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SF Bartenders Predict What's Next in Cocktails

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Photo: exploratorium/Flickr

For over a decade, SF has been a predictor of where cocktail trends will head nationally. For example, we were early progenitors of enjoying bitter liqueurs, out-drinking the nation in Fernet years before it caught on elsewhere. But there's always the next wave to predict. Sometimes it's a trend that sticks, trickling down around the country, like moving away from speakeasies and hidden bars to high-quality drinks in casual settings. Other times, it's one that fizzles out. We asked some of the Bay Area's leading bar managers and bartenders what waves of change might be underway. Here are their responses:

Brian Felley, Big and the Love Boat: "With all the artisan liquor production and craft spirits coming to market, I see a future of product-driven cocktails produced for the masses at restaurants with communal tables, and lounge/dive hybrid bars that thrive on quality and accessibility? Nothing that feels like Disneyland or that was made famous by Portlandia."

Zachary Brian Taylor, Ziryab: "I'm seeing more smoke elements added to cocktails. I'm using smoky Lapsang Souchang tea in my Manhattan, and I've seen a few other people use that same ingredient. I also know that 25 Lusk has a cocktail with applewood-smoked orange bitters, called Smoke and Mirrors."

Tim Zohn, AQ and the forthcoming TBD: "People keep using the term low-ABV cocktail, or low-alcohol cocktail. I feel like these cocktails fit a certain niche (lunch menus, mostly), but the term has a negative connotation. Like you're not getting a 'real' cocktail. Atlanta has 'suppressors', low alcohol/end of the night cocktails, and while I respect the idea, the name never really sat right with me. Very cool though.

For TBD, I'm taking on the task of another 41 license cocktail list [AQ, which now has full liquor, opened with beer and wine only], and as my second attempt, I'm working with the idea of loophole cocktails. Basically, everything you can use to make a cocktail, without the usual suspects. I think this might be the year for the idea of a 'cocktail' to break out of the base-spirit-plus-modifiers mold, and move into an idea of crafted experience thoughtfully delivered, whatever the ingredients used. Nothing I put into any of the drinks will be a 'cheap' product, and even at three ounces, a drink will have the same amount of alcohol as a glass of wine. So can we stop calling them low-ABV already?"

Amy Currens, Farmshop Marin: "I feel the aperitivi cocktail trend gaining momentum. Guests are responsive to wanting refreshment without high alcohol. As far as going for octane, though, mezcal is being asked about more and more. Mezcal offers such an interesting range of notes to play, appealing to a lot of tequila and whiskey drinkers. There's something very masculine and mysterious, but often made into very refreshing cocktails."

Chris Lane, Ramen Shop: "The future of drinks is kind of a less-defined one right now, at least looking at it from this side of the bar. I think that cocktails will relax...they are already beginning to. As bartenders continue to push flavor profiles, plumb cocktail manuals, and spread information via online forums and blogs, the cocktail is becoming more commonplace and less stuffy. Drinks will still be elegant and by no means lazy—if anything, they will be more interesting because they will no longer be 'the pre-Prohibition drink', 'the Tiki drink', 'the molecular drink', but hopefully more the sum of all parts as such. They will be more prevalent in the corner bar and neighborhood joints, as opposed to solely being found in designated cocktail destinations. Mindfully sourced ingredients and housemade anything will be less showy and more an accepted/expected part of a culture that we as bartenders and patrons have contributed to."

Virginia Miller

· All Cocktail Week 2013 posts [~ ESF ~]

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