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Mixology: Tried and true, innovation share BAR Stage spotlight

Beverage experts covered updated techniques in demonstrations

If one theme was evident at the BAR Stage this year, it was that bartenders have never had so many quality ingredients, and so much creative freedom—and that restaurant and bar patrons have never been so open to trying new drinks. Diners are more willing than ever to trust the instincts and talent of mixologists to surprise them.

Well-crafted beverages are also another way restaurants can make the guest experience memorable, Charles Joly reminded attendees.

“We are certainly in the second golden age of cocktails,” said Joly, an award-winning mixologist and co-founder of Crafthouse Cocktails. Joly’s session focused on a simply but elegantly prepared Old Fashioned—a cocktail he argued belongs on every cocktail menu, especially with the rising popularity of whiskey.

“It is absolutely on fire right now,” Joly said. “I believe it is the cocktail of the moment.” Because the drink, like many classic cocktails, only involves a few ingredients, Joly said it’s essential to focus on making sure each element is high quality, from the whiskey to the ice. And he’s not a fan of the “fruit salad” approach to embellishing the drink with oranges and cherries.

“There is nothing to hide behind, so every touch you use counts,” he explained.

Other sessions during the show focused on equally time-honored beverages: Tony Abou-Ganim, owner of The Modern Mixologist, demonstrated highballs and another session focused on boiler makers.

Jarmel Doss, assistant bar director at The Aviary, a high-concept Chicago cocktail lounge, took the BAR audience down the molecular gastronomy route with her explanation of the reverse spherification technique, an approach The Aviary employs to add texture to cocktails.

The process, first introduced at legendary Spanish restaurant El Bulli, involves creating pearls of alcohol by adding calcium lactate or calcium chloride, then submerging it in a sodium alginate bath. The chemical reaction produces small spheres that can be held until use.

“They literally ‘pop’ in your mouth,” Doss said. They pump up a drink’s visual interest and flavor as well.

The six regional finalists in this year’s Star of the Bar contest represented a third approach to mixology—modern and often playful creativity. Finalist Nicholas Shearer, a bartender at Sazzy B in Kenosha, Wis., said he prepared the Agave Getaway, a tequila-based tiki cocktail, “because I don’t think there are enough tiki cocktails, and who doesn’t like tequila?”

Shearer’s recipe combined tequila, pineapple rum, coconut rum, coconut banana syrup, demerara syrup, pineapple juice and sour mix.

Other finalists in this year’s Star of the Bar—Chad Spangler, Service Bar; Javier Arroyo, Bar Sotano; Shawn Newman, Prato; Gregory Rodriguez, Oak & Ivy; and Brian Prugalidad, Hubertus Circle—competed Monday night in the finals during the 100th anniversary celebration at TAO. The winning bartender walked away with the “Star of the Bar National Champion” title and a check for $5,000.

For more boozy ideas and inspiration, check out BAR at the Show at Lakeside Center, Lakeside Ballroom, during the Show.

This post is sponsored by The National Restaurant Association®