The bar and kitchen have long been separated like church and state, but in recent years, there’s a happy mingling between the two in trend-setting restaurants, as the infusion of fresh food has begun to star in cocktail recipes. In 2009, the National Restaurant Association deemed “culinary cocktails” the year’s second hottest trend (behind sustainability), and the popularity of blending food with booze continues to rise. With every passing year, bartenders and chefs push the envelope with ingenious combinations and revolutionary techniques.
Culinary cocktail pioneers are going well beyond the oyster shooter and developing intriguing, unexpected combinations. You’ll find innovative concoctions such as Campari, peach, grapefruit and Italian beer. Another striking drink includes high proof absinthe curbed with liquid nitrogen, Yuzu and scorched fresh rosemary. Imagine the taste and presentation of flaming Saigon cinnamon extinguished with Mandarin orange flavored vodka and fresh blood orange juice. Muddling grapes with vodka and lemongrass produces a martini sure to spark conversation and curiosity. Your mama’s eggnog is elevated to new heights when mixed with coffee infused tequila, rum and a bit of espresso. Italian inspiration highlights a honeydew rum daiquiri with a prosciutto garnish, and a mozzarella tomato flower crowns a fresh basil gimlet served in a stemmed glass with a rim lightly kissed with a balsamic vinegar reduction.
Technology touches nearly everything these days and cocktails are no exception. There’s a vacuum technique that thoroughly saturates cucumbers with gin for an exceptionally heady cocktail. Orange flower water and other lightly flavored liquids are transformed into pearls that can be suspended in other liquids for dramatic effect. Margaritas take on a whole new personality when you replace the salted rim with salted lime foam. Liquefied thyme or other fresh herbs add visual appeal and impressive aroma when sprayed onto cocktails immediately upon presentation. Simple accents like flavored ice globes and dry ice easily add spectacle to a range of mixed drinks.
Not only are these trendy mixtures full of dramatic depth and color, they actually have some health benefits. Using fresh ingredients is inherently healthier than prepackaged mixers in bottles. Many of the herbs used in culinary drinks such as sage, mint and rosemary have health benefits. Best of all, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service recently discovered that blackberries and strawberries mixed with alcohol have elevated levels of antioxidants.
There’s no doubt that 2014 will be a year of intriguing approaches to cocktails, including fresh preparation methods and spectacular presentations. You can even find a growing number of premade culinary cocktail mixers to make things easy for your first go-round. Check out the Pear-Ginger Martini mix from Bungalow 23. And Hoosier Momma makes a fantastic Bloody Mary Glass Garnish that uses hickory-smoked sea salt, dried chilies, herbs, and cocoa powder.
Start the New Year off by jotting down a few culinary cocktail recipes and experimenting with ingredients and techniques. Friends will be impressed (or worried) as they sample your creative concoctions. You’ll soon be dismissing old drinks like martinis and vodka tonics and replacing them with progressive tasty treats made with fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs and garnished with mad scientist inspired accouterments utilizing molecular gastronomy applications.