Remember the Blue Blazer? Probably not, unless you’re a fan of Professor Jerry Thomas, America’s best-known barkeep in the late 19th century. The Blazer was Thomas’s signature drink, one that took “Shaken, not stirred” to a dangerous level; with a flourish, he would ignite a mixture of Scotch and boiling water and pour it between two mugs while the blue flames shot high. As the bar crowd gaped, he’d smother the fire, add sugar and a lemon peel and pass the smoking concoction to a stunned customer.
The Blazer was a passing fancy, however, just like the Bronx Cocktail and the Gin Fizz, the Whiskey Sour and the Harvey Wallbanger, the Sloe Comfortable Screw and the Fuzzy Navel; all at one time powerful category builders whose popularity pushed their ingredients onto America’s back bars, all now mostly faded from the scene. By the early 1990s, with few exceptions, mixed drinks based on spirits came to be dominated in bars by micro-brews, light beers and wine coolers.
But today, American consumers seem once again to be on a cocktail tear, a trend covered relentlessly in men’s magazines, on television, in newspapers and in the pages of Cheers. Even The New York Times has weighed in, with a piece last month declaring that cocktail creativity was out of control.
But is it?
Consumers and mixologists show no lack of interest in the vodka-based Alternatinis that have spurred the mixed drink revival. In fact, the taste for mixed drinks generated by these cocktails has exploded onto the bar scene and forged new creations at all sorts of operators who all seem busy whipping up beverage programs based on mixes of spirits, liqueurs, juices, herbs, spices and flavorings. The trend has added an international flair to what once was primarily an Anglo-American concept.
Take the beverage menu at Chicago’s Wonton Club, for instance, where new Martinis like the Pearl (made with Absolut and pear sake) share space with the Ginger Kane (ginger-infused gin served chilled in a sugar-rimmed glass) and the Wasabi Bloody Mary (vodka with Tamari, lime, cilantro and Thai chili).
Or how about the so-called 100 Martini Menu passed around at Top of the Mark at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco? The list is a compilation of contemporary vodka-based Alternatinis mixed with new versions of such old classics as the Sidecar (Phil’s Side Car on the menu, made with Courvoisier VS, triple sec and sour mix served in a sugar rimmed glass) and the Stinger (Dave’s Green Hornet here, a mix of Courvoisier and green creme de menthe). The menu also works hard at introducing new cocktails, such as the Garden of Eden (Skyy Vodka, calvados and apple cider,) the Snowcone (Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, banana liqueur and blue curacao) and the Jack of Hearts (Jack Daniel’s, grenadine and cranberry juice.)
And then there’s the drink menu at Bahama Breeze, a hot chain concept considered a candidate for national break-out and winner of the 1998 Cheers Awards for Beverage Excellence for best beverage menu and overall chain beverage program. Page after page of their commodious, colorful menu is devoted to mixed drinks: cocktails, fruit-juice and spirit mixes, frozen and blender drinks, hot coffees and chocolates, all of them with a strong spirit component.
The carefully designed beverage program includes originals–the Week at the Beach (DeKuyper Apple Jack and Peachtree Schnapps, Smirnoff vodka, orange juice and cranberry juice) and Caribbean Sin (a blender drink of Bacardi Rum, DeKuyper Key Largo schnapps, banana liqueur, mango ice and a float of Myers’s Rum)–and even incorporates an index of cocktails and ingredients at the back of the book. It’s a technique that bar and restaurant operators seem to have embraced with open arms: sell more mixed drinks by making them an integral part of your concept.
Routinely now, new operations create their own signature mixed drinks. Two international restaurants in New York City embody that trend. At the Indian restaurant Surya, the Tandoori Sour (Stoli Strawberry, Midori and fresh lime juice garnished with fresh mint) and the Indian Rose (Cruzan Citrus Rum, Stoli Ohranj, peach schnapps and cranberry juice garnished with rose petals) share space on the drink menu with a Tajmapolitan, a Cosmopolitan topped with cinnamon.
The list at Moroccan-style Ca Es Saada employs unusual flavors and ingredients to create new drinks. The Topaz Teardrop, for instance, is a high-priced combination of Absolut Citr