Cocktail trends you need to know for 2017

06 January, 2017 by Stefanie Collins

Bartender extraordinaire Fred Siggins tackles the cocktail trends that you really need to know about in this exclusive column.

Poking my head into the bars of Australia to see what’s on the bubble is one of the great pleasures of my job. I’m consistently impressed by the creativity and innovation happening on cocktail lists all over, and having judged a few comps and travelled a bit lately, there are some trends developing that are worth taking note of. Here are some of the best and most interesting things I’ve seen to watch out for.

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COCKTAIL OMAKASE

There’s a small but persistent trend developing in bars in The United States towards cocktail omakase – derived from the theatrical and intimately personal experience at high-end sushi restaurants where you relinquish control and the chef creates a surprise tasting of the night’s dishes. At bars like New York’s Amor y Amargo and L.A.’s The Walker Inn, selecting the omakase option will get you a series of drinks over the course of your evening, essentially taking you on a journey of the bartender’s creation.

The idea is a natural extension of several things we’ve already seen, including the Bulletin Place style of changing the menu daily based on seasonal ingredients, the “bartender’s choice” option now a staple of good cocktail bars, and Speakeasy Group’s cocktail degustations (differing from the latter in that it’s more about the drinks than pairing with food, and you don’t need to book a whole table).

It’s a great opportunity to play with lower alcohol products and more savoury flavours to avoid sugar and booze overload over the course of several drinks. It can also be a fantastic way of showcasing a particular seasonal ingredient in several different ways – a technique our own Curtis Stone has made a name for himself doing at his LA restaurant Maude. Australia’s obsession with native and seasonal ingredients seems the perfect inspiration for a few cocktail omakases of our own.

TIKI TIME!

I probably don’t need to tell you this, but Tiki is back in a big way. From the opening of new venues like Pretty Mama in Melbourne and Sydney’s upcoming Tsunami Joe’s, to Tiki-focused cocktail comps, to the inclusion of Tiki drinks on industry-leading menus from Baxter Inn to Black Pearl, tropicana has come out of the dark days of syrup-laden shame and into the light of the modern  craft cocktail.

Bartenders across Australia have also come to realise that our customers don’t always want a Hanky Panky, or the hanky wanky that often comes with boozy, bitter and esoteric classics. They want fun, freshness and escapism – something Tiki offers in spades.

We’ve also got guys like Jeff “Beachbum” Berry publishing amazing tomes of Tiki knowledge (his smartphone app is awesome, too), doing the same for tropical drinks that Wondrich did for pre-prohibition classics. And with all that knowledge to back us up, plus access to amazing tropical fruit, Australia is set to take its rightful place as a haven of tropical goodness.

HIGH-BALLIN’

The 1970s American highball is one of the great mixed drink categories, but they’ve seen little action in the third wave cocktail revolution. These drinks like the Cape Codder, the Harvey Wallbanger and the Bay Breeze are ripe for an update, and could easily come to represent a key part of any good bar’s business model.

The main benefits are cost and booze.

They’re not as pricey as a full cocktail, and you can knock back a few without leaving your legs at the bar. The problem with cocktails is that they’re delicious (and super easy to drink if the ‘tender knows what they’re doing).

I can’t even count how many times I’ve received my frosty daiquiri to realise only minutes later that I’ve just killed $18 and several hundred thousand brain cells. And while a G&T, wine or beer can feel mundane at a nice bar, highballs can still have the fun and intrigue of a full cocktail if there’s some creativity involved.

Highballs are also a great way to get wary consumers exploring the back bar and trying new things. While they may not be willing to take a punt on a $24 Pisco or mescal cocktail, offer them a $12 highball and watch them get excited.

PS-40 is already leading the charge (pun intended), offering their range of house-made sodas with a nip of house spirits for high-falutin’ high-ball action, and down south Waterslide Bar has a highball section in the list with both old-school and original creations.

COFFEE SEE, COFFEE DO

It’s funny, y’know, after years of making fun of the Aussie obsession with espresso martinis, one of America’s latest trends is the resurgence of coffee-based cocktails. Maybe it’s because they’ve finally figured out how to make a decent drop. As the obsession with quality coffee picks up steam all over the world, there’s more crossover than ever between barista and bartender.

In pursuit of the perfect coffee shot, baristas now painstakingly control every aspect of the process, from the pH, temperature and pressure of the water to the exact weight and coarseness of the grind. The guys at White Lyan have already taken to weighing rather than measuring their ingredients for increased accuracy and consistency, so don’t be surprised to see others follow suit.

Cold drip has also made its mark in the bar world, bringing coffee to bars that can’t be assed with espresso machines and offering myriad opportunities for cold infusions of anything you can pick, grind or filter.

Twenty Seven bar & restaurant in Miami (from the same group who brought us Broken Shaker), are doing just that with a cold dripped cocktail on their menu that changes monthly.

Next challenge: get new-make whisky to taste aged by filtering it through various dry ingredients.

SALTY DOG

The older I get, the less interested I am in sweet things, and the more I get obsessed with chemical flavours like salt, sulphur and slate.

Lucky for me, judicious pinches of sodium chloride are becoming de rigueur on the cocktail scene.

Salt’s not just for your Bloody Marys and Margaritas anymore, with briney numbers aplenty like James Crinson’s winning entry for Bacardi Legacy NZ this year, the Te Anaka. Honeyed and sweet, the drink is finished with a spray of sea-salt and lemon brine, perfectly balancing the sweetness and counteracting the off-putting smell of eggwhite.

On the other hand, a dish of smoked salt presented to judges at The Perfect Blend Victorian finals alongside Mason Terrett’s delicious take on an Old Fashioned enhances rather than mitigates sweetness. A pinch on the tongue before a  sip of the drink kicks the palate into high gear instantly, brings out all the sherry and fruit characteristics of the whisky, and turns an otherwise simple drink into a real experience.

More please.