As the grey days of the post-holiday slump pass, evenings out are once again becoming a priority. With new seasons come new trends, and in the lead-up to summer we’re starting to see brand new cocktails and interesting flavors emerge in bars and restaurants throughout Europe and beyond.
It seems that the recent nostalgia for the “good old days” and “simpler times” has struck bartenders too, with archaic tastes making a surprisingly strong comeback. Vermouth, once reserved for martinis and manhattans, has come into its own.
While it used to be used as a mixer to sweeten the central spirit, it’s become a popular aperitif as of late, and is now being used as the key ingredient in a number of fresh cocktails. A fortified wine flavored with an array of botanicals, it could almost qualify as a cocktail in its own right. It typically comes in three categories: dry, sweet blanc and sweet rosso.
One big reason it’s making a comeback is its low alcohol content, which makes it popular amongst the health-conscious crowd. Its botanical flavorings also keep it in line with this season’s trend for greenery.
For a simple and sweet flavor to impress your guests at your next cocktail party, try Serious Eats’ straightforward Vermouth Cocktail. All it takes is sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, simple syrup, Angostura bitters and a lemon peel for garnish. Rich, quick and delicious.
Taking the health kick one step further, another of the season’s trends is the no-alcohol cocktail, otherwise known as the mocktail. With an increasing demand for alcohol-free alternatives, bars are upgrading their mocktails from afterthoughts to main events.
As well as saving on unhealthy ingredients and calories, the absence of alcohol allows greater scope for other flavors. Bartenders are becoming more creative with their choice of juices, and new tastes are being introduced. Floral notes such as hibiscus and rose are becoming particularly popular, while other recipes toy with more decadent flavors such as milk and honey
If you’re looking for a drink so indulgent that your guests will forget it doesn’t contain any alcohol, try out Febfast’s Caramel Apple Pie Mocktail. It’s a delicious mix of alcohol-free apple cider, caramel syrup, cinnamon, apples and rosemary, with sparkling water for texture and brown sugar for seasoning.
Another trend in new cocktails that perhaps speaks to the waning popularity of hard alcohol is the rise of tea infusions. Flavors such as jasmine, chai and even matcha have become fixtures on trendy bar menus, and many style-conscious venues even serve them up in elegant porcelain teacups. It ties in well with the vintage fashion that’s taking hold of city nightlife, with speakeasies and gin joints popping up all over London and New York.
While some new cocktail recipes simply call for tea-inspired flavors, others use tea itself. In these cases, the tea needs to be brewed and chilled before it’s ready to use. Fruit teas make natural partners to alcohols such as gin because of their light, refreshing taste. Sharper flavors such as matcha can be added to creamy liqueurs in order to take the edge off the sweetness.
For an elegant end to your own dinner party, serve up the Chatelaine Earl Grey Cocktail. You’ll need simple syrup, lemon juice, peach bitters, egg whites, gin, lavender and, of course, earl grey tea bags.
Italians might laugh at the idea of spritz as a new trend, but much of the world’s bar scene is just catching up to this refreshing drink.
The bitter-sweet, syrupy taste of aperol lightened up with sparkling white wine makes beautiful cocktails that serve as great daytime drinks - which is perfect for the upcoming summer season. It’s another low-alcohol-content drink, so is better suited to a leisurely afternoon spent in a beer garden than a wild night out.
In Italy, spritz is typically served with light nibbles such as breadsticks, olives or crisps. Next time you’re hosting an afternoon get-together, try out a platter of snacks accompanied by a simple Aperol Spritz recipe for an easy yet elegant affair. All you’ll need is aperol, prosecco and a splash of soda.
In-keeping with the season’s trend for health-conscious but creative new cocktails, the pomegranate spritzer makes an appearance on a number of bar menus this season.
A food popularized in Europe thanks to Arabic influences, pomegranates are often associated with an air of exoticism. As such, they make drinks feel more decadent and add something memorable to an evening.
As a taste, they’re light and refreshing but with just enough tartness to balance out any sweet syrups. They’re perfect for those who want to enjoy the flavor of their alcohol but with a twist that takes the hard edge off. Citrus fruits such as lemons and limes make great complementary flavors.
For a quick, easy and tasty pomegranate spritzer, try the Food Network’s Pomegranate Lemonade Spritzer recipe. It uses the eponymous ingredients as well as sugar and seltzer water.
The agave plant is the bartender’s favorite this season. To most of us, that means tequila, but the plant is also harvested for its nectar, which can then be diluted into agave syrup to be used as a mixer in new cocktails.
It also supplies a varied range of mezcal spirits - the family to which tequila belongs - as well as the newer-to-the-scene sotol, bacanora and raicilla. While these have been incorporated into Mexican menus in the past, they’re now hitting the mainstream across Europe and beyond.
The wider range of agave on offer means more mixers to choose from. While sotol and tequila pair well with crisp, fruit flavors, mezcal and raicilla can balance richer mixers.
For a sweet, after-dinner taste that’ll cleanse your palate, try agave nectar in Yummly’s Cucumber Cooler. It includes vodka, lime, mint and, of course, cucumbers, topped off with bitters.
Alternatively, for a sharper, evening drink, sip on Tales of the Cocktail’s Raicilla Siesta, which uses raicilla, campari, grapefruit juice, lime juice and simple syrup.
There’s a lot of new recipes to sample this season, but sometimes you just can’t beat the classics.
From James Bond to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the martini is so ingrained in our bar culture so as to have become a pop culture icon. And with the resurgence of vermouth and the growth of gin, it’s only becoming more popular.
One development in the classic recipe is the variety of gins used. Independent distilleries have become increasingly trendy, and so subtle notes and unique twists are breathing new life into a classic drink.
The interest in new flavors is also influencing time-honored recipes, and it’s not unusual now to see not just a martini on a menu but a martini menu, with a range of fruity twists to choose from.
For a unique take on a martini to get your guests talking, try The Guardian’s recipe for a Pine and Burnt Orange Martini. You’ll simply need pine-infused gin, dry vermouth and orange rind.
It seems 2017 is a year for experimentation, with a variety of new cocktails full of syrups, spirits and mixers on the table. We’ll drink to that!