Revolutions don’t occur overnight. Shift by shift, drink by drink, the cocktail revival has come a long way since its beginnings in the mid-2000s. The shift to better drinks helped us say no to sour mix, and made Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, well, fashionable again.
But beyond the inner ring of Sazeracs and Sidecars that have become as much a part of our restaurant lexicon as tuna crudo and beef tartare, a new class of drinks is gradually climbing the quaffable ladder. Second-tier classics such as the Vieux Carre, Boulevardier and the Aviation are increasingly familiar sightings on Twin Cities menus.
“That one’s coming back really hard,” said Brasserie Zentral’s Trish Gavin of the Aviation. “I’m going through a bottle of crème de violette now probably every 2½ months, where it used to be one of those Galliano bottles that never got touched.”
More and more patrons are requesting flips and fizzes — drinks containing egg or egg whites — Gavin said. She recently had two guests fawning over Clover Club cocktails, something she never thought possible eight years ago while shaking drinks at the late Azia.
“I think that’s the next wave of what you’re going to see, those second- and third-tier classic cocktails come to the forefront,” said veteran barman Jesse Held. The cocktail captain at Parlour and an upcoming project in the Hotel Ivy sees this potable upward mobility as a natural progression. For years, bartenders have mined and remixed the cocktail canon’s deeper cuts, many of which are already variations on core drinks such as the martini or daiquiri. Pulling out a seldom-seen classic can be an easy way to impress guests.
“The tweaking’s already been done for us,” Held said. “It was done 100 years ago. It’s just a matter of us remembering how to do it.”
One of the Held’s favorite back-pocket drinks is the tropical, rum-based Mary Pickford, which he wields for guests craving a refreshing cocktail beyond the almighty daiquiri. At Brasserie Zentral, Gavin is a fan of the Brown Derby — a grapefruit and honey-laced tipple akin to a whiskey sour sans egg white. She says its formula is easily customizable to individual tastes, whether subbing Benedictine for the honey or apple brandy for bourbon.
Some bartenders have taken to mashing up second-tier cocktails — like a Punnett square of cocktail creation — recalibrating them as new, hybrid elixirs. Rabbit Hole chef and drinks boss Thomas Kim offers an Aviation-meets-Ramos Fizz dubbed the Flying Ramos. Richfield’s Lyn 65 bar manager Travis Serbus’ Last Fizz combined a Ramos Fizz with the Chartreuse-spiked Last Word.
Another older than old-school drink recently gaining traction is the Martinez, a combination of gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur and bitters, widely regarded as the martini’s predecessor. Lyn 65 currently features a barrel-aged version, which Serbus says is an “easy sell” despite its longtime obscurity. “It’s nothing scary in the ingredients, which helps,” he said. “It’s so approachable in that sense.”
Still, there’s plenty of work to be done in elevating the profile of second-class (but not second-rate) cocktails. Held said maybe three out of 100 guests are familiar with the Scotch-based Blood and Sand, which inspired Parlour’s simple, yet delightful spinoff called the Gaelic Beach. At Foreign Legion, the sibling wine bar to Brasserie Zentral, the cocktail menu heavily incorporates lesser known classics, such as the Lion’s Tail and Jungle Bird. However, Gavin, who helped curate the list, said they may soon be replaced by “bigger name” drinks because they haven’t been as popular.
Part of the challenge for these underdog classics is finding an entry point for consumers. Held said it’s bartenders’ job to help connect the dots via guests’ spirit preferences or steering Manhattan drinkers to its disciples like the Brooklyn or the increasingly popular Vieux Carre. “That’s exactly how we get people to move out of their comfort zone,” he said.
While book-worming barkeeps have parsed through century-old cocktail manuals as their blueprints, the surface has still only been scratched.
“There are so many cocktails out there we haven’t even really touched on yet,” Held said. “There are so many out there that need to get recognized again.”
Michael Rietmulder writes about cocktails, beer and nightlife. Follow him on Twitter: @mrietmulder.