If the Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans last week taught me one thing, it's that your liver can take five days of abuse as long as you feed it lots of red beans and rice. (Oh ... coconut water and cat naps work well, too.)
Seriously, there was much to learn at Tales of the Cocktail. With hundreds of seminars and tasting rooms spanning five days, there wasn't just drinking involved -- though there was that, too.
So after the bags are unpacked and the almost IV-like steady drip of alcohol has seeped out of my system, what are the latest trends in spirits and cocktails we should be looking out for in Miami?
For a long time, they were just some forgotten bottle of generic brown stuff to be used in old man drinks. They've now been elevated into a must-have for your bar - along with a good shaker and few solid bottles of quality hooch. In the past week we've seen and tasted celery, cinnamon, ginger, coffee, java, orange, cardamom, cocoa, mole, and black truffle.
Essential in a Sazarac or Manhattan, they're great to play with. Try a dash of cinnamon bitters in your bourbon, a hint of ginger in your Scotch. How about a black truffle martini? One tiny bottle goes a long way and can elevate your creativity ... and your cocktails.
4. Herbals, Florals, and Veggies
There was a time when every drink was fruit flavored. Guava daiquiris, pineapple mojitos, green apple martinis ruled cocktail land. The drinks were neon colored and tasted like Skittles.
Instead of an apple martini, why not try one with the subtle taste of violet? A classic Collins is made more refreshing with cucumber essence, a Margarita pops with some jalapeno, and a bourbon drink can be dressed with a sprig of Rosemary. We've noticed a lot of bartenders "raking the cocktail through the garden" and we like the trend.
3. Experimentation and Substitution
Who says that an Old Fashioned has to be made with bourbon? Or that Pisco has to be drunk in little tiny cordial glasses? Or that rum tastes best when drowned in fruit punch? Not the bartenders I met this week. Substitute Pisco in a Bloody Mary? Absolutely! Try an aged rum in your Old Fashioned? Sure! If mixology is an art form, why not paint with all the colors of the rainbow?
Oh green fairy of lore, how we love your romantic ways, beautiful color, rituals, and (most importantly) the way you taste. For years now, New Orleans has allowed the sale of absinthe, banned since 1912 in most of the United States. Though absinthe's little cousin, pastis, has had some success, the real thing is finally sold in Florida, though not as readily available or served with a show like in the bars of NOLA. Herbal in nature, it's extremely bitter, so a sugar cube is traditionally melted down into the potable and an ice water drip is added, turning the translucent green into a supernatural cloudy color. Look closely as the water makes tendrils in the glass. That's the elusive "green fairy". By gauging the popularity of the afternoon absinthe lounge that popped up at Tales daily, the green fairy is here to stay. We're waiting for a really good absinthe lounge to pop up in Miami, but for now, The Corner and a few other bars carry the elixir.
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1. Made in the USA
Here's a quiz for you. Where does rum come from? How about gin? Vodka? If you answered the good 'ole U S of A to all three you win a teddy bear because you are correct. Increasingly, wonderfully hand-crafted spirits are being made in the U.S. There's vodka from Austin, Texas (Tito's), gin from Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Rehorst), and rum from Breckenridge, Colorado (Breckenridge). Could distilling be the very industry that turns the American economy around? We'll drink to that!