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It’s a jam-packed night at Toronto’s Ultra Supper Club and the patio is full of trendsetters.
They bark out orders at the bar staff, not merely for traditional concoctions, but for brands. Grey Goose, Belvedere, Patron — they want specific top-shelf liquors used to construct their favourite summer cocktails. Rail brands will simply no longer suffice. Others demand their Grey Goose martini be mixed with pomegranate juice — it’s healthy, after all — or ask for their
Mojito to be constructed atop a premium, aged amber rum.
Such is the nature of the cocktail trend coming to a bar or patio near you. More than ever before, customers are demanding high-end, classic cocktails with a twist and, if they can add a couple years to their lives in the process (or at least slow down the adverse effects drinking has on the body), all the better.
“Everybody’s really about getting drunk healthy,” Ultra manager Mike Chalut says. “They want to have a healthy drink. Not vodka tonic any more, vodka soda or vodka rocks because there’s no calories. It’s all skinny, healthy drinks.”
Ultra management have attempted to cater to their clientele with a drink they call the Millionaire Margarita. It costs $100 and offers celeb-worthy twists on the summer classic using deluxe premium ingredients.
Mixologists across North America are closely monitoring these trends.
Look behind the bar at Ultra, for example, and traditional garnishes such as lime and lemon are now flanked by skewers of fresh blueberries, blackberries and strawberries, sprigs of mint, pomegranates, lychees and juices.
Classic drinks such as the Mojito, the Bellini and even Sangria are coming back in a big way as drinkers search for more creative ways to drink away the summer nights — often with slight variations that affect drastic changes on the cocktail’s composition.
“We have so many mixologists and people doing cocktail competitions that they don’t want to be the same as the next person,” says Las Vegas-based Smirnoff mixologist and former flair bartender Cameron Bogue.
“I think it’s more about flavour trends rather than trends involving certain cocktails.”
Hence the increase in demand for products such as flavoured vodkas, rums, tequilas and even gins.
“I think they’re a great alternative because you can add flair to a cocktail without doing much prep work,” Bogue adds. Two of his creations, the berry flavoured Toronto Woman and the sweet Canadian Swizzle, both use flavoured vodkas to arrive at their signature taste profiles.
According to Chris Robertson, spirits category manager with the LCBO, the liquor retailer experienced a 9.8 per cent increase in sales in its vodka category in the past year, while deluxe premium vodka brands (those costing in excess of $30 per bottle) grew at a rate of 37 per cent.
“I think the cocktail drinker in general is becoming more sophisticated now,” Robertson surmises. “I think there’s a renewed interesting the classic cocktail be it the classic Martini, or the Manhattan or the sours drinks, or Margaritas. I think people are looking for new and innovative ways to make a twist on that and I think it’s being driven in part by the bartending industry where bartenders become more than just the people tending the bar.”
Restaurants such as Canada’s Prime chain, have noted this trend.
“We’ve got some Asian fusion culinary times on the menu and we take the view of a culinary driven bar menu. That’s sort of our new outlook. We take items out of the kitchen and apply them in the bar,” says Nathan Cameron, beverage specialist with Prime Restaurants.
Cameron and his team have begun introducing Matcha Green Tea-based drinks to capitalize on the popularity of Asian fusion cocktails and the purported health benefits of some of the ingredients in them.
“Instead of telling me what’s in it, tell me what health properties,” Cameron says of health-conscious consumer demands. “If I’ve got a blueberry drink, I don’t want to know it’s blueberry, I want to know it’s got a high anti-oxidant value. If it’s a juice, tell me what vitamins are involved.
“There’s a why behind why you drink it and not just because we say it tastes good.”