This is a sponsored conversation, however all commentary is my own.
The last two decades have ushered in a kind of food and beverage renaissance, as Americans have traded in outdated recipe cards and post-war approaches to mealtime for farm-to-fork dining and international flavors. The proliferation of innovative food blogs and the ease of ordering previously hard-to-find ingredients online have allowed gourmands and home chefs alike to branch out from their comfort zones and whip up new recipes for their families and friends.
Celebrity chefs, Internet personalities and cookbook authors have contributed to the ease of entertaining with recipes for approachable yet elegant hors d’oeuvres and craft cocktails. Whether you aim to revive a homegrown jazz age standard or serve up a libation with an exotic twist, the ingredients and recipes for crowd pleasing potables are now a mere click away.
The craft cocktail is a trend that is receiving a lot of attention right now, and it’s not hard to see why. Rather than treating the post-work drink as simply a means for relaxation and escape, the cocktail has come into its own almost as a course in and of itself. Trendy bars now advertise hand chipped ice and bitters made in house with locally sourced herbs. Whiskey bars are popping up in neighborhoods that strive to serve drinks with as much care and attention put into them as a dish at a fine dining establishment. Bartenders have been replaced by mixologists, implying that they bear knowledge that transcends that of slinging drinks, and can educate their customers on the batches and barrels from which their elixirs were bottled.
Old standards, such as Manhattans, Sazeracs and gin fizzes, are making comebacks and boasting flavors that can’t be found using big box store vermouths. Specialty liquor purveyors now carry varieties of cocktail components that you once had to travel overseas to purchase. Instead of waiting until your next vacation to enjoy jenever, absinthe or even cachaça, you can mix these liquors in your own living room. For those who enjoy entertaining, the accessibility of spirits from micro distilleries and small batch aperitifs is a dream come true.
While it’s always a great idea to have familiar mixed drinks on hand, diversifying your guests’ options with the unexpected will make the party extra special. My own foray into the world of cocktails has meant that every occasion requires a specialty drink and with some practice it’s become an easy and fun alternative to meeting friends at a local watering hole; I AM the watering hole!
Craft cocktails can be a personal, thoughtful and interactive experience. A few choice questions can enable a good mixologist to narrow down a customer’s taste enough to help him discover a new favorite drink. You can attain a similar level of sophistication at your next party by keeping a few seasonal options on hand. Rather than limiting your guests’ choices to beer and red or white wine, employ holiday punches in the fall and winter, and light effervescent drinks in the warmer months.
Serving to a crowd? A good Margarita (that’s my new favorite above) or Caipirinha can be premixed. Simply combine all the non-carbonated ingredients of your favorite cocktail ahead of time, and shake and pour over ice when guests arrive. Add the appropriate garnish and splash of soda when it’s time to serve, and delight the crowd with something exciting.
Our senses of smell and taste are linked most strongly with memory, and distributing a round of Cachaça, Tequila or Mezcal-based cocktails during a summer barbecue can trigger stories of previous vacations and adventures. I met with a friend this past weekend for a long overdue catching up and now we’re planning our next get together in my home for a barbecue. She’s from Columbia and I wanted to plan a cocktail with a Columbian tradition but somehow I ended up in Brazil and discovered a drink called the Caipirinha!
This drink is to Brazil what Margaritas are to the US and the Paloma is to Mexico…the most popular drink of all. If not perfect timing for my friend then at least perfect for the upcoming summer Olympics; turn on the tube, prop up your feet and keep a Caipirinha close by; it will feel as if you are there!
While some might assure you that a Caipirinha is fine with rum, true stalwarts will fight that notion with veracity. Both rum and Cachaça start with sugar cane but there the similarities end. The key difference between the two spirits lies in the way the base ingredient is handled. Rum is traditionally made from processed cane (molasses) while Cachaça is made from fresh-pressed, unprocessed cane juice which lends it a distinctive clean, grassy flavor and a subtle but evident herbaceous nose. I admit, I had never heard of it but that made it even more of an adventure of discovery!
Probably the best known Cachaça is Pitu but just as I would recommend you move beyond gold tequila to a reposado, steer clear of the cheapest and find something more mid range. Leblon was perfect for trying this new cocktail; it carries a mid level price point with a good flavor profile. Check out this video for how to make the Caipirinha Recipe – so easy to make and we thought just the perfect refreshing summer cocktail!
While alcohol is a well known icebreaker, when the drink itself tells a story, you can count on an even more enjoyable gathering. With niche cookbooks and cocktail recipes becoming more and more fashionable, the stigma that swanky beverages are complicated and unapproachable at home is quickly fading. The home entertainer can keep pace with the best of them, and offer impressive seasonal drinks throughout the year. It’s one reason I love offering cocktails to my readers every week; to show just how easy it is to make a great cocktail at home with just a couple of ingredients.
Interestingly enough, in the world of foodies and bon vivants today, responsible drinking doesn’t just mean knowing when to stop. The production and distribution processes of food and drink has become transparent enough that not only can consumers find organic eggs and local vegetables, but they can also enjoy sustainably distilled spirits and beers from close to home.
Renewed interest in the craft cocktail has allowed hundreds of small businesses to show off local flavor and get into the alcohol game. I was recently at a local pub that is offering some fantastic cocktails with the assistance of ‘Molecular Gastronomy.’ This gorgeous raspberry cocktail is highlighted with frozen particles of Hard Lemonade…not just fun to drink but fun to watch as they’re being made too!
The relatively recent push for people to know where their food comes from has expanded into the cocktail world as well, creating delicious and fun alternatives to old stand-bys and opening the door for modern experimentation. It’s a great time to mix up the old routine and pour your energy into discovering new drinks.
Denver has a wealth of small distributors making new and exciting pours and bars all over town are offering up both classic and crafted on the spot libations for people intent on discovering more about this relatively new scene. I know they are not alone; it’s a fun excursion to spend some time discovering the local offerings and trying something new!