Top mixologists share popular trends in cocktails for special events, including smoky flavors, shurbs, and the illicit appeal of moonshine.
The 'Gin and Sin' station from A Divine Event honors the illustrious, illict Southern moonshine tradition.
FARM TO GLASS It was only a matter of time before bacon made its way into booze. At Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabasas, Calif., house-made, applewood-smoked, bacon-infused vodka and bourbon add that ubiquitous salty-smoky goodness to several savory signature drinks, including the Bacon Bloody Mary and the Pig Apple, a smoky take on the classic Manhattan. And like its popular culinary counterpart, the Lodge’s farm-to-table menu is complemented by its "garden-to-glass" cocktails, which feature fresh, herbs and produce straight from the property’s garden.
And speaking of gardens, at Norcross, Ga.-based A Divine Event, the freshest cocktails are made with a botanically named, wildly trending mixer called the "shrub"--a sweet and sour syrup made from fruit, sugar and vinegar. “Shrubs were common elixirs of the pre-refrigeration, Colonial era,” explains managing partner Kendall Collier. “They were made during the summer as berries came into season. As the season wound down, overripe fruit would be made into what they called shrub syrup.”
Today, Collier and her team at A Divine Event’s premier event venue, Cloverleaf Farm, offer a variety of shrubs made with assorted berries and flavored vinegars--such as blackberry and white balsamic, blueberry and citrus champagne, raspberry and honey apple, and strawberry and orange blossom--to create their signature drinks. “What I like about using shrubs is that the vinegar-based syrup remains clear when shaken, unlike fruit macerated with distilled spirits,” Collier says. As for added spirits, it’s all a matter of client taste and preference, she notes. A healthy splash of sparkling water completes the cocktail.
Citrus-based cocktails, such the Paloma (tequila with lime and fresh grapefruit juice) and hard lemonades are perennial favorites at Epicurean Culinary Group, based in Centennial, Colo. Chef and mixologist Jenna Johansen adds her unique spin to the caterer’s signature “Lemonade Stand” with fresh mint and cucumber, while the Paloma gets added pucker from grapefruit soda and a salt rim.
“Guests’ tastes are definitely moving more towards natural, fresh ingredients instead of bottled mixers and artificial sweeteners,” adds Hanna Meyer, special events coordinator at restaurant and event space El Corazon de Costa Mesa, in Costa Mesa, Calif. “Our ‘make your own margarita’ station features an assortment of fresh fruits and herbs, giving our guests the opportunity to create their own fresh, custom blends.”
BACK TO BASICS Simple, no-frills "Prohibition era" cocktails based on top-shelf, old-school spirits such as gin, rye whiskey and bourbon are still trending, according to Jennifer Carter, beverage manager at Saddle Peak Lodge. “Cocktails such as the Sazerac [a rye whiskey and bitters drink served neat] and the Sidecar [a cognac and citrus blend] are still requested quite often,” she says. Taking it a step further, A Divine Event has been known to offer shots of high-quality Georgia Moon Corn Whiskey Moonshine, a nod to the illustrious, illicit Southern booze tradition.
“The appreciation for simplicity is growing,” Meyer notes, adding that tequila flights offering three of her 18 different varieties are popular with party guests. “Prohibition-era drinks were uncomplicated with the focus on the actual cocktail, not all the bells and whistles. We try to follow that same principle, with just one or two key garnishes.” To that end, the restaurant’s signature drink—the Horchata Colada—features a salty-sweet rim of crushed caramel pretzel.
MARRY THE BEER Much like the trend of pairing wine, pairing beers--specifically craft beers—continues to grow. “Coloradans love their craft beers,” says Stephanie Blackford, communications director of Epicurean Culinary Group. “We do a lot of research when pairing beer with different foods, and our guests take notice, especially when our servers explain why a certain beer has been incorporated into the menu. A lot of grooms-to-be request craft beers for their wedding receptions. It’s one small detail that the guys care about.”
While Coloradans like their beer straight, beer cocktails, specifically Mexican-inspired versions, such as the Michelada (beer mixed with lime juice, salt, hot sauce and Worcestershire with a chile powder rim) and the Red Eye (beer and tomato juice), pair well with the Southern California sun. “We also do a ‘Beerita,’ which is served in an oversized margarita glass with half-submerged, full Corona,” Meyer says.
Gluten-free beers and organic and biodynamic wines are must-haves for guests at Saddle Peak Lodge. “Our wine list specifies whether a wine is sustainable, organic or biodynamically grown,” says Carter, whose new favorite for the upcoming holiday season is an organic sparkling Shiraz. “It goes great with turkey, duck or pheasant, and has a beautifully deep purple hue.”
SWEET LIBATIONS Epicurean’s newest holiday-inspired libation—the Winter Wonderland—does double duty as dessert. The blended, frothy, creamy concoction combines Apple Pie Pearl vodka, vanilla ice cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon with a mini ginger snap on the rim of the glass. “It’s a drink and a dessert all in one,” Blackford says.
A DIVINE EVENT
EL CORAZON DE COSTA MESA
EPICUREAN CULINARY GROUP
SADDLE PEAK LODGE