What’s cool for cocktail hour?
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
After a rocky 18 months, the bar world is back in business – and no amount of setbacks, it seems, has managed to stifle its creativity. In London the minimalist Martini is being used to explore a broader palette of flavours than ever before, says Max Venning of Three Sheets in Dalston. “We’re seeing a lot more recipes with savoury and saline flavour profiles. Ingredients like sorrel, lovage, beetroot, coriander and pickle juices are now an established part of the bartender’s arsenal.”
Three Sheets’ signature Earth Martini is made with vodka, beetroot, olive oil and dry vermouth. At Christina’s Shoreditch, the Japanophile cocktail list is topped off by an Oyster Shell Martini made with vodka distilled with discarded oyster shells, stirred down with dry vermouth, sake and cucumber soda, and garnished with an oyster leaf. “It’s basically our answer to the Dirty Martini,” says the drink’s creator Marcis Dzelzainis. Complex flavours, married with precise but unfussy presentation, are all hallmarks of the London bar scene right now, adds Dzelzainis. “It’s definitely about drinks with a light touch.”
On both sides of the Atlantic, ice is being used to create little pops of joy. At Williamsburg newbie Philomena’s, prosecco is served over a pink ice “rose” carved from frozen watermelon-rosé. At A Bar with Shapes for a Name in east London, a crystal-clear cocktail of vodka, peach and absinthe is cooled by an ice block with an iridescent prism inside.
Agave spirits – and twists on the Margarita – continue to be big news. “I just cannot believe how popular Margaritas are right now,” says Venning. Demand for bittersweet aperitifs has prompted several bars to create their own: Little Red Door in Paris offers a vermouth brand called Baldoria, and Darkside at the Rosewood in Hong Kong has an amaro made from locally foraged ingredients including pomelo and marigold leaves, wild ginger seeds and calamansi.
Coffee cocktails have also been getting an upgrade on America’s East Coast. “The Espresso Martini resurgence is real,” says John Van Lieshout of New York’s hottest new nightspot La Noxe. “We were getting so many orders for them when we initially opened that we put our own take on the menu.” The Noxe twist is made with house-made cinnamon and vanilla syrup and Mr Black’s class-A coffee liqueur.
Wine, rather than spirits, was the inspiration for two new cocktail bar launches this autumn – 7,000 miles apart. In London, The Connaught unveiled the Red Room bar, a velvet-curtained snug with a cocktail list built around red, white, sparkling and rosé wines. Signature drinks include Red, a blend of Armagnac, vine leaf cordial, bergamot sherbet and Beaujolais, and the sparkling Perlage Rosé, with tequila and a fig and champagne shrub. Around the same time, Tokyo’s mixologist-of-the-moment Shingo Gokan opened swrl, a cocktail bar in Shibuya that does away with shaking and stirring in favour of the more unorthodox method of “swirling” drinks in a decanter. All the drinks are based on cocktails, paired with a wine selected by sommelier Motohiro Okoshi, swirled and served unadorned in stemmed glassware – so they have the appearance of wines, too.
“Wine cocktails have been around for years – everyone has probably heard of a sangria or a spritzer,” says Gokan. “However the world of wine cocktails hasn’t seen much evolution recently, and we figured this would be a great opportunity to revamp the entire category.”
Gokan’s creations include Edinburgh, a peaty blend of Islay malt whisky, roasted cacao, raspberries and Californian zinfandel; and Mexico City, which blends tequila, clarified bell peppers and habanero with a vin jaune from the Jura.
More bars and bartenders have been launching ready-to-drink cocktail ranges, too. Sydney’s 1950s cocktail lounge Maybe Sammy recently debuted a chic-looking collection of bottled classics including a Eucalyptus Gimlet, a Chamomile Martini and a Jasmine Negroni, all infused with local plants.
In the UK there’s been a buzz around Whitebox – a new family of canned cocktails. Crowd-pleasing pop-and-pour drinks include the gin-and-“turbo lemonade” Golden Throat Charmer, Chipper’s cherrywood Old Fashioned and the dinky Pocket Negroni. Whatever 2022 holds for us, we certainly won’t go thirsty.