It’s not just bartenders that are turning their backs on the term ‘mixology’. It seems drinkers are far happier ordering a cocktail they have grown up with or know than something that has been created in a laboratory rather than a bar. The Buyer reports back on the key trends from the recent Funkin Cocktails Innovation Forum.
Why it’s no longer old fashioned to have a list based around old time cocktail classics and favourites rather than trying to push the boundaries
If you asked a group of bartenders from some of the edgiest, hippiest bars in the UK what they saw as the key trends driving cocktails in the UK, what would you expect them to say? Recipes based on the latest molecular technology? Weird and wonderful things to do with kale or a beetroot? Cocktails served in anything but a straightforward glass, perhaps?
Well, yes, those things do come up, but they are well down a list that puts turning out old time holiday classics like Pina Coladas or Rusty Nails further up the pecking order than knowing how to spread dry ice across your bar.
It seems in this increasingly busy world of ours, when it comes to kicking back and enjoying time in a bar sipping a cocktail or two, tried and trusted drinks are the ones drinkers turn to time again.
Cocktails that are simple to understand and consistent to make are more popular, in the main, to the multi-ingredient, flavour bombs that you might expect people to be queuing up for in a Hoxton bar.
Drinks that are very much in keeping with the huge rise in popularity of casual dining chains, where the emphasis is on getting a core offer absolutely spot on.
That was one of the key conclusions from the latest Innovation Forum hosted by Funkin Cocktails, those clever folk that create a whole range of ready made, pre-mixed purées and syrups that are never too far from a bar tender’s hands.
“I think part of it comes down to the fact we are now able to make those classic drinks so much better than before. The skills we have learnt as bar tenders means we are able to deliver those drinks but with our own personality,” said Rhys Wilson, general manager, of Happiness Forgets, the basement bar in Hoxton Square.
Marcic Dzelzainis at Sager and Wilde agrees: “When people ask for those classic cocktails, they are asking us to make it in the best way we can.”
Better than ever
The ability to be able to make the classic cocktail, but in a way a customer has not had before, or with such precision it tastes very different, is now a key point of difference for bars, said Massimo Zitti of Cain and Grain in Manchester, the 2014/ 2015 winner of Funkin’s Innovation competition.
He believes it is also a kick back from drinkers against all the innovation that has taken place in cocktails in recent years. “People want to see the passion in how we make these classic drinks. They are simple drinks, but they appeal to everyone,” he added.
“People are also a lot more interested in how those classic drinks are made. Why we use the spirits we do,” said Wilson at Happiness Forgets.
“There is so much more information available now to our customers through social media. So it raises the bar a little,” agreed Dzelzainis.
The classic cocktail also resonates with the drinker in that they understand and know what they are going to get, said Nick Lewis, learning and development manager at the Be at One bar chain
He said that although it now has 30 outlets around the country the top 25 cocktails sold in each one is pretty similar. Drinkers across the nation are returning to what they know best. The challenge for bars and spirits producers is to ensure they give the very best quality, stressed Lewis.
Consistency is key. “That is why training is so important to us. Every drink must be prepared and served in the same way in every one of our bars by anyone of our 370 bar tenders,” added Lewis.
Which is why if Noel Coward, Ernest Hemingway or Frank Sinatra were to walk in to a top UK bar today an order an Old Fashioned, or a mixed Martini, it would be unrecognisable to the drinks they had in their day.
Some of that difference lies in the skill of the bar tender, but let’s not forget the improvements in the quality and variety of spirits now available to the most discerning bars and restaurants. There certainly was not the equivalent of a Funkin Jalapeno syrup to help produce the same cocktail time and time again.
Having bar tenders as brand ambassadors might be good for the image and reputation of the individual brand, but when the association is truly collaborative it can mean the quality and suitability of a particular spirit for bars to use in cocktails is enhanced for the benefit of all in the trade.
It is also giving drinks that may have been neglected in the past by the cocktail world a second lease of life. Like sherry.
Wilson at Happiness Forgets said it is now increasingly his go to base drink to create something completely new and different. It has, for example, the Jerizona which is a combination of two sherries and two vermouths. A very different type of flavour profile.
A modern cocktail using one of the most traditional drinks available.
Whatever innovations are coming out of cocktail bars, the key is to make them relevant and in touch with what customers want, stressed Lewis.
“Too often you see menus that bartenders love, but they don’t work because the customers don’t understand them. We have to give our customers what they want.”
If that’s innovation in itself, then so be it.