Dust off your martini shaker, fire up your ice maker and join the latest trend in libations: cocktails.
But please don’t settle for just any cocktail, try the ones featuring tequila and Bourbon – they’re the leaders of the pack in our neck of the woods, according to local liquor stores and barkeeps.
“In our shop, tequila and Bourbon are hot – they’re the fastest growing categories,” says Michael Goldstein, co-owner of Salem Wine & Liquor in South Salem with his father.
John Bueti, who owns Mount Kisco Wine and Spirits with his brother, says the same is true at his shop.
“Sales of tequila and Bourbon are on fire,” says Bueti.
Specifically, he says margaritas, old fashioneds and Manhattans are what’s shakin’.
“Additionally, the martini, in all its varieties, is also very popular,” Goldstein adds. “Especially the trendy espresso martini using Mr Black’s artisanal coffee liqueur. And for easy mixing, bright and refreshing spirits like Aperol, Campari and Lillet are very popular.”
So, with a bar cart full of cocktail options using tequila and Bourbon, what have you got to lose?
But first, a primer.
One tequila, two tequila…
Tequila, derived from the Blue Weber Azul agave plant, is a smooth, mildly sweet and sometimes fruity spirit that is often enjoyed “neat” (straight or shots with salt and lemon) as well as in cocktails.
These days, classic brands, such as Patrón, Jose Cuervo and Don Julio now share space with hand-crafted artisanal brands like Tequila Tapatío and Cascahuín (both additive-free). Plus, there’s also El Tesoro and Tequila Ocho, which most people drink neat, given their distinct flavors.
Mezcal, tequila’s first cousin, is also gaining popularity. It’s made from agave, but not the Blue Weber Azul agave used in tequila. Instead, it’s made from a variety of agave plants and then roasted, creating a smoky earth-driven flavor. It’s usually mixed with savories and herbs, which complement its umami personality.
As for where to begin, let the options for a little fun and fantasy awaken your inner mixologist.
“Be adventurous and pair tequila with your favorite liquors, fruits (especially citrus) or herbs (basil, rosemary, etc.) for a fun signature cocktail,” says Goldstein. “Margaritas, no longer limited to lime, really invite combos like watermelon, mango and blood orange.”
Bourbon, America’s favorite whiskey
Over the past few years, Bourbon’s popularity has exploded.
While the old-school brands (Old Forester, Four Roses, etc.) still hold their own, premier products (Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark, Angel’s Envy, etc.) are quickly making a name for themselves, thanks to Bourbon enthusiasts’ demand for more complex taste profiles.
But according to Goldstein, the classic old fashioned and Manhattan remain favorites. However, they’ve risen in stature thanks to “prime ingredients.”
“You can add elevated bitters and premium sweet vermouth for a contemporary update,” he explains.
Cocktails on the go
Another rising trend is premade cocktails, which have found their following with those who want a convenient way to have a cold cocktail on the go.
“The introduction of boxed wines in the 1970s has now expanded into a whole new category of ready-made drinks,” Goldstein says. “During the height of the pandemic, these premade cocktails were a big hit. Clients wanted cocktails similar to those served in bars without having to go to a bar. And the trend has continued.”
If you want to follow the local trends, look for cans of Long Drink, a boozy citrus soda brand from Finland, or premixed cocktail bottles from OTR (which stands for “on the rocks”) featuring flavors ranging from the traditional margarita or old fashioned to jalapeño pineapple.
Raising the bar
During the pandemic, South Salem resident Michael Hewins started mixing drinks for close friends and family, and before he knew it, he’d become a home mixologist.
Hewins also enjoys using tequila and Bourbon (as well as whiskey) as his base spirits. From there, he’s developed a repertoire of dozens of cocktails to please his ever-growing following.
“A good mixed drink should have no more than five ingredients, or the integrity of the spirit is lost,” he recommends. “It’s important not to lose the distinctive flavors you started with.”
Our local bartenders agree. And while there isn’t a big “bar scene” out here in the ‘burbs, they’re doing what they can to please their thirsty clientele.
For example, beverage manager and bartender Christian Millwood at The Inn at Pound Ridge says the restaurant group has carefully crafted a selection of cocktails that are designed to be enjoyed solo or with a meal – another cocktail trend.
Like Hewins (who often sits at Millwood’s bar so they can swap ideas), Millwood has a definite philosophy about mixing cocktails.
“Simplicity is key,” he explains. “Use a few high-quality ingredients so each of the components expresses their flavor with integrity.”
“Our regulars enjoy coming to the bar for cocktails with friends or to chat with me about mixology,” he continues. “And our most requested drink is still the martini. Some prefer the classic version, and others request a more modern version with artisanal tequilas.”
It’s slightly different over at Jay Street Café in Katonah. Although they have a full bar and can mix any request they find, “fruity sweet drinks are most popular,” says Erin Cryan, the house and beverage manager.
“We mix up fun and whimsical cocktails for both the lunch and dinner crowd,” she explains. “Our focus is on easy drinks that reflect our casual atmosphere. It’s helped our family-friendly café evolve into a place where people also come to have a drink with friends.”
A smooth finish
And then there’s the garnish.
“People say a garnish is how you drink with your eyes,” Millwood says. “But I like to use them to get the aromatics to the nose first, so you get that scent before you drink the cocktail. I see it more as a sensory item on the drink, rather than decoration.”
Regardless of your base or how you style your drink, the bottom line is that there’s now a wide range of ingredients to please every palate and setting – from the most casual hang to formal dining.
So, pour (or order) yourself a cocktail. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination and taste buds fancy.