Best Cocktail Trends of 2014

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It was a strange year for cocktails. We saw Jell-O Shots go high end, with bartenders putting Pappy Van Winkle into the mix, and there was an auspicious rise of the “Pickleback,” where drinkers followed shots with smaller shots of pickle juice. Like I said, strange. But some good things happened too. More bars took it upon themselves to supply their own bitters, hops made it into booze, and we saw comebacks from sherry and mezcal. Here then, are our favorite Cocktail Trends of 2014.

Hop Cocktails

Hops aren’t meant just for the pint glass. Aside from beer, more and more bartenders have been experimenting with the bitter and floral botanical to round out their cocktails, using products such as hops bitters by Bittercube and Anchor Distilling Company’s Hophead vodka, a spirit distilled using the same hops Anchor puts in its beers. Earlier this year, bar manager E Jay Apaga, at Black Jack bar in D.C., made a hop tonic with cascade hops for his “Gin + Chronic,” a riff on a G and T made with gin, hop tonic, sugar and citric acid, which he then lit on fire for a charred, smoky effect. —Marissa Hermanson

Homemade Bitters

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If we have learned anything from the current craft cocktail boom, it’s that people have developed an appreciation for the process of cocktail making almost as much as the result. We seek out small batches. We infuse. We garnish. We muddle vigorously. Even our ice cubes are artisanal. So it only makes sense that bitters receive a similar treatment. Angostura and Peychaud’s will always be essential in any serious bar set up, but as bartenders and amateur enthusiasts strive for more unique flavors, a batch of homemade bitters is another way to make a cocktail stand out. The process of steeping and tincturing isn’t difficult as much as it is prolonged — some recipes take weeks to complete — so patience and a proclivity for experimentation is required. The results are worth the wait. Flavors can be dialed in to perfectly complement any spirit. Basic recipes are easy to find on the web, and most of the ingredients should be available in the bulk section of your local co-op or natural food store. —Jim Sabataso

Sherry Cocktails

Sherry, a complex and dynamic white fortified wine produced in Spain’s Andalusia region, has recently become a popular cocktail ingredient. At Republic in Maryland, the Flannel Pig is made with Pig’s Nose Blended Scotch, Dolin Génépy, Alexandro Moscatel Dulce Sherry, and garnished with three slices of Angostura-soaked apples. At James Beard award-winning chef Michael Schlow’s newcomer Tico in D.C., the P90X, a twist on a Manhattan, is made with Rye Whiskey, Pedro Ximenez Sherry (instead of Vermouth) and Angostura and orange bitters. “Pedro Ximenez sherry brings a lot of its own character to the cocktail,” says Chad Cortner, bar manager at Tico. “The flavors of stewed fruit, raisin and almond play with the rye whiskey unlike any vermouth could.” Sherry isn’t a fad though. There are places that have made this dry wine their calling, such as D.C.’s Mockingbird Hill, which pours coffee by day and sherry by night.—Marissa Hermanson

Maple Water Cocktails

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In the last year, the Northeast has started producing its own version of coconut water: maple water. This delicately sweet and slightly syrupy drink is sold by brands Drink Maple and Vertical Water, and can be found at Whole Foods and Sprouts. If you don’t live near one of those stores, then most likely a high-end bar in the city has it to mix with cocktails. The savory water provides an excellent balance for sweet and sour drinks. Its taste and color lend it to blend well with brown spirits. And as for maple water at breakfast, well there is that old saying “it’s happy hour somewhere.” For two recipes, try the Figaro or the Maple Fizz (below), courtesy of BLT Prime New York and BLT Steak New York. -Madina Papadopoulos

Courtesy of BLT Prime New York
1.5 oz Woodford Reserve
.5 oz triple sec
1 oz fig infusion
1 bar spoon Maple water

Courtesy of BLT Steak New York
.5 oz Hangar One Vodka
4 oz Prosecco
.75 oz Maple-Cardamom – maple syrup mixed with water and reduced
.75 oz Belvoir Elderflower Cordial

Shake vodka maple syrup and elderflower for 10 seconds, pour into a champagne flute and top with Prosecco. Garnish with a flamed lemon peel into the glass.

The Rise of Irish Whiskey

Clearly, American whiskey, specifically rye and bourbon, has become immensely popular over the last few years, with “small batch” this and “artisanal” that being distilled in every corner of the world. But oft-ignored Irish whiskey has been creeping into the discussion as well. With well known brands like Redbreast, Powers, Bushmills, and Jameson offering various blends and ages, as well as some smaller brands like Teeling, Irish whiskey isn’t just employed as a shot to down with a Budweiser anymore. On the contrary, discerning bartenders everywhere are making sure their shelves are stocked with quality Irish whiskey (even on days that are not St. Patty’s Day) to drink straight or be used in innovative cocktails.—Jonah Flicker

Healthy Cocktails

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Ready for your acai bowls and wheatgrass shots to come in alcohol form? It’s not quite that easy, but health cocktails have definitely hit new feel-good highs in 2014. Look for healthy mimosas at brunch spots around the country, offering pomegranate, goji, mangosteen and carrot in addition to the average orange juice option. Need protein? Cocktails with egg whites (think sours and fizz variations) make for beautifully frothy and light drinks and save you the trouble of checking your cholesterol. And don’t forget ginger, the stomach soother making a huge splash this year. Look for cocktails using the root, syrup, and ginger beer out there to settle even the most rumbly tummy.—Laurie Delk

Mezcal Cocktails

Put down that tequila and pick up a bottle of Mezcal. This agave-based cousin is roasted instead of steamed or baked, giving it its telltale smoky profile. Mezcal enjoyed a renaissance in 2014 with mixologists, particularly those in Southern California and border states. It’s no surprise with the rise in popularity of Scotch, Rauchbiers, and cigar culture, that Mezcal is all about the smoke. Start with twists on the Margarita and Paloma for starters, then get adventurous and substitute Mezcal for gin, or even bourbon for a new kind of Julep. Nowhere near Mexico? Get your agave on at the famous Mayahuel in New York, and their 20+ Mezcal cocktail choices.—Laurie Delk