Restaurants and bars are making mixed drinks an art form. Servers proudly hand out cocktail menus to customers nearly as quickly as they do wine lists now. But why shouldn’t they boast about the bar? Mixologists around the world are doing some amazing things with fruit, vegetables and syrups these days. The craft-cocktail movement has picked up so much steam that the James Beard Foundation added an Outstanding Bar Program category to its annual awards. Our editors pulled up a stool next to four top mixologists to discuss exciting new drinks for spring.
Tony Conigliaro: Mixologist/owner of 69 Colebrooke Row in London
What will be the big spring cocktail trends in London? At the moment, we’re looking at Greco-Roman drinks and how they used to flavor their wines with herbs, spices and honey. I think this year people are looking at simpler cocktails. They’re moving away from all the overelaborations and just making complex flavors with a few ingredients.
What ingredients do you think will be relevant this spring? I see a lot of oyster leaves around—you know, the borage family that tastes of oysters. I’ve seen a lot of fresh herb flavors, too, and we’re using a lot of pollen.
Is there a certain cocktail trend you want to see die? I don’t want to see the fun in cocktails end, but I think some people are doing kind of crazy drinks that don’t taste very good. I’d rather see really fun drinks really well worked out and put together with interesting flavors.
What spirits do you think will be big this spring? Gin is massive at the moment. You can’t get away from gin; it’s everywhere. It’s kind of the vodka of a few years ago. There are so many new gins out there. People got over their fear of it being depressing, or junipers being depressing, and actually really appreciate the flavors in gin.
Must-tries: For us, it would be a drink called the Red Amber. It’s a red amber liqueur that we’ve made from a rooibos tea with vanilla and some labdanum, which is really nice. It’s like a Kir Royale—we’ve made the liqueur, then you pour it in the glass and top it with champagne.
Must-misses: Bartenders that don’t smile. Find a smiling bartender; they’re all so much nicer.
Adam Seger: Creator of Hum Botanical Spirit, Truffle Amere by Rare Botanical Bitters Company and Bar Keep Swedish Herb Bitters; sommelier/mixologist for iPic Entertainment; based in Chicago
What will be the big spring cocktail trends in Chicago? We have had a mild winter, so I think we’ll have rhubarb early. Local handcrafted gins will be the spirit of choice with our first local produce.
What about in general? Interesting sweeteners ranging from barrel-aged maple to hickory syrup to stevia and fruit syrups. Simple syrups made from highly processed cane sugar are being replaced with less manipulated, more flavorful sweeteners.
Which ingredients will be prevalent in Chicago? Rhubarb, strawberries, mint, maple, lemon and heirloom cucumbers.
Which drink will be popular in Chicago? Late-spring boozy Arnie Palmers. I believe the trend of interesting teas being a part of punches and long drinks will continue and grow, especially moving into spring/summer.
Must-try: Anything with local strawberry-rhubarb.
Must-miss: High-fructose corn syrup.
Todd Thrasher: Sommelier/mixologist at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va.
What will be the big cocktail trends in D.C. this spring? Using local spirits. There has been a renaissance in artisan spirits, and D.C. is going to be at the center of it because of its liquor laws.
Which ingredients do you think will be popular? Herbs—rosemary and thyme.
Which spirits will be big this spring? Gin seems to always be on the forefront in the springtime. It is very floral and soft.
Must-tries: Make sure that you lighten up your spirits a bit with your mixer.
Must-misses: Snobby, arrogant and self-righteous bartenders.
Dushan Zaric: Mixologist/co-owner of Employees Only and Macao Trading Co. in New York
What will be the big spring cocktail trends in New York? Seasonal cocktails are now something that are understood, and I think it’s a given. Some bartenders are now automatically creating new drinks as the season comes around.
What are some overall cocktail trends? I think the only big trend we will see in the next few years will be the gastronomical merger of the craft-cocktail movement and the farm-to-table movement. So what you will see are the highest possible quality ingredients behind the bar and in the kitchen being offered to guests.
Do you think some ingredients will be more popular than others? Not necessarily, but I think people will now begin to use them in different ways. For example, you will see a lot of combinations of sweet and savory. People are using salt more as an ingredient for cocktails, not just on the rim for a margarita. Also, spices beyond the general cardamom, cloves, cinnamon; we’ll see a lot more saffron coming into the mix.
What spirits do you think will be big this spring? I think vodka will still be the main consumer spirit; but I think that lifestyle rums, interesting rums and tequila, for sure. And gins are slowly gaining ground on vodka. As we continue to explore the cocktail movement and bring it into a larger mainstream, I think vodka will slowly lose its dominance. I don’t think any of the other spirits have the capacity to overtake vodka at this point.
Must-tries: People should point their attention toward the aperitif cocktails, especially aperitifs that are created for warmer weather, like the Aperol Spritz or the Campari Americano cocktail.
Must-misses: Salted caramel vodkas—all that—whipped cream and angel food cake vodkas.
Photos Courtesy of iStock-Adam Seger, Ani Berbarian and Tony Conigliaro