What will everyone see in their glasses in the year ahead? These 2015 predictions include upscale shots, more flexibility in cocktails and even robot bartenders -- plus a few wishful speculations just for fun.
1. Lots of Shots
The backlash against stuffy cocktails will continue with the beer-and-a-shot combo--or sometimes just a shot. New York's Boilermaker has a full menu of beer-and-a-shot combinations, including the Dark & Bitter (Victory Storm King Stout and Ramazotti amaro), as well as the option for a "Bucket of Boilermakers" for large groups, namely a six-pack of beer plus six shots of Buffalo Trace bourbon. At Miami Beach restaurant The Forge, it's all about "dessert shots," such as The Layered Grasshopper Shot (crème de menthe, crème de cacao and sweetened cream).
2. The End of Bartenders
Between flashy robot bartenders on board Royal Caribbean's new Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, Monsieur the "robotic bartender," and WiFi-enabled, Keurig-style "automated craft cocktail machines," technology completes its takeover of the world, one cocktail at a time.
3. Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Cocktails
As part of the growing egalitarian attitude at bars, expect to see more "non-judgmental" drinks, as at New York's The Happiest Hour. There, guests are encouraged to choose a spirit to customize drinks, as in the Link Ray pictured above (celery, Suze, lime, cane syrup, soda; guest's choice of jalapeño tequila, rum or gin). Yes: vodka is okay too.
4. Cocktails by Mail
Although cocktail delivery pioneer Julibox closed its doors in October, a growing number of other services are popping up to make sure home bartenders never go thirsty. They include artisan spirits club Caskers and cocktail kits from Crafted Taste and bartender-sourced Cocktail Courier.
5. More Ready-to-Drink Cocktails
Laziness, er, convenience seems to be a theme for 2015. If you can't be bothered to mix drinks at home--and can't afford a robot bartender to do it for you, you can open one of the growing numbers of pre-mixed, ready-to-drink (RTD) bottled cocktails. Traditionally, the RTD category has been awful, sugary messes in a pouch or bottle. But we've seen progress in recent years, with upscale options from Crafthouse Cocktails and Fluid Dynamics leading the pack, plus two newly launched variations on Rock & Rye. Since Crafthouse's Charles Joly left his position at Chicago's Aviary in October, we're expecting to see the brand steamroll in the coming months.
6. Move Over, Moonshine; Here Comes Baijiu
You may have already heard rumblings about baijiu, China's overproof firewater. It's been making inroads in the U.S., but without a signature cocktail--the baijiu equivalent of the Margarita or the Pisco sour--it's not going to get much traction stateside. That may change in 2015. Los Angeles already has a Peking Tavern, specializing in baijiu cocktails, such as the Wong Chiu Punch (Red Star baijiu, hibiscus, lemon). New York is getting a baijiu bar in 2015. Will your town be next?
7. We'll Roll Out the Barrel
Are you ready for sipping gins? Barrel-aged gin has been having a moment among gin-lovers, and this may be the year that the category goes mainstream. These golden gins are aged in former whiskey barrels, if not brandy, rum or other used casks. They have nuance and complexity, layering vanilla and brown sugar on top of sprightly botanical notes. Bartenders are starting to embrace these bottlings too, as in The Urban Cowboy, an Old Fashioned variation spotted at Austin's Hightower, made with Texas-made Waterloo Antique Gin.
You're already familiar with tequila, and probably mezcal too. But agave-lovers will want to keep an eye out for three other Mexican imports: sotol, bacanora and raicilla. The last one in particular is just starting to arrive in the U.S., and bartenders are starting to make cocktails with all of the above.
Okay, maybe we're exaggerating for effect--but not by much. When Denny's rolls out a cocktail program and Red Robin offers boozy shakes, including a Divalicious Red Wine Shake (with red wine, Pinnacle Whipped vodka, raspberry purée and vanilla soft-serve), we're guessing that Micky D's cocktail program is a definite possibility.
Admittedly, this is pure speculation. But all the signs are there, from a boomlet in pho-inspired cocktails to bull shots to Marco Canora's new broth-only restaurant, Brodo. We already love savory and umami flavors in our cocktails, so perhaps brothy cocktails aren't far behind.
Kara Newman is a New York-based spirits and cocktail writer, and author of Cocktails for a Crowd (Chronicle Books).
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