If you’ve sidled up to bars over the past decade or two, you’ve probably noticed a change. Gone are the days of boat-sized, vaguely fruity concoctions listed out on a menu of x-tinis; of haphazardly made Old-Fashioneds topped with club soda and what might as well be a complete fruit salad. Sour mix is out, and fresh juice and homemade syrups are in.
Bars – especially those billing themselves as cocktail bars, but also restaurants with what we now call ‘cocktail programs’ – are taking time with their drinks, carefully measuring ingredients, making syrups and infusions in-house. They painstakingly press and strain fresh juice (or construct acid-adjusted simulacra of the same), reconstruct long-forgotten classics and obscurities, and build novel drinks out of an ever-expanding array of unusual, unexpected, and – even to sophisticated drinkers – largely unknown ingredients. If you want a Manhattan variation made with Fey Anmè – a forest liqueur inspired by Haitian botanicals and made from hibiscus buds, dandelion, and bitter melon . . . well, some enterprising bartender probably has you covered. And if not, with a little bit of effort, you can probably stir one up at home.
This is a far cry from the simplistic, slapdash, thoughtlessly boozy drinking culture that ruled from the 1970s through the 1990s. It’s fussy, precise, thoughtful – at times almost overeducated – and it has resulted in a rapid improvement in the quality and creativity of craft cocktails since the turn of the century. This period of improvement has been called the cocktail renaissance.