Local Cocktail Bar trends we’re seeing right now

Imagine a cocktail that tastes exactly like your Thanksgiving spread – flavors of turkey, cranberry, rosemary and salt create a savory drink that would complement, or maybe even supplement, a Thanksgiving feast. Weird, or awesome?

Regardless of your interpretation, American Fifth Spirits is doing it – creating seasonally inspired concoctions like their previously described “Turkey Feast,” or their “Bourbon Pecan Pie cocktail.” This seasonal flare is a perfect example of one of the major trends we are seeing hit the cocktail and liquor scene right now.

“We take a very culinary approach to our cocktails,” said Head Distiller & President of American Fifth Spirits in downtown Lansing.

“Using seasonal ingredients is definitely a culinary-minded thing to do, and lots of cocktail bars and bartenders have started keeping that in mind when creating cocktails as well.”

At American Fifth Spirits, their menu changes on the fifth of each month, allowing them to change the focus and feel of the menu for each season. While seasonally-inspired cocktails are certainly a current trend on the current cocktail scene, four more liquor-focused trends are also grabbing our attention this season.

1. Savory (or smoky) is winning over sweet.

For a long time in the cocktail game, specialty simple syrups were the gamechanger. Bar tenders and mixologists could alter the flavor of them by making them with special or specific herbs or botanicals to create the added flavor and sweetener to your drink. But now, sweet is no longer the trend – savory, or rather, smoky flavors, are the direction that many drinks and taste preferences are heading toward.

“A lot of the sweetness is being taken away. Syrups are becoming less used than before,” said Wyble. “The smoked flavor is super popular right now.”

Mezcal – the smoke-flavored version of Tequila - is made in the same way that Tequila is - by fermenting agave plants – the difference between the two is that for Mezcal, the plants are roasted in giant fire pits before fermentation, creating the liquor’s famous smoky flavor. Mezcal has been said to be the “liquor of the moment” in the past few years, as its popularity across the nation’s liquor scene has exploded in the past year or so, and has most likely contributed to the smoke and savory cocktail craze. American Fifth has a drink on their menu right now where they pre-smoke the glass that the cocktail will be in ahead of time for added flavor and aromatics.

2. Bitters are big.

Going with the notion that sweet is out and savory is in, it’s no surprise that bitters – an alcohol-based add-in - is making a resurgence in popularity. Bitters have been traditionally used sparingly in cocktails for aromatic and flavoring purposes, emitting a bitter – thus the namesake – flavor and aroma.

“To make bitters, you take a very high proof alcohol and you add herbs and botanicals to it and it extracts the essential oils and flavors from it. Typically you have two herbs and botanicals – one being the bittering agent, which you would have a lot of, and one that gives the bitters flavor,” said Wyble.

He noted that while most people use bitters as a last-minute addition to complete a drink, the bartenders at American Fifth and others have played with the idea of using bitters, making them the alcoholic base of some of their more experimental concoctions.

“The flavor component can accentuate other flavors that are already being used in the drink,” explained Wyble. He said that one drink they have featured had hibiscus in it, so they used hibiscus bitters to accentuate the previously added hibiscus flavors.

3. “Whiskey is king.”

That’s what Wyble had to say about this trend. Although this isn’t specifically related to cocktails, Whiskey, consumed either neat or on the rocks, is one of the most popular (liquor-related) bar drinks out there right now.

“There’s not a lot of consumption of whiskey in terms of cocktails, but right now people are absolutely loving good whiskey,” said Wyble. Because Wyble has worked in the alcoholic beverage industry for 15+ years, he said that he’s seen trends come and go, as well as popularity in drinks spike due to either popular culture, but whiskey has seemed to stand the test of time.

4. “Mocktails” are attracting a cult following.

Interestingly enough, even in an age where the art of craft alcoholic beverages are at an all-time high in popularity, “mocktails,” or non-alcoholic cocktails, are also becoming increasingly popular. At American Fifth Spirits, they call these drinks their “Designated Driver” options.

“For people who either can’t drink or don’t want to drink, mocktails are a great, more flavorful and interesting option rather than just having coffee, tea or water,” said Wyble. “People who come in and see it on the menu certainly appreciate that as an option.”