The drinking world is still in flux, and it will remain so as Covid-19 continues to mutate, we all try to figure out our personal “new normal” and definition of moderation, and the spirits industry navigates equity, labor, sustainability, and supply-chain challenges. As far as we’re concerned, though, as long as no one forces us to drink (or understand the underpinnings of) NFT whiskey, 2022 will be an exciting year for cocktail culture and creativity behind the bar.
1. ABV Awareness
Lots of us drank a wee bit too much in 2020 and then dried out with exceptional zero-proof cocktails, near beer, and nonalcoholic wine. There’s a middle ground, of course: the realm of low-ABV drinks that bartenders started experimenting with close to a decade ago. During the pandemic, lots of drinkers began to better understand how alcohol really makes us feel, along with an increased awareness of the very human tendency to use booze as a coping mechanism. From that, and alongside the wellness movement, more folks are looking to balance their drinking habits, and bar pros are happy to oblige. The draft-cocktails board at newcomer Double Chicken Please lists each drink’s ABV, as does the menu at Allegory in D.C. There are new bartender-built vermouths for mixing and sipping, and two forthcoming books from Natasha David and Derek Brown will continue to expand possibilities for the category and make a case for more mindful drinking.
2. Blame the Supply Chain
We know, we know, you’re late because of supply chain issues. But bars are experiencing a product squeeze that might not be evident to the average guest. A quick survey of U.S. bartenders yielded this list hard/impossible-to-find ingredients: Angostura, Amaretto, Ancho Verde and Reyes, amaro (Averna, Cynar, Fernet Vallet, Ramazzotti, Suze), Aquavit, Buffalo Trace, Chartreuse (green and yellow), Hennessy, imported beer, Midori, sparkling water, tequila (Casa Azul, Casamigos, Cazadores, Don Julio, Espolon, Fortaleza), and vermouth. Bartender Lauren Frazer summed it up: “Glass, anything that comes in glass.” Bars teams have gotten creative. They’re making their own amaro, switching to local spirits, and swapping out liquor brands so cocktails don’t have to be 86ed. Metaphorically, no one wants to draw the short straw, but at Williams & Graham in Denver, they can’t always buy them, so the team cuts long paper straws down to size. So remember this: When your local runs out of your favorite call, know who to blame—the supply chain!
3. The Age of the Vegan Cocktail Bar
With the exception of eggs, there’s not a whole lot of mise en place separating your average bar from a vegan bar. Take out meaty, cheesy bar bites and you’re nearly there. With his Overthrow Hospitality, Ravi de Rossi has proven that vegan bars can draw a crowd. When they’re a few drinks in, no guest is concerned that their Pisco Sour is made with aquafaba or their tots covered with cashew cheese. As of late, more American cities are getting vegan bars of their own. Dystopian-themed Neon Tiger popped up in Charleston mid-2020, complete with okra-slime thickened drinks. Pink Cole of Slutty Vegan fame opened Bar Vegan in Atlanta earlier this year, and San Diego will get a “a tropical space-themed adventure bar,” Mothership, in the coming months. The format may not work everywhere. Taco Dive Bar opened in Las Vegas, our favorite city of vices, in April and had already closed by June.
4. Riding the Agave Boom
Roaring tequila and mezcal sales are fueling new spirit categories and expressions in Mexico and beyond. There are now “agave-influenced” spirits on the market, including whiskey aged in tequila and mezcal casks and even agave vodka (ok, but why?). The vast majority of tequila is aged in bourbon barrels, but mega producer Patrón just released an añejo rested for two years in sherry casks and ready-made for tequila Old Fashioneds. El Tesoro is launching a new series of tequilas aged in alternative barrels, starting with peat-bomb Laphroaig. As both a hedge against unsustainable agave farming and a natural extension of Mexican flavor behind the bar, Mexico also just got its first corn whiskey. Abasolo and Nixta, its sweetened corn liqueur sister, are made from 100% Mexican-grown nixtamalized corn. The latter tastes a little like biting into a tortilla.
5. More Support for Black-Owned Distilleries
Jackie Summers has long been shouting about inequities in the liquor business, and a year after Black Lives Matter protests and America’s latest racial reckoning, the industry is slowly starting to change. This year, Summers got funding to relaunch Sorel, his Caribbean hibiscus liqueur, and the reboot comes on the heels of a $5 million initiative from Jack Daniels and Uncle Nearest to increase diversity in whiskey. This fall, Brough Brothers opened as Kentucky’s first Black-owned distillery, and Victor George Spirits was just awarded $2.4 million to build a distillery in Ft. Lauderdale. There’s been a boost for existing Black-owned distilleries too. Mishka in Pennsylvania turned a profit for the first time in 2020, and pioneering Du Nord Spirits just partnered with Delta airlines to serve its Foundation Vodka in-flight. Still, the amount of money flowing to Black-owned liquor is paltry compared to the industry’s annual $546.15 billion in revenue. It’s up to consumers and advocates to continue to push for equity—and corporate booze conglomerates to own up to their responsibility. We’ll all drink better for it.
6. The Nomad Effect
When New York’s The Nomad hotel and bar closed this year, ostensibly for renovations, it was as if the Yankees franchise folded and its players all became free agents. This summer, I had my first magical dinner back atop a barstool at Ernesto’s on the Lower East Side. I drank Spanish vermut and tonic and a fortified-wine Martini, and our bartender had just left The NoMad. Who runs the bar program at Danny Meyer’s new Ci Siamo? Matt Chavez, a NoMad alum. Harrison Ginsberg picked up a NoMad bartender for his team at Crown Shy. Two NoMad alums recently opened the L Denver. Some of the team’s biggest names (Pietro Collina and Leo Robitschek) stuck with Slydell Group and opened NoMad’s London location in May, a healthy walk from Claridge’s, where former NoMad bar manager Nathan McCarley-O’Neill is now the head of mixology. The scattering of the NoMad’s A-list talent is representative of a once-in-a-generation industry shake-up that sent bartenders—and their exceptional hospitality and drink-making skills—across the city, country, and world.