Chicago goes to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail
The Aviary’s Charles Joly was named American Bartender of the Year, Sable’s Alex Renshaw is a “bartender to watch” and we drank mint juleps for breakfast.
Some other trends I noticed:
• Sherry is cool
Sherry has a reputation as your grandmother’s favorite beverage, but perspectives on the Spanish fortified wine are finally changing. Sherry-focused bars have opened in D.C., San Francisco, and other cities, and I’m hoping Chicago isn’t far behind. There are several varieties of sherry, from bone dry to sweet, and while they’re enjoyable sipped on their own, they’re also fantastic in cocktails. Since sherry is a fortified wine, just like vermouth, expect to start seeing sherry used more frequently in manhattans, negronis and other cocktails. In Chicago, Vera has a solid sherry program, and offers occasional tasting classes, so start learning now.
• Vermouths continue to grow
A visit to the New Vermouth tasting room made me really, really excited about some of the off-the-wall vermouths being made right now. Uncouth Vermouth, a one-woman company operating out of Brooklyn’s Red Hook Winery, is making seasonal vermouths like a pungent beet eucalyptus and floral Serrano chili lavender. Oregon’s Hammer & Tongs Vermouth makes L'Afrique, an earthy, vegetal vermouth made with botanicals from North and West Africa. While there’s debate over whether all of these are true vermouths, since vermouth is supposed to have wormwood, they’re still cool. I tried each vermouth neat or over ice, and while they were light aperitifs on their own, I can see them making funky manhattans and other cocktails.
• Scotch cocktails are getting better
Of all the bad cocktails out there, bad Scotch cocktails are the worst, since I almost always would prefer to just sip it neat. Besides being the base spirit in a drink, Scotch can add a hint of smokiness to accent other spirits, and the cocktails I tried in New Orleans were much, much better than the hideous Blood and Sands I usually encounter. In various tasting rooms and seminars, Scotch was used to great effect in milk punches, fizzes, flips and even Bloody Marys.