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Trends from Tales of the Cocktail 2012

A cavalcade of bedraggled and happy mixologists, brand reps and cocktail enthusiasts staggered off to the airport with bags full of samples, recipes and new ideas after Tales of the Cocktail wrapped up its 10th anniversary of seminars, parties and tastings on Sunday, July 29. Here’s a roundup of some of the trends, flavors and new products showcased at the event.

Brunch cocktails
This should come as no surprise, with the growing number of restaurants adding a morning daypart, even if only on the weekends. Milk punch, sparkling wine cocktails, fruit liqueurs and spiked juices, even the occasional coffee-based concoction were there, along with variations of the Corpse Reviver (aka “What to Drink the Morning After You’ve Been Drinking”).

Asian flavors
Ginger: Beer, ale, syrup and candied ginger were found in a variety of cocktails throughout the event.
Yuzu: A sour citrus fruit common in Asia, was used in juice and syrup form.
Green tea: Either fresh brewed or “matcha”, a powder made from finely milled green tea leaves, with a very distinct dark green color.

From the bar to the kitchen
Bartenders may be borrowing the kitchen equipment to create purees, syrups and other drink components, but don’t be surprised when the chefs start raiding the bar for ingredients. Angostura Aromatic Bitters served a lunch where nearly every dish contained their product. (And, frankly, was really delicious.) Herbsaint also held a cooking demo in their tasting room, where the anise-flavored spirit was used in Oysters Rockafeller and a Crème Anglaise.

Punch & Cocktails on tap
The popularity of cocktails is a double-edged sword for busy bar staff during peak hours. Operators are batching and selling cocktails in punch or on tap to save time, labor and make a little extra money. In response, the brands are rising to the challenge and providing recipes. The Grey Goose “Night of Noir” event featured bowl after bowl of punch cocktails, one of which was even served out of a huge clawfoot tub.

Speaking of those guys, there was a lot of vodka. We mean, a LOT.

The Negroni
While the margarita may be the #1 selling cocktail nationwide, The Negroni (one part gin, one part vermouth rosso, and one part bitters, traditionally Campari) was found in great variety and brought up in nearly every seminar we attended. One bar and restaurant in San Francisco is even serving them on tap, where it’s become their top seller, and with a significant profit margin.

Carbonated cocktails
With the rash of bars and restaurants making carbonated sodas in-house, they’re also being repurposed to create fun, fizzy drinks of the adult variety. Some bars are also serving them on tap.

Skinny cocktails
While there are a number of premade mixes out there for low-cal cocktails, Truvia has come out with a 1.48 Lb. (671 g) bag of sweetener specfically to make 1/2 gallon of zero-calorie simple syrup. Because the Stevia plant is herbal, and rather mint-like, it pairs nicely with just about any sweet drink, like mojitos. (Though you might keep it away from anything orange-flavored - think toothpaste and orange juice.)

Flavored spirits
Absolut, Grey Goose and many other brands introduced new flavored varieties of their products, giving mixologists more options when crafting new cocktails. There’s also a renewed interest in fruit-flavored (peach, apple, berry) brandies and liqueurs. Our favorite product is the Fragoli liqueur with wild strawberries. The hand-picked wild berries are suspended in the liqueur, and as a result, are also suspended in cocktails. The end result is quite stunning.

Purity vodka’s tasting room included an unusual and fun exercise in rapidly infusing vodka through the use of an insulated cream and foam whipper. Place your fruit and vodka in the canister, screw in a fresh N2O cartridge, pull the trigger, wait three minutes and voila! Fresh fruit infused vodka. Absolut had a demonstration room at their Welcome Reception for a liquid nitrogen infusion process that was equally intriguing, but less user-friendly.

Dessert cocktails
We tried some cocktails that could easily pass as candy, but twice as dandy. Butterscotch, caramel, every variety of chocolate, even one named “Everlasting Gobstopper” that was nearly identical to the solid ball of sugar we all remember from childhood. These follow a rising trend of dessert cocktails appearing on dessert menus.

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