The Way We Drank: Cocktail Trends of 2012

Cocktail 101

All the basics of the bar.

Tradition in San Francisco [Photographs: Wes Rowe]

It's time to look back at the year that was, and the way we drank. In 2012 we noticed three prominent trends relating to cocktail preparation and service: carbonated cocktails, bottled cocktails, and cocktails on tap. Other trends focused on new ingredients: savory additions inspired by the kitchen, cocktail ingredients aged individual in barrels, and new domestic liqueurs, digestifs, and aromatized wines. We've also seen a movement toward making drinks more fun, with throwback cocktails and the rise of soda-fountain inspired cocktails.

Carbonated Cocktails


Carbonated Negroni [Photograph: Alice Gao]

Though carbonated cocktails started popping up a year or so ago, they really started to take hold in 2012. Using a Perlini system, a Twist-n-Sparkle, or other carbonation system, bartenders began bubbling their cocktails in growing numbers. Carbonated cocktails bring a festive and refreshing spin to happy hour, changing the texture of drinks without diluting them. Carbonated cocktails are on the menu at Clyde Common in Portland and Aviary in Chicago, to name just two.

Bottled Cocktails


Bottled cocktails at Empire State South in Atlanta [Photograph: Erin Zimmer]

I'm listing this separately because not all carbonated cocktails are bottled, and not all bottled cocktails are carbonated. Bottled cocktails allow bartenders to batch up drinks in advance and serve them more quickly than if they're mixed to order. Bars serving bottled cocktails include Harry Denton's Starlight Room in San Francisco and The Daily in Manhattan.

Cocktails on Tap


The San Fran Spout at The Wayland in NYC. [Photograph: Jessica Leibowitz]

We've seen more and more wine on tap in recent years, and now draft cocktails are turning up all over the United States. Again, they offer bartenders the chance to batch up drinks in advance and pull a glass on demand. There's some debate over whether this superfast service is always a good thing for cocktail craft, but we'll leave that to you to decide. Tavernita in Chicago is one of many bars offering draft cocktails, and in an interview with Class Magazine, Tavernita's head bartender, Scott Huth, describes the aims and challenges of the program.

Culinary Cocktails


Savory cocktails at Neta in NYC [Photograph: Alice Gao]

As we predicted last year, savory cocktails took a leap forward in 2012, going beyond the sherry and mezcal cocktails of previous years. At New York's Neta, for example, Aaron Polsky created a cocktail menu that's geared strongly toward food pairings. He uses kelp, bonita, and sauteed mushrooms in his drinks. Vie, in Chicago, makes a cocktail based on an okra shrub. Savory cocktails aren't for everyone, but they're certainly expanding our idea of what a cocktail can and should be.

Barrel Aged Ingredients


[Photograph: Anthony Todd ]

Last year, we saw barrel-aged cocktails rolling out across the country, (à la Jeffrey Morgenthaler) but this year bar managers went further, barrel-aging individual ingredients before blending into a cocktail or serving straight. Seattle's Tavern Law provides a great example of this, aging gin in barrels before mixing it into cocktails. (Ever had aged gin? It's delicious. A few independent distilleries are aging gin now, and France's Ferrand cognac house barrel ages some releases of its Citadelle gin.) At Tradition in San Francisco, cocktails incorporate rum they're aging in a barrel rinsed with Ardbeg 10, and a rye finished in a barrel that's been washed in Green Chartreuse.

Domestic Exotics

This year marked the expansion of a trend I find especially exciting, which is the domestic production of such traditionally European ingredients as vermouth and Fernet. Of course, producers such as Vya and Imbue have been making domestic vermouth for a few years now, but this year saw new entries into the category, such as Brooklyn's Uncouth Vermouth. Perhaps even cooler was the entry by Denver-based Leopold Brothers into the Fernet category with its Fernet Leopold, which Drinks Editor Maggie Hoffman reviewed here.

Throwback Cocktails


A revamped Harvey Wallbanger [Photograph: JL Studios]

In the Making Drinking Fun Again category, we've seen a resurrection of a mid-century cocktail or two. Most notably, bartenders are reexamining and resurrecting drinks such as the Harvey Wallbanger, spurred on by Galliano's decision to reformulate its classic liqueur. (Robert Simonson has traced the drink's genesis, at least as closely as anyone can.) This might be too early and too limited thus far to be a full-blown trend, but perhaps it'll pick up steam in 2013.

Soda Fountains


Soda fountain cocktails at The Corner Store in San Francisco [Photographs: Wes Rowe]

Spurred by Fix the Pumps, a book by Canadian bar-chemist Darcy O'Neil, many bartenders are turning to soda-fountain techniques to inspire new cocktails. The recently opened Portland Penny Diner in Oregon serves boozy egg creams, spiritous hot chocolates, and freshly made non-alcoholic sodas. There's also The Ice Cream Bar and The Corner Store in San Francisco.

White Whiskey

And now for two trends that Just Will Not Die.

First up, white dog. White whiskey's been going strong for about three years now, and I think a lot of people are beginning to tire of it. Nevertheless, now companies such as Jim Beam are entering the category, so don't expect this zombie trend to die in 2013 either.

Bizarro Vodkas

Here's a trend I want to ask to step outside so my friends and I can jump it and leave it for dead in a gutter. Bubble gum, whipped cream, glazed donuts, root beer, cotton candy, peanut butter and jelly, s'mores—t's hard to see these as anything other than minor-bait. But this is still a growing category, and I don't think it's going away soon, either.

What can we expect in 2013? Ask me again in a year, and I'll tell you.