Classic cocktails making a comeback, but with interesting new twists and fresh ingredients
While the spirit of the holiday season rings out with the flavour of cocktails, classic mixed drinks have been experiencing a wider renaissance of late, at least according to Kitchener restaurateurs and mixologists.
Historically, cocktails have gone through alternate phases of popularity and neglect, but they’ve captured the attention of this era’s “bright young things,” just as they did for bohemians in 1920’s London.
Manhattans, whiskey sours and old-fashioneds are on the come-back trail. The Negroni, named for foppish Florentine Count Negroni at Bar Giacosa, features the brightly seasonal colours and fruit of red Campari and an orange-peel garnish. It’s a trendy and hot cocktail that’s cool again.
And why shouldn’t it be? Even the word cocktail is a cool enigma: there are dozens of theories of how the name came to be, but perhaps the indeterminacy of precisely what a “cocktail” is and what the word means is part of its enduring allure.
Dee Brun, an award-winning author and television personality who is based in Kitchener and operates cocktaildeeva.com, agrees that legendary cocktails are making a comeback. But it is a case of old school meeting new finesse, she asserts.
“Classic cocktails are using new ingredients such as fresh herbs or are adding carbonation. It’s old cocktails, but with a twist,” says Brun, who also points out that so-called bar-chefs are adding foodstuffs to cocktails in interesting and unique ways.
At Marisol Restaurant on Ontario Street, chef and co-owner Jeff Ward prepares his own Washington state or Niagara cherries when they are in season and preserves them for the Manhattans shaken up at the restaurant. The store-bought, bleached-then-dyed maraschinos just won’t do.
“We use some vanilla in preparing the cherries, which goes well with the bourbon. We have also seen increased orders for old-fashioneds (a sort of Manhattan with sugar), and a lot of Caesars recently,” Ward says. “And I don’t know if it ever really went away, but there has been a lot of interest in the classic dirty, dry martini too.”
At Kitchener’s Imbibe Food and Drink in TheMuseum, proprietor Bill MacTavish says he senses a growing love of classic cocktails and especially those Manhattans, the drink that was purportedly invented by Sir Winston Churchill’s American mother.
“We do classic cocktails,” MacTavish says. “Our list isn’t long, but we take great care in making the drinks.”
Just outside of downtown, Martini’s has experienced the same cocktail interest, says David Beneteau, head bartender and resident mixologist.
“There has been a movement toward classic cocktails like old-fashioneds, Manhattans and Martinis. Over the last few years, Toronto has gone back to classic cocktails, and it’s trickled down to Kitchener.”
On Victoria Street, Verses Restaurant’s candy cane martini isn’t even seasonal, according to co-owner Deb McFadden. One of their signature cocktails, it hits the spot year-round: white crème de cacao, vodka, green crème de menthe and grenadine are mixed cunningly to create an alluring multi-layered effect.
Mixology maven Brun is keen that we reintroduce the lost, graceful art of the cocktail concept back into the full dining experience.
“A cocktail appetizer is part of the restaurant experience,” Brun says.
“So settle in with a signature cocktail or the bartender’s favourite cocktail before dinner.”
Credit the popularity of the television show Mad Men for giving a boost to the Manhattan if you must, but the idea of sipping a smooth, sophisticated cocktail is a current trend in the region that is really part of a long, historical cycle of the cool, elegant drinks.
“I think the increased interest has to do with knowledge,” says MacTavish. “People know more about these cocktails in general. The rise of the cocktail is great.”
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Andrew Coppolino is a Kitchener-based food writer. Visit him at waterlooregioneats.com.
2 dashes bitters
1 ounce sweet vermouth
4 ounces rye whisky or bourbon
2 Maraschino cherries
Fill a cocktail jigger full with freshly cracked ice. Add bitters, vermouth and rye. Shake vigorously or stir. Drop Maraschino cherries into a short cocktail glass. Strain the Manhattan over the cherries and enjoy immediately.
(Adapted from epicurious.com)