It’s Foodie Tuesday!
When I was a bartender in the 1980’s, cocktails were brightly coloured, syrupy-sweet concoctions finished off with a festive umbrella. It didn’t take much talent to serve drinks, unless you wanted to add some flair to your technique like Tom Cruise in the eponymous movie.
But just as food has undergone a revolution in the last few decades, so has the development of the cocktail. Bartenders are taking cues from chefs to create well-balanced libations with ingredient lists that often read like recipes from restaurants and include herbs, fruits and vegetables, and even bacon.
Bars like Please Don’t Tell in New York created truly individual drinks, like the Bacon-Infused Old Fashioned. Ironically, while the flavour profiles of these cocktails are extremely modern (and follow similar food trends), many are based on pre-Prohibition era favourites, like manhattans, gimlets, and punch bowls (nothing like your mother’s punch, I promise you). And keeping with the history of these drinks, many modern cocktail bars are set up like private clubs, such as the Toronto Temperance Society (which has a $285 membership fee) or 1920’s speakeasys, hidden away from the general public.
(Bar Chef’s Vanilla Hickory Smoked Manhattan Photo: Intelligent Bartender)
Hunting down these places is often well worth it, as much to experience the mixologists’ creations as the atmosphere. Take Bar Chef’s molecular menu, which reads like the alcoholic version of a Top Chef episode; their Vanilla Hickory Smoked Manhattan arrives under glass, the namesake smoke infusing the drink before your eyes. But craftsmanship like this comes at a price- most cocktail bars charge at least 15 dollars per drink and the aforementioned manhattan is a whopping 45 bucks!
(Photo: Atomic Books)
To recreate these artistic concoctions at home, pick up a copy of The American Cocktail which includes 50 recipes from some of the best bartenders in the country. Don’t worry, none of them involve trapping smoke under glass, though the ingredient lists can get a little long. The results are worth it though and your guests will be much more impressed than if you poured a boring old gin and tonic.
Most of the recipes include spirits that are readily available in liquor stores and produce from your standard grocery store (or even better, local farmers’ market). In some cases, specialty ingredients are called for, like flavoured bitters. Fee Brothers is a popular brand with a wide assortment of flavours to enhance traditional cocktails or to create your own masterpiece. The more adventurous home-based foodie can even make homemade bitters.
(Tequila and Sage Smash, Photo: Huffington Post)
Creating cocktails like this can be an expensive proposition, so you might want to start slow by brightening the flavour of more traditional drinks with herbs. The Huffington Post provides a list of 5 herbaceous libations, including the simply delicious Tequila and Sage Smash.
Interested in keeping up with cocktail culture? Check out Imbibe, a magazine which provides the latest information on “liquid culture.” Or get Food & Wine’s new Cocktail app, which lets you search recipes by the alcohol that you have on hand or hunt down the best bars to try the latest and greatest cocktails in your area. Cheers!