As a tastemaker, I’m often called upon to read the tea leaves of the future and I’ve found a few items that I’d like to share to make your life and your thirst more interesting.
Here are my Cocktail Trends for 2017…
• Sherry in Cocktails: I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy a teaspoon of Dry Fino Sherry added to the top of my Gin and Tonic. Perhaps this is because the Spanish have raised the bar with regard to the humble Gin and Tonic. How do they do this? Pretty simply, by adding a teaspoon of sherry over the top of the drink. Problem solved.
• Barrell Bourbon Whiskey: If you should see a bottle of Barrell whiskey, buy it. It’s ultra rare stuff- never chill filtered, or caramel colored. This is bottled at the barrel strength, usually north of 110 Proof. This is, without adieux, the good stuff.
• Gin: Darn it I love gin. From Barr Hill, crafted from raw honey and grain to Boodles- made from all grain, to some of the variants from other countries (like Spain!), gin is hot, hot, hot. Barrel aging gin means sweeter flavors across the tongue. The coloration you see is usually from the whiskey cask speaking another language, leaching the natural color of the dark, sticky bourbon whiskey right straight into the gin. This is not just color but the rich flavors from the whiskey itself.
• Schnapps: Hmmmm. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? If so, you’re wrong. I’m absolutely not calling for you to drink that stuff that says peppermint or cinnamon on the label. Far, far from. What I am asking for you to try is a true eau de vie. One that is made on family farms all over Germany. One particular brand that I love is named Schladerer. Distilled in the Black Forest region of Germany, it deeply warms your heart. Win-Win!
• Wine: Of course I’m a wine guy from day one. And as anyone who knows wine realizes there are far more funky varieties every day on the market. I call for drinking wine made with indigenous grapes. There are quite a few wines that are made with grapes other than Cabernet or Merlot or Chardonnay. You don’t have to go overboard on price either. It’s perfectly within reason to assume that just because the price is low, it’s bad wine. Far from bad are inexpensive wines. They have few, if any advertising dollars or what I call the pretty label syndrome where the label art costs more than what is actually inside the bottle. To me this says, bad wine- stay away!
• Syrups: My work as a mixologist is hard enough- creating cocktails that are delicious takes much time. I try to get it all done, but there are some ingredients that are tough to source. That is where the burgeoning field of syrups come into play. I’ve been working with quite a few and my favorites are: Fruitations, for their evocative tangerine, cranberry and ruby red grapefruit flavors, (now available in the NYC area!), Royal Rose Syrups- I’m very fond of their handcrafted-cardamom and clove syrup when mixed into Mezan XO Jamaican Rum. I discovered recently a product named The American Juice Company and they take juices to a higher level of the freshness and quality quotient, plus their names are truly creative with Lady Lychee and Johnny Pumpkinseed standing out in my memory. Cocktail Crate is hand-making some memorable flavors including a Spiced Old Fashioned which is just lovely with Barrell Bourbon Whiskey. Try using cocktail syrups with plain seltzer water for a tasty daytime treat!
• Coffee Liqueurs: I’ve tasted so many of these recently. Seattle Distilling is doing amazing things with their far West Coast coffee. Across the globe, Bepi Tosilini from Italy is a perfect example of why we need to drink more high end coffee, corrected of course with their own grappa. I tasted a coffee liqueur from Koval that I really liked along with one from St. Georges. Each different, each unique, capturing the aromatics of the bean perfectly.
• Tea in cocktails: I’m happy to say that tea is making its way back into craft cocktails. From the most humble Japanese Macha tea mixed with an earthy Rye Whiskey, to the most exotic ‘white’ tea with a Japanese malted whisky, this traditionally after dinner slurp is suddenly hot! Don’t think about plunking a bag of Lipton into a bottle of bourbon, that’s just wrong, don’t do it! I’ve been creating cocktails with Earl Grey tea syrup and botanical gin- served iced and still others based on exotic spiced teas, mixed with fruit liqueurs for added depth and character. Tea can be served hot or cold of course, adding new dimension- bringing just the usual to the highly unusual and therefore memorable. Even the hyper-variety named Bubble Tea is of great interest to me. Those juicy tapioca pearls offer constant amusement. Add a couple ounces of Rhum Agricole (fresh sugar cane rum from Martinique) the formerly ‘kids’ drink is taken rapidly to a very adult place.
• Ice: If your ice smells like garlic pasta, you’ve failed. If your expensive bourbon whiskey tastes and smells like blue cheese, yup- you’ve failed yourself. Here is a hint. Buy new ice trays made out of silicone. Never use soap on them only some warm water. Always double boil your water or use filtered water for your ice. Put two gallon sized freezer bags over the ice cube tray and freeze as usual. I don’t get too upset about the ice being perfectly clear. Your ice must not smell like what is in your refrigerator, otherwise the point of using ice is moot.
• Adding water to your whisky (e): I do it. Others do it too. It’s ok to add a bit of water to your high proof spirits. The addition of water (by the drop) may actually make your spirits easier to drink, and what is wrong with adding a bit of water? If you enjoy it, do it! No one is scoring you.
Holiday Punch (for at least 50 if they have two drinks)
It’s quite potent: please, make sure you use all freshly squeezed juices, no excuse to use frozen or bottled juice, ever!
- 1 bottle (750ml) Mezan XO Jamaican Rum
- ½ bottle (250ml) over proof rum of your choice
- ¼ bottle (250ml) brandy of your choice
- ¼ bottle Fruitations Tangerine Soda and Cocktail Syrup
- 1 quart freshly squeezed orange
- 1 quart freshly squeezed roasted grapefruit juice (split grapefruits, sprinkle with Angostura Bitters and ‘Sugar in the Raw’, roast for 45 minutes at 400 degrees, cool and juice- you’ll need at least ten of them for this punch
- 16 oz. Ginger Beer- please use cane sugar type only- no corn syrup soda ever!
- 1 bottle good quality sparkling wine, like a Cava from Spain
- Combine all the ingredients except for the ginger beer and the sparkling wine in a large punch bowl. Chill well with an ice insert to keep from diluting.
- Add the well iced Ginger Beer and the sparkling wine just before serving.. Serve in antique teacups with an added cube of ice, if desired.