As the calendar flips to 2017, we're looking ahead into the year to come. What will mixologists obsess about this year? What ingredients and techniques will move from obscure to ubiquitous? Where will craft cocktails pop up next? Here's our expert look on what's ahead.
"Health-Conscious" Ingredients: Drinking alcohol is obviously not the healthiest decision one can make, but some bartenders are starting to use "healthy" ingredients -- from nutrient-rich veggies to fermented kombucha to trendy charcoal. The "Black Thai Optional" (pictured above) at Los Angeles's EP & LP uses activated charcoal, said to have detoxifying properties, to dye it jet-black, an offbeat take on a lychee martini with gin, lychee, Amaro Montenegro, egg white, lemon, and a housemade activated coconut husk charcoal.
Craft Cocktails Everywhere: On airlines, at skating rinks, at museums -- craft cocktails are working their way into just about anywhere you can eat or drink. But when one of America's top-tier bartenders goes to work for a movie theater, you know something's up. Veteran Chicago mixologist Adam Seger is now the mixologist for iPic Entertainment, a chain of upscale theaters that provide first-class food and drink to moviegoers.
Historical ingredients: Ever heard of "Switchel"? More and more bartenders have. The historical New England drink is a sour elixir of apple cider vinegar and either molasses or maple, and it's making its way into cocktails across the country. Expect more formerly obscure ingredients to make their way (back) into the cocktail canon.
Japanese ingredients: Recently, lovers of brown spirits on both sides of the bar have gone nuts over Japanese whisky -- some bottles, like Nikka Coffey Malt, are in such high demand they can be difficult to source. But mixologists persevere, using the whisky in excellent cocktails. Other Japanese spirits and beverages are coming into the spotlight, too -- sake, used more effectively than in the often-dismal saketinis of yore, and shochu, an unbelievably broad and versatile category of spirit that can be made from barley, sweet potato, rice, or dozens of other ingredients.
Garnish turned up to 11: The craft cocktail movement was once associated with hidden speakeasies, many of which had an enormous sense of importance about their craft -- cocktail temples where hushed tones were encouraged and the entire focus of the experience was on painstakingly crafted drinks. Today, most top mixologists recognize that cocktails, at the end of the day, are about fun. That means more relaxed service, drinks that cater to what customers want, and especially, wacky garnishes -- whether tiki-style monkeys and umbrellas, intricate fruit sculptures, or any other kind of Instagram bait.