Wednesday, April 6, 2011

At the forefront

Last night I was flipping through the April edition of Food & Wine while enjoying a dinner of seared sea scallops, asparagus and new potatoes when I can across the column on cocktail trends.  In general, I thought that the trends listed were pretty spot on, which isn't too surprising given that the author is PDT's Jim Meehan.  Though none of the featured recipes in the column were derived from Boston-area bartenders, I've definitely seen these trends in Boston for some time now as well.  Just my two cents..

1) Chef Cocktails:
I'm not exactly sure I understand what is meant by this.  It seems to me that the associated cocktail in this category is more culinary in the sense that spice, herb and fruit is combined with spirits.  Of the four, I probably disagree with the idea that "chef cocktails" is necessarily a trend.  There was a fad a few years ago to infuse vodka with just about everything under the sun.  Perhaps this is a newer manifestation, a moderated and more thoughtful application of introducing traditionally culinary, non-cocktail ingredients into the glass, but hardly anything extraordinarily new.  Bob McCoy's La Adelita, Todd Maul's Spring in the Afternoon, the Fin du Saison at Craigie on Main are all recent examples.

2) Salt:
The Fin du Saison allows me to nicely segue into this section on salting cocktails.  Salt has been popping up in cocktails all over the place over the last year or so.  Scott Holliday's Alicante, Misty Kalkofen's Little Giuseppe, and Kevin Martin's Danube all come to mind as cocktails I have enjoyed greatly where a touch of salt does have quite an effect on the balance of the drink.  I think the most extreme example that I can think of is the Campari "martini", which uses salt to affect the sensation of Campari's bitterness.  I'd be really interested to know what exactly the salinity does, as I'm sure the actual science behind this is fascinating.  (On this topic, I must also pat myself on the back a wee bit, since salting cocktails was my prediction for the next emerging trend in cocktails when asked a few weeks ago.) This wins my vote for most exciting trend.

3) Nonalcoholic cocktails:
With the advent of a greater variety of nonalcoholic syrups, more inventive soft drinks are on the rise.  There was an article in the NYTimes on this trend a couple months ago, so I guess it must be trending in New York, but I have to admit that I haven't seen it much in Boston.  Perhaps because I never look in the menu section labeled "nonalcoholic."

4) Tea:
I feel like most serious bars that I've been to have used tea for a while now, at least, for as long as I've been drinking serious cocktails, which I suppose isn't all that long.  I remember Ted Kilgore serving me something infused with tea during one of my first trips to Taste by Niche.  Not to mention, tea has historically been used in punches for ages, such as the Philadelphia Fish House punch. ("Tea punch" if you will, but not ti punch!)  Locally, I'm really intrigued by Max Toste's tea bitters, just another reason I should head out to Deep Ellum more.  As I recall, Ben Sandrof also plays with a lot of interesting teas like Pu-erh and Lapsang Souchong, but I have yet to experience this pleasure for myself.  Fred at cocktail virgin slut also seems to frequently feature tea in his recipes, indeed, even hosting a MxMo on the matter.  I also joined the fray with my Daitoku-ji cocktail from a couple weeks ago that combined both green tea and thyme, not dissimilar to Kathy Casey's Tea Thyme featured in F&W.

Even though this was not identified as a trend by Meehan, I think it should be:
5) Smoke:
Adding smokiness to cocktails is nothing new, with Laphroig rinses and mezcal, for example.  However, I think that adding actual smoke to cocktails is something that may see increasing traction.  See the Spring in the Afternoon above for just one example of Todd Maul's adventures in smoke, and see his Smoking Cinnamon for another.  Jamie Boudreau also has done some awesome things with smoker, the Machine Head coming to mind.  Shingo Gokan's technique of toasting thyme, while perhaps not smoking copiously, does bring out volatiles and changes the flavor profile.

My contribution to this 'trend' of smoke, if I may be so bold, is simply to smoke a glass with pipe tobacco before pouring in a standard bourbon old-fashioned.  To do so, I put a tiny pinch of pipe tobacco (from Leavitt and Pearce) on a small piece of foil and wrapped that under and upside down rocks glass.  I then used a kitchen torch to gently heat the foil until smoke appeared.  After letting the smoke condense a bit, removed the foil and poured in the old-fashioned.

Smoking the glass
Old-fashioneds are delicious as they are, but smoking the glass with a dash of pipe tobacco (I wish I had a smoking gun!) definitely donated an aroma of cherry wood, vanilla and a touch of smoke.  Because I was just gently warming the pipe tobacco instead of outright incinerating it, the smokiness was less powerful.  Besides I love the smell of pipe tobacco itself and that's exactly what I got.  A delicious way to augment an old-fashioned.

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