Spirits of the Season

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Light, refreshing cocktails are on the menu this summer.

By Michelle Franzen Martin

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Speakeasy-inspired spirits that dominated last year’s cocktail lists are stepping aside for lighter, simpler summertime libations.

“We are welcoming umbrella-garnished sips that have evolved,” says Chelsey Dunkel, head mixologist for Bounce Sporting Club, an upscale bar in New York City’s Flatiron District.

Cocktails made with farm-fresh seasonal ingredients, such as fresh fruit and aromatic herbs, are among the trends this summer.

“Flavored liqueurs are being replaced by natural flavors, and straight-up shots take a break for super-chilled, freshly squeezed juice concoctions,” Dunkel explains. “A classic whiskey cocktail served on crushed ice with a massive mint sprig garnish is just one way mixologists are seamlessly transitioning our taste buds from winter/spring to summer.”

Dunkel expects to serve many carrot coladas, made with light coconut milk, as well as spicy passion fruit margaritas. Along with bartenders and mixologists across the country, she will be focused on serving fresh ingredients and homemade syrups and bitters.

“It’s not a coincidence that you can find some of the same ingredients behind the bar that our chef uses in the kitchen,” says Delia Ibrahinova, mixologist at Villa Azur in Miami. “If it’s not 100 percent flavorful, we won’t use it in a cocktail as that will compromise it.”

Ibrahinova uses elements of vanilla and ginger, among other flavors, to make her cocktails stand out. When she’s behind the bar at Villa Azur, it’s all about flavor—especially in the summer.

At Holeman & Finch Public House in Atlanta, simple three- and four-ingredient drinks are on the menu.

“With mixologists getting laughs on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘Portlandia,’ it’s obvious that the ultra-esoteric and obscure cocktail trend is dying out,” says Jason Rager, head bartender at Holeman & Finch. “House-made sodas for innovative highballs will be popular as well as well-stirred and boozy drinks that remain light on the palate.”

Amid warming temperatures, people want to stay outside all day while enjoying cocktails that don’t lead to overindulging. Rager notes that people are beginning to care more about flavor than alcohol content, a trend he doesn’t see reversing anytime soon. Among the flavorful beverages he expects to be in full swing this summer are Champagne cocktails, fortified wines and amari (an Italian herbal liqueur).

One of Rager’s top picks is a twist on a simple classic: gin and tonic with a few drops of grapefruit bitters and a bit of fortified wine. Such simple, seasonal flavors are helping to make everything old become new again.

“With cocktails moving toward a neoclassic style, professional bartenders are becoming more passionate and challenged to rediscover old classics using a contemporary approach,” says Gian Carlo D’Urso, beverage director at Hakkasan.

D’Urso recommends Hakkasan San Francisco’s plum sour, a combination of scotch, Japanese plum sake, egg white, angostura bitters and fresh lemon juice.

“We look at what the seasons bring us and attempt to associate our cocktails with our cuisine,” Ibrahinova says. “A skilled bartender with amazing senses will make the perfect cocktail that your palate has been asking for all afternoon.”