Cocktails, like hot pants and royal weddings are back in fashion. While opinions are divided on the reason why, trend watchers agree on one thing, this revival is going to trigger some of the most intricate, sophisticated and ecologically-responsible cocktails to date.
But, first a quick history lesson. Despite being around since the 19th century, America's prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s is what triggered the cocktail explosion as people found innovative ways to disguise their bootleggers' dodgy offerings.
By the 1950s, gin was a spirit of choice and the glamorous ‘cocktail hour' was as much about kitten heels, flouncy dresses and scarlet lipsticks as it was about Mojitoes, Vodka Martinis and Gimlets. Parties tinkled with blasé lounge music, ropes of pearls and salt-rimmed glasses. James Bond's iconic Vesper Martini spawned a generation of macho drinkers. (Insert obligatory ‘shaken-stirred' cliché of choice.)
Then came the movie “Cocktail” in the late 1980s, that supremely syrupy ode to bartenders and their glossy juggling of vodka bottles between quips on life and some pretty bad slam poetry. This movie's singly-handedly responsible for inspiring a large chunk of our generation of bartenders, fuelled by Douglas Coughlan's mantra: “The bartender is the aristocrat of the working class, he can make all sorts of moves if he is smart.”
Since we're on pop culture, we might as well admit that the last decade's cocktails were ordered mainly by girls, resolutely clutching their brazenly pink Cosmopolitans and sparkly evening bags thanks to “Sex and The City”. In India, for a long time the businessmen drank whiskey, the yuppies drank wine and the party hoppers drank vodka, leaving cocktails for the young and giggly, the people looking for an accessory in a glass. Anyway, Indian cocktails were often overly sweet and syrupy version of old classics: Pinacoladas, Long Island Ice Teas and Red Bull paired with everything. Fortunately that's changing.
Now even as ‘Mad Men', the hip television series set in Madison Avenue in the late 1950s and early 1960s, brings elegant old-fashioned cocktails back into fashion, chefs are getting involved in mixology, reinventing the classics and creating startling new concoctions. Since local ingredients are being feted like never before, it's inevitable that they're finding their way into our glasses. Think curry leaf martinis in India, a lemongrass Mojito in Thailand or a Cucumber gimlet anywhere in the world with vegetables from the closest farmer's market.
A recent ‘Pioneers of Mixology' seminar organised by Pernod-Ricard in New York featured celebrity bartender Nick Strangeway promoting ‘Field-to-Glass' cocktails as well as urging bartenders to start “guerrilla gardening”, which is finding public mud and planting unusual seeds. He also suggested foraging in the tradition of Noma (Copenhagen), acknowledged to be the world's best restaurant. For example Strangeway's Gin cocktail served with a liqueur of pine needles found in Central Park, New York.
Meanwhile, alcohol manufacturers are working hard for their halos. Today you can find cocktails made with pesticide-free vodka, organic vodka and even carbon neutral rum. A brand called Prairie Organic Vodka made from corn is targeted at celiac sufferers. 3 Vodka is soy based. There's VeeV, a spirit made from acai, the Brazilian Rainforest super-fruit. VeeV claims this drink has “57 per cent more antioxidants than pomegranates and 30 times more heart healthy anthocyanins than red wine”.
Suggested cocktails include the Rainforest Remedy: fresh mint with acai, pear cider, green chartreuse and an apple chip.
If you find whiskey too reminiscent of retired golfers and absinthe too dangerously Oscar Wilde, perhaps it's time to find a compromise and try a blended drink. But we suggest you ease up on the alcohol and slow down to really enjoy a cocktail's intricacies.
The new-age cocktail is not a drink for frat parties or Saturday night at a youth hostel in Barcelona. It's James Dean and Audrey Hepburn. A chance to be Rebel Without a Cause, and still savour Breakfast at Tiffany's.