Cocktail Trends, and When They End

In my day job as a reporter who covers the menswear business, I remember seeing skulls everywhere in 2007: on ties, t-shirts, scarves, hats, shoes, belts — everywhere. I asked a guy who had a tie line back then if he thought maybe the whole skull thing was getting a little tired. “I’m sick of them, and you’re sick of them, but my customers can’t get enough of them!” he said. Years later, I’m still seeing the damn skulls. Sure, it’s slowed down (mercifully) but skulls have not gone away.

I was reminded of this the other day when I read Portland, Oregon-based bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s blog: “I know that cocktail carbonation is the hot new thing right now, but if someone hands me another carbonated Manhattan I’m going to cry into it, I swear.”

Shit, I thought. He’s tired of carbonated cocktails and I’ve never even heard of this trend until now. Morgenthaler is the guy who did the most to bring barrel-aged cocktails to the American scene, so many of us on the fringes look to him for inspiration…and the next big thing. But now it’s as if the next big thing has passed without some of us being aware of it beginning. Have we reached a point where things are moving this fast in the cocktail subculture?

And then I read this blog post on the Bon Apetit site. The author went to the release party for PDT bartender Jim Meehan’s new PDT Cocktail Book and asked the guests, many of them well known bartenders, what they were tired of and what’s next. A sampling: barrel-aged cocktails, homemade bitters, rhubarb, mezcal (two bartenders said mezcal!). Damn! All things I love, things I haven’t nearly exhausted.

So what did these bartenders say was next? Well, two of them mentioned carbonation. So take that, Morgenthaler: you’re going to get a lot more sick of this trend!

Now, I can sympathize, even as a home cocktail enthusiast. I’m starting to get weary and wary of novel liqueurs, special vermouths, and exotic spirits. I’m more interested in finding really great examples of certain spirits (rye, mezcal, pisco, bourbon, blended scotch, single malt scotch, cognac) that fit my budget and mix well in cocktails. And then I’m also looking for that next step up in each category, something that tastes fantastic neat. My cocktail choices at home are starting to get simpler — I usually go for an Old Fashioned instead of attempting to recreate the more baroque cocktails that I’ll order at bars.

But I’m still into barrel aging (having aged two cocktails so far, an Applejack Old Fashioned and a Negroni) and I have yet to make my own bitters (it’s happening soon, with the help of Brad Thomas Parsons’ new book — thank you again, Kara). I’ll get around to carbonating something sooner or later.

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