NEW ORLEANS — Every July for the past 10 years, bartenders from around the planet gather in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail, an industry event that involves almost as much late-night revelry as it does business-card swapping and recipe sharing. It’s been likened to a Star Trek convention and band camp. With the world’s tavern tastemakers gathered in one place, it’s the place to go for a sneak peek at what you will be seeing on cocktail menus in the months ahead. Here are some of the more intriguing things we learned this year.
MOST WELCOME MAKEOVER: In the years before Prohibition, sherry, a Spanish fortified wine, was a main player in various mixed drinks. But historically, sherry and its Portuguese sister, Port, have been relegated to the fusty parlors of grand estates. These days, though, the wines are making cameo appearances with other ingredients. Mix an aromatic sherry into a sangria for a richer, nuttier sip than your standard wine-based blend. A port with soda water and lime wedge is a refreshing riff on the much maligned wine spritzer.
MOST TIME-TESTED USE FOR FRESH FRUIT: Over the past few years, fresh citrus juices have replaced sour mix and all kinds of fruits and vegetables have been muddled into cocktails. But for centuries, the best way to use fruit has been to preserve it, as liqueur and amari producers will tell you. Nicolo Luxardo ensures that fruit from the family’s 22,000 cherry trees is used in its famous maraschino liqueur, an ingredient of the classic Aviation cocktail. The Toschi family makes use of hand-picked mini strawberries in its Fragoli liqueur by leaving them floating in the bottle.
MOST CONTROVERSIAL DRINK: In the history of international conflicts, the feud over which country can claim Pisco as its own — Peru or Chile — is not very noteworthy. But in the drinks world, it is a hotly debated topic. A seminar called “Pisco Wars: Peru vs. Chile Since 1633” pitted a Peruvian historian against a Chilean Pisco producer to determine the roots of the grape brandy. Historical documents were presented, technical details considered, but the outcome was as inconclusive as it’s been for centuries. Still, with a wave of new piscos making their way to American shelves, like Campo de Encanto from Peru and Kappa Pisco from Chile, there will be plenty of opportunity for cocktail fans to decide which side they’re on.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR IRISH WHISKEY?: Just as a variety of premium bourbons has proliferated in recent years, high-end Irish whiskeys are comfortably taking their place on refined whiskey lists. Now that the green Jameson bottle is ubiquitous around the world, the distillers and coopers are working to craft new styles. This fall, look for Jameson Black Barrel, a blend of whiskeys aged around 12 years instead of the normal five to seven. Sherry and bourbon barrels offer woody spiciness toned down by sweet, rich vanilla notes.
BEST CASE FOR NOT DRINKING COCKTAILS: With the growing uncertainty of whether bartenders should be called “mixologists” or “bar chefs” or “drinksmith,” one of the most anticipated — then talked-about — panels was “I Love/I Hate Cocktails.” The pro-cocktail set saw cocktail making as an expression of creative freedom. Meanwhile, writer Toby Cecchini, who commanded the anti-cocktail set, described the beverages as “training wheels” for drinking and as having “too many flavors, too loud flavors, like having a conversation with someone shouting in your ear.” Indeed, whether you love them or hate them, it was easy to walk away from the debate in a good mood. And isn’t that what drinking should be about?
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