2009 Big Trends in Cocktail Service

The first session I attended during last week’s Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans was a panel titled “2009 Big Trends in Cocktail & Spirit Service.”

The panel consisted of Jim Meehan, Michael Waterhouse, Devlin Tavern, and Simon Difford (Source Guide) and was moderated by Ryan Magarian (Aviation Gin).

The program covered the 4 Ps of Cocktail Service Success, not unlike the 4 Ps of marketing: product, precise execution, promotion, passion.

It was here that I discover the magic of Tales of the Cocktail, this was no boring seminar and they were serving drinks! A few samples of the cocktail being discussed. Sure is was 10:30 a.m., but this was New Orleans.

The panel started off with a discussion product trends.


Overall the trend is for full-flavored spirits, moving away from the vodka craze of late. Mezcal, Gin (the new vodka?) and Rye Whiskey are at the forefront of the full-flavored Renaissance. In addition, aged rum is exploding and Jameson sales are through the roof. Cacacha is also making huge strides from just a few years ago.


Fortified wines like Sherry, Lillet and vermouth are popular ingredients in cocktails, as well are rice wines sake and shochu. St. Germain elderflower liqueur appears on just about every cocktail menu, and other flower based liqueurs are popping up. Other trending sweeteners include specialty sugars, Agave nectar, Maple syrup and orgeat.


This category is all about fruit, and when it comes to fruit, fresh rules. If you own a bar, invest in the right juicing equipment to get the job done. This can be a large investment, but it will pay-off in great cocktails. At home, get a good juicer, but it still maybe out of reach to do that pineapple. What fruit juices are in? Grapefruit, Blood Orange, Kiwi, carrot, apple cider, pineapple (esp. if it is freshly extracted).

Sodas & Ice

It is all about the ice. Kold Draft seems to be the ice from which all ice is measured. That said, Glace ice spheres are nice too. In Japan, the carve ice spheres by hand with an ice pick at the bar, WOW! Basically, the colder the cube the better. Soda is soda, move on.


Use of spices and aromatics are gaining popularity. Many bartenders are making their own bitters to get just he right accent. Using egg whites as an aromatic is being seen more as are uses of basil and fresh ground pepper.

Precise Execution

When it comes to creating a perfect cocktail can come down to the tools, and most bar equipment is horrible. Some bartenders are using vintage tools from the 1930s & 40s that were masterpieces in form and function. The Japanese are making some terrific barware as is Uber Bartools in Europe. There are innovations coming in the bar itself such as the self-cleaning well, non-blocking sink and refrigerated ice well.


Basically, if you run a bar you must have a cocktail menu. Don’t want to be bothered coming up with custom cocktails? Go with the classics (Martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioned). The Tiki Bar is said to be making a comeback, but did they ever go out of style? If you want to innovate, use the classics as template and evolve your cocktail from there. Finally, it doesn’t hurt to have one over the top crazy cocktail on the menu, like a McGriddle Cocktail, just make sure it tastes good, strange but great!


Read Imbibe: An Homage to “Professor” Jerry Thomas.

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