as I'm concerned, it's still a disaster in those friendly skies.  Stick with a Bloody Mary and you'll be fine.

TOTC Daily Bloody Mary Bar
Garnish Your Own
3.  Molecular Cocktails:  Traditionally, cocktail trends follow culinary trends, and they continue to do so today.  Molecular Gastronomy blew up a few years ago, and Molecular Cocktails continue to be a big trend within the cocktail world.  Anyone who has visited bars such as Alinea, Booker and Dax, or Ink in Los Angeles will tell you that high tech cocktails have been around for a while, but now the "toys" are becoming moderately priced enough for the home bartender.  

Tools such as a Smoking Gun or a Sous Vide have become smaller and cheaper, and cocktail books such as The Cocktail Lab by Tony Conigliaro and Craft Cocktails at Home by Kevin Liu are making methods and recipes accessible. 


One of the most exciting things I saw at Tales was the seminar Fun with Hydrocolloids with Cheryl Stanley and Douglass Miller.  This seminar walked through the different kinds of Hydrocolloids: Gelatin, Xanthan Gum, Agar, Carrageenan, and Gum Arabic, and different applications for each.  One of the served cocktails was a deconstructed Sazerac served in a gelatin Absinthe glass!   


Deconstructed Sazerac!
Meanwhile, in the Bienville Room: Sous Vide or Not to Sous Vide where Dave Thor Newman of Jim Beam was doing a side by side comparison of aged cocktails: one barrel aged, and the other aged via sous vide with charred oak chips in a fraction of the time.  An aged cocktail via sous vide takes about 72 hours, versus a minimum of 1 month in a small barrel.  The team served up White Manhattans and Boulevardiers, and it was evident that the aging process adds quite a bit to the finished cocktail.  The process helps round out the cocktail and makes it much smoother.  The cocktails that were barrel aged had a much more acidic vinegar-y taste, due to the oxidization of the vermouth.  By aging cocktails via the sous vide process, one does not risk oxidization and still gains the benefit of the aging process.  Brilliant, we say.  

A Sous Vide Boulevardier Cocktail with Charred Oak Chips
It is clear that we are going to see more of these trends as the equipment becomes smaller, cheaper, recipes become more accessible, and imbibers become more and more interested new techniques.  Get ready for more boozy marshmallows, vapor cocktails, and really delicious experimental infusions.  I, for one, am really excited about all the new toys.  

4.  Punch:  Tales of the Cocktail is a massive event, with thousands of people in attendance, all of whom know a thing or two about cocktails.  With that many people to serve, Punch is a smart option.  Easily prepared in mass, ahead of time, and it requires little to no maintenance during a party (provided one does not run out of punch).  

At almost every event there was a punch bowl or two, filled with dangerously delicious potations ranging in spirit, color, and flavor.  There were so many great punches; punches served from glistening punch bowls to punches served from trickling fountains, each seducing imbibers to partake in their deliciousness.  

Dan Warner Serves up Punch in the Absolut Garden of Good & Evil
Beefeater Punch
Four Roses Punch
A La Taylor by Jack McGarry of the Dead Rabbit and an Irish Whiskey Flight

One of my favorite punches was served at the Beefeater Juniperlooza on Satruday evening, and was created by powerhouse Julie Reiner.

Behold:

Boathouse Punch
4.5 cups Beefeater Gin
3 cups Aperol
1.5 cups St. Germain
1.5 cups Lemon Juice
1.5 cups Orange Juice
1.5 cups Grapefruit Juice
Top with one bottle of Rose Champagne
4 lemons skinned and muddled in 4 oz sugar

Garnish with Orange Wheels

Notes: Muddle Lemon peels and superfine sugar and let sit for at least 3 hours.  Combine ingredients and let sit until sugar is dissolved.  Remove lemon peels, pour into punch bowl and serve.  

Punch is probably the best party drink on the planet, and it always gets people talking.  I've seen more and more punch being served at parties, and let's face it people, we should all be drinking more punch!  Time to invest in a punch bowl, people, punch is here to stay.

5.  Out of Category Spirits: The burgeoning business of spirits has brought about many exciting developments, and the trend that I am personally excited about are Out of Category Spirits.  So what does that mean, you ask?  They are spirits made in new and innovative ways that use techniques from different methods of production.  

These spirits are showcasing the creativity of bartenders, brand innovators, and the general public who are eager to snatch up these new creations.  There are so many exciting things going on in spirits production, and many of which will not be released to the public for many years.  Absolut Vodka is breaking traditions with both its Aboslut Craft and Absolut Amber.  Absolut Craft is an innovative infused vodka created by the ever talented Nick Strangeway that has color, and has natural flavors of Smoky TeaHerbacious Lemon, and Bitter Cherry.  Your standard clear flavorless vodka, this is not.  

Nick Strangeway Serving Up a Taste of Absolut Craft Bitter Cherry
Absolut Craft Minis!
One of the most innovative spirits I had the privilege to taste was Perique Liqueur de Tabac, a Tobacco Liqueur created by Ted Breaux of Lucid Absinthe.  Perique is distilled from the rare and coveted Perique tobacco leaves grown in Louisiana.  Sadly this liqueur is not yet approved by the FDA, but European markets will be enjoying this incredible spirit that has tasting notes of smoke, green leaf, earth, oolong tea, pear, candied orange, and has the strangest sensation of making one's mouth slightly tingle.  It is fantastic served on ice with a lemon peel, and I'm confident it will make an unstoppable Manhattan.  



Another exiting spirit I tasted is Ancho Reyes by William Grant, which is an apertif made from Ancho Chilies.  It is sweet, spicy, and has some damn handsome graphics.  I'm very excited for this product to hit  the market, and will mix extremely well in Margaritas and spicy Old Fashioned Cocktails.  

Get Ready for Ancho Reyes - Ancho Chile Liqueur

In another example of the blurring of lines between spirits, I've been hearing more about whiskey being distilled in gin stills, and with new flavors being introduced to whiskeys via the "botanical basket".  I have not tasted any of these spirits to date, but the mere thought of it gets me wildly excited, and well, thirsty.  Carry on, creative distillers, carry on.  


6.  Amaro Cocktails:  Fernet, the bartender's secret handshake is in a bit of a renaissance, with many other amaros following suit.  Amaro is not only great after dinner, but also mixed into a cocktail!  I've been seeing more and more Amaro based cocktails with everything from Fernet to Zwack to Jägermeister.  All Amaros are extremely complicated spirits with many different flavors to play with, so while tricky to balance, it can be done.  

At the Jägermeister Spirited Dinner patrons were served cocktails with each course.  The highlight was the Grand Fashioned made with Jägermeister, Appleton Estate Reserve Rum, Tequila Ocho Reposado, and Burnt Sugar Syrup.  


Jägermeister Grand Fashioned
Grand Fashioned by Willy Shine

Glass: Rocks

1oz Ocho Reposado
1oz Appleton Estate
.5oz Jägermeister
1/4 oz rich demerara syrup

Stirred with an orange twist garnish and mini marshmallows garnished.

We are also seeing trends towards local harvesting and more and more vegetal flavors in cocktails.  Leopold Brothers makes a Highland Amaro that is extremely lovely, and this holiday we were seeing many pine cocktails.  One of my favorite products is a locally harvested Pine Syrup made by Dram Apothecary in Silverplume, Colorado and makes one hell of an Alpine Manhattan.  



7.  Cocktail Competitions:  Apparently, bartenders love competition.  The spirits industry has taken a sudden competitive turn putting bartenders head to head to show off their best skills.  Competitions such as Speed Rack, the Bare Knuckle Bar Fight, brand specific competitions that inspire bartenders to create cocktails that highlight a particular product, and this year Diageo hosted a the World Class U.S. competition inspired by different regions of the world.  Cocktail Competitions draw some of the young talent in the cocktail industry, and they are a great way to get bartenders and the public talking about particular products.  I have a feeling we will be seeing more of these competitions over the next few years, whether you like it or not.  

Marakesh Morning Fizz by Jeff Bell at the Diageo World Class Competition
The Boys of The Daily - Winners of the Bare Knuckle Bar Fight 2013 and Yours Truly
8.  Immersive Brand Experiences:  One of the most fun venues of Tales of the Cocktail is in the street out front of the Hotel Monteleone.  Brands drive up their branded vehicles, and proceed to serve cocktails, popsicles, and food to patrons.  The street transforms multiple times per day, at one moment it is a beach and the next a snowy mountain side.  Branded vehicles always get a lot of attention, and so do the big parties that take over historical restaurants and venues to give patrons a fully immersive brand experience.  The Absolut Vodka party at Tales of the cocktail took over the legendary restaurant Arnaud's, and occupied every nook and cranny of the entire building.  Rooms were dedicated to each facet of the portfolio: a room dedicated to punch, a room dedicated to the Cosmo, a room dedicated to Absolut Craft, and another dedicated to Absolut Elyx. 

Absolut Vodka's Take Over of Arnaud's
Absolut Elyx Room at Arnaud's
Live Music with Hennessy
House of Walker - New Orleans
House of Walker from Above
 We've seen a similar phenomenon in New York City, brands throwing massive events that last up to a month that give people a deeper experience to get to know a brand.  Johnnie Walker has notoriously been leading the front with its House of Walker program, that now extends to many national cities.

As spirits companies continue to be profitable and understand the importance of public outreach through this new format of creative brand outreach, I believe that we will only be seeing more of it in the next few years.  It helps spirits enthusiasts learn more about new products, old products, and most importantly gets people talking (and tweeting).  


Here's to 2014 and a great year for cocktails and spirits!

xxG

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