If Fashion Week predicts what you'll be wearing next season, then Tales of the Cocktail, the annual booze conference held each year in New Orleans, signals what we'll all be drinking in the months to come.
The 15th annual Tales, as it’s known in the industry, wrapped on July 22 after a full week of seminars, tastings, dinners and pool parties. Let’s take a look at a few trends bubbling up in the cocktail world.
Related to a spike in awareness of sustainability issues, you may see more vegetables in drinks in unexpected ways. Culinary Vegetable Institute chef Jamie Simpson presented a four-course vegetable dinner at Tales, hosted by William Grant & Sons head of ambassadors Charlotte Voisey, with cocktail pairing by bartender Gina Chersevani of Buffalo & Bergen in Washington, D.C.
The all-veggie meal featured courses separated by color, including dehydrated tomatoes served with a savory tomato sorbet, squash leaf puree with freeze-dried peas and shaved celery, and rehydrated dried carrots with blossom powder. Cocktail ingredients ranged from marigold tea and cucumber blooms to cornflower and black mint.
"Let's look at ways to prepare for a future where the resources that we currently take for granted might be difficult to find," said Voisey. "I think we're in the early stages of the move toward vegetable-forward drink designs. We're looking at chefs doing full tasting menus with just vegetables, and bartenders doing the same."
Over the weekend, William Grant & Sons also hosted a tasting room showcasing how fresh produce, herbs and wildflowers can enhance drinks. "I hope [the trend for vegetables] brings a cleanliness to cocktails," said Chersevani. She notes the industry’s prevailing trend to bitter cocktails “to death” and makes a case for more simple drinks. “There was nothing in the drinks except juices."
Chersevani's drinks included a memorable nonalcoholic Radish and Watermelon Fizz with just the right amount of heat, and an elegant Hendrick's gin and Champagne cocktail with cornflower. None of them added sugar.
"Water is found is so many vegetables," she said. "All of that vegetable water is so much better than using plain ice."
Trash Tiki and The 86 Co.'s poolside party at the Ace Hotel was among the week's most anticipated parties. Briefly waylaid by a dramatic New Orleans thunderstorm, the party moved inside, pool floaties and all.
Not lost in the mix: a message about reducing waste and reusing ingredients. Guests entering the party were given one silver tin to fill with drinks. Cocktails were made using unsold ingredients, byproducts and other materials destined for the trash, including one case of ripe peaches. The menu wasn't printed out; guests had to check Trash Tiki's social media to view drink options.
Trash Tiki founders Iain Griffiths and Kelsey Ramage are about to embark on a U.S. cocktail tour around the country to bring their best practices to bars and consumers alike.
Besides their anti-waste message, there's another reason to keep an eye on them: Griffiths and Ramage are part of the bar team at Dandelyan, the London venue in the Mondrian hotel that picked up three Spirited Awards, including World's Best Cocktail Bar. As Dandelyan picks up more accolades, the team is committed to use the spotlight to highlight sustainability messages.
"I did a talk about sustainability factors in 2010 and nobody cared," said Dandelyan founder Ryan Chetiyawardana. "It was a hard thing to get excited about. But it’s slowly becoming more prevalent across the industry from bars to brands. It's wonderful to see."
"I see a lot more Vespers, which I think is great," said Absolut Elyx CEO Jonas Tahlin. "But I also see more Vodka Martinis coming back onto menus of really high-end bars."
As more bartenders expand their knowledge of vermouth and the variations between the different types of vodkas available, Tahlin sees bartenders deep-diving into the subtleties of Martini making. "What vermouth am I using? Am I shaking it or stirring it? Is it a wet Martini or is it a dry Martini? What garnish am I using? Am I putting the garnish in or am I just putting the zest in?"
At Absolut Elyx House, the pop-up dedicated to the Elyx experience, there was a special Martini corner, spotlighting a spectrum of Martinis, from grapefruit-tinged to briny and dirty.
"You can create so much difference in a Martini with whatever vodka you're choosing,” he said. “And a lot of bars are coming up with their own signature Martinis."
"I think the Paloma is going to be the next Moscow Mule," said Q Drinks founder Jordan Silbert. "I see it on a bunch of menus."
The Paloma, Mexico's most popular drink, is a mix of tequila and grapefruit soda. Q Drinks, which offers a range of low-sugar mixers, just introduced a sparkling grapefruit mixer designed to play well with tequila and mezcal.
"The big tequila companies are spending a lot of money, and they're going to be looking for ways to differentiate themselves besides the tequila shot and the Margarita," said Silbert. "The combination of fancy bars putting it on their menus, the tequila companies spending money and the consumers saying, 'This is delicious'—I see it coming in a big way."
Mixing your cocktail