The inevitable approach of 100-degree days doesn't just affect your closet — it affects your bar. You'll see lighter cocktails and fruity flavors, and we're intrigued by some of the more advanced trends in cocktails this spring and summer. From clear cocktails achieved with increasingly common involved techniques (because science) to environmentally friendly bar practices and cocktails from a tap, there are some big things hitting the Dallas bar scene.
Clarified cocktail elements
"The purpose of clarification [completely removing particles from a liquid] is not to be flashy; it's highly functional and allows bartenders to do some very interesting things with cocktails," says Scott Jenkins, principal bartender and director of beverage at Hide in Deep Ellum. "Clarification removes all the tiny particles and allows for an even-shaped bubble structure of a particular size to be highly concentrated in solution. The texture is even, crisp and consistent from start to finish. A secondary quality of clarified juices is being able to use them in stirred cocktails to control acidity. So clarified juice can allow the addition of acidity but is silky on the palate, as you want your stirred cocktails to be."
Eliminating plastic straws
I take a lot of pictures of cocktails. Look back, and you'll realize that many of these cocktails are missing straws. I often feel guilty wasting them, and after learning that the U.S. goes through more than 500 million straws every year, I'm more aware of the waste the practice creates — and Dallas bars and restaurants are, too. There is a trend coming — perhaps better dubbed a movement — to eliminate plastic straws altogether. There's a partnership between Garden & Gun, Maker’s Mark and Bourbon Country to eliminate as many as possible in bars. They'll even purchase paper straws for bars to use if they vow to sack the plastic. It's a small dent, but it's progress.
"Bars are really starting to see the benefits of putting cocktails on tap," says Nico Martini, co-founder of Bar Draught and author of the new book Texas Cocktails. "Draft cocktails save you time, they save you money, and the accuracy and consistency it provides is incredible. You'll start to see more and more cocktails on tap in the very near future, and hopefully that will allow all sorts of venues to start doing small cocktail menus, even if they don't currently feel like they could execute a full craft cocktail program. One of the pioneers in the draft cocktail scene is absolutely Mexican Sugar in Frisco. Sean Conner set up a program years ago, and it has been excellent since."
Environmentally friendly bar programs
Trash Tiki is a program touring the U.S. to discourage waste behind the bar.
"Kelsey Ramage and Iain Griffiths are people you can get behind," says Sharon Bronstein, vice president of marketing for Fords Gin and the 86 Co. "The movement that they're part of and help create is fantastic. When we first experienced Trash Tiki, we knew we had to be part of it. Overall, we know that we, as a bar community, cannot keep doing what we're doing at the expense of the planet and need to be more mindful with our processes. Ten single-use ingredients are not always the best route anymore. Iain and Kelsey are flipping the script and doing their best to educate bartenders on what they can that may have a long-lasting positive effect. At Fords Gin, we strive to make small steps in our environmental practices, and this partnership with Trash Tiki is one of our latest practices that the whole team was eager to execute."
"Staying relevant in a competitive market requires thinking outside the box," says Ricky Cleva, bartender and bar manager at Harlowe MXM's Trick Pony in Deep Ellum. "Themed menus and/or reconceptualization continues to be seen more frequently, and with marked success. Bars around the country are looking to tie into their niche market and clientele through creativity and originality. For example, Trick Dog in San Francisco has used an in-flight passenger manual, Pantone swatch book and Chinese calendar to present their menus; pop-ups in large metropolitan areas have focused on more relevant pop culture references such as Game of Thrones and The Shining. At Trick Pony, we set out to constantly challenge ourselves and entertain our guests by creating a new concept and menu every three months or so. From Bill Murray to the '80s to traveling Around the World in 80 Cocktails, our goal is to keep our guests engaged and having fun while maintaining a competitive and elevated program."
"We think it’s more important to make a great cocktail than a cocktail that will just get a guest buzzed," says Daniel Al-Qassem, bartender at Bowen House in Uptown. "We enjoy the art of a cocktail, not the alcohol content, so we're partial to lower alcohol cocktails. Low-ABV cocktails are also a great option for patio season because they're generally lighter than a full-alcohol option. And, what's more, less alcohol can mean lower calories. It's a win-win for summer cocktails."
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"A continuing trend I see is appealing to guests' senses beyond taste," says Colin Silva, bar manager at SER at the Hotel Anatole. "People eat/drink with their eyes, ears and noses, in addition to their mouths. When smoking cocktails, we pair different woods with different spirits, lending not only a stunning visual aspect, but also aromatics and sounds. Having six different old-fashioned options that we pair spirits with regional woods, and each pairing provides a bit of an edge for professional bartender and enthusiasts alike — the sound of crackling wood stimulates the eyes as well as the nose and ears while the whiskey bounces off your palate for taste. Overall, it's a feast for all senses."
"I would say a growing trend in cocktails is bartenders using culinary techniques, and not just food-flavored beverages, but actual processes used to build specific elements implemented in the cocktails' creation," says Austin Millspaugh, bartender at The Standard Pour. "The use of these techniques was a huge factor in the recent cocktail revival, and it has really increased a drink's depth. Think using dehydrated fats [as a garnish], a three-cheese cream [as part of the cocktail and as a garnish] or fat-washing [for adding texture and a savory complement]."