Nowadays, restaurants pay just as much attention to their bar programs as they do to their food menus, which means that mixologists aren’t content to serve the same old drinks or trot out the same old tricks year after year. That’s why we’re turning our attention to trends bound to really take off in 2014, from wine on tap and an increased interest in Soju to the triumphant return of the classic cocktail.
Classic Cocktails 2.0: The fact that two of the most respected mixologists in New York (The Butterfly’s Eben Freeman and Betony’s Eamon Rockey) are currently lavishing love on throwback tipples, like the Rusty Nail and the Pisco Sour is enough to make us sit up and take notice. Check out Freeman’s stellar Brandy Old Fashioned (the state drink of Wisconsin, home of owner Michael White), made with Korbel Brandy, Orange, Maraschino Cherries, Bitters and Soda. But instead of muddling the fruit, Freeman seals it with sugar in a Cryovac machine, resulting in a highly modern oleo saccharum, or “sugar oil,” which he strains and bottles for service. Rockey also adds contemporary flair to traditional libations, like the Shandy (essentially beer topped with lemonade or soda) by basing it after Betony’s Almond and Apricot dessert; resulting in a Pilsner-based beverage with nutty housemade Orgeat, sweet Apricot Liqueur and tart Sherry Vinegar.
Soju Sojourn: With the rising popularity of Korean food and flavors, it hardly comes as a surprise that their native distilled beverage, Soju, is starting to build up steam behind the bar. Danny Bowien features it in two distinct cocktails at his buzzworthy new Mexican spot, Mission Cantina; check out the “Lil’ Luche” with Pineapple, Yuzu, Spices and Calpico (a Japanese soft drink), and the “Como la Flor” with Cantaloupe, Orange, Mint and Prosecco. And rice liquor fans will more than get their fill at Ed Schoenfeld’s Peking Duck house and cocktail lounge, dubbed Decoy, if they order the “Triple Luck,” a round of three specialty Soju cocktails mixed with Guava Puree, Rhubarb, and Jasmine Peach Tea. We’re game.
Cider House Rules: Cider is hardly a new phenomenon, but until recently, bar options were pretty much limited to bottles of Woodchuck, or Scrumpy Jack on draft. But if New York Cider Week is any indication (a cider-centric celebration that debuted last year), “apple wine” is experiencing quite a renaissance. And the growing interest is definitely reflected on restaurant menus around town, with cider selections even outnumbering beer options at several spots. Take The Queens Kickshaw in Astoria, which regularly pours over 60 unique brands — from the semi-sweet “Christian Drouin Pays d’Auge” from Normandy to Oregon’s crisp “Wandering Aengus Wanderlust.” And Daniel Boulud has an entire page dedicated to globally produced ciders at DBGB Kitchen & Bar, including the funky “Cidre Bouche Brut” from France, fruity “Browns Lane” from the United Kingdom, and the mossy “Castañon” from Spain.
Malört Goes Mainstream: Ma-what? Hot on the heels of an odd, new obsession with almost unpalatably bitter drinks (i.e. Fernet Branca), comes this notorious, wormwood-infused liquor, seldom seen outside of Chicago. The Windy City’s own Letherbee Distillers debuted their intense, 100-proof spirit (quite literally described as tasting like a cross between gasoline and vomit!) at both Mother’s Ruin in Nolita and Dram Bar in Brooklyn this summer. And like it or not, something tells us we’re going to be seeing the throat-searing Malört popping up on a number of risk-taking New York bar menus in the coming year.
Wine on Tap: Before you dismiss tap wine as being one step above vino from a box, visit respected restaurants like Ken Friedman & April Bloomfield’s The Breslin, which proudly offers four dedicated draft lines filled with seasonally changing options, like New York State Riesling and California Syrah. And other fine eateries are quickly jumping on the keg trend, which is a lot more environmentally friendly and price-effective than popping bottles. There’s Michael White’s Osteria Morini (which has two Italian varietals on spigot), Josh Capon’s Burger & Barrel (featuring several selections from the Red Hook Winery), and Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem, currently dispensing glasses of Cabernet Franc and Pinot Grigio for $10 each.
Tea Time: Tea isn’t just for little old ladies or fighting off colds anymore. Restaurants like Parm are working the genteel elixir into a few exceedingly alcoholic libations, like the “Chinatown Sling” with tea-infused Gin, Cherry and Aperol. Public in Nolita uses iced Rooibos in their “Pimm’s Lychee Tea,” muddled with fresh Lychee, Vermouth and Simple Syrup, and Todd Mitgang embraces tea at his recently opened New Orleans-inspired eatery, Bo’s; we love the easy-drinking “Antebellum” with Bourbon, Blood Orange Tea, Lemon and Mint.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We can’t wait to see what else New York’s most influential mixologists will be shaking up behind the bar this year!