In a nutshell, the divide breaks this way: East Coast bartenders are heavily influenced by the classics, while West Coast bartenders are more likely to utilize fresh, seasonal produce from the farmers market to craft unique drinks.
The Midwest is typically left out of this discussion, but with the release of her new book, Market-Fresh Mixology: Cocktails for Every Season, Chicago bartender Bridget Albert plants herself squarely in the West Coast school of drink.
Taking freshness as her mantra, Albert (and co-author Mary Barranco) work through the seasons, presenting produce-laden drinks such as a bright Strawberry Rhubarb Collins for spring and a Cinnamon Fig Sidecar for autumn. In addition to cocktail recipes, Albert presents infusion suggestions and recipes for ingredients such as spiced syrups and homemade cocktail onions.
I had my own taste of Albert's drinks at Tales of the Cocktail last summer, where she prepared a raspberry shrub syrup using fresh raspberries, sugar, and white-wine vinegar, mixed with cachaca, lime juice, and ginger ale. Her talent mixing spirits with fresh fruit was on clear display that day, and the recipes in Market-Fresh Mixology bear this out.
I have to admit that in my personal tastes, I prefer the more classically oriented so-called East Coast style of drinks, but when presented with cocktails such as a Meyer Lemon Southside, I can see myself flirting with the Left Coast approach.
What are your preferences for fresh fruit and other produce in cocktails? Are you more the evergreen gin-and-vermouth type? Or up for knocking a little fresh pear or other seasonal fruit into your cocktail shaker?
About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.