Simplicity on the 
craft cocktail horizon

The worlds of food, drink, fashion, finance (and more) are always going through trends. A general direction in which something is developing or changing, trends have a tendency to both repeat themselves throughout history and vanish forever into the abyss. I.e., “Praise satan that the feather hair extensions trend died with the year 2015,” says every devoted follower of haute couture ever. The year of 2015 was certainly groundbreaking in the realm of intoxicants, when the Negroni cocktail filled millennials’ glasses, and herbaceous amaros like Fernet began to trump the syrup-like digestifs such as Jägermeister as a neat pour of choice amongst bar-goers. So, what might bartenders and mixologists have in store for us in 2016? I have no doubt that fervent brand ambassadors across the country have already hit the pavement to bring both classic and innovative spirits into the hands of the eager creators themselves, formulating libations that will set the craft cocktail tone for the year. I’m getting thirsty already.

Cocktail craftsman Levi Beckley of Meta and Le Moo, tells me that 2016 will be “the year of simplification.” When customers are often overwhelmed with a menu that hosts a myriad of ingredients they may or may not have ever heard of, simplicity may just be music to a patron’s ears. “The trend of ridiculousness in cocktails is fading,” says Beckley. “People want simple, well-made cocktails. Classics or riffs on classics are being well received and called for.” Beckley must be onto something with his three-to-four-bottle pick-up ideology, as Louisville’s craft cocktail trailblazer Jared Schubert hosted his “Basic Brawl,” last month — a cocktail competition that allotted only the most basic ingredients and concepts. Schubert is also a co-founder of Camp Runamok, an iconic bartender summer camp in the heart of Bourbon Country. One can only imagine he’ll be driving this concept home at this year’s camps, where 200 eager drink-slingers from across the country will soak up all the whiskey and knowledge they possibly can.

Another trend we won’t see taking flight this year: vermouths. James Silva of Brendon’s Catch 23 says he’s been playing with this fortified wine in cocktails beyond the classic martini. “When it comes to Manhattans and gin martinis, people have all sorts of questions [regarding vermouths],” says Silva, who claims vermouths add a botanical agent to a drink and can blend to create whimsical colors with spirits such as Pama and Green Chartreuse. “Using them in new cocktail creations is fun — right now I’ve been working on a clear Manhattan using Dolin Blanc vermouth, mint, and moonshine.”

Local spirits goddess, Ashley “Smashley” Towning, who slings both delectable intoxicants and her emerald-colored hair around Aloft Hotel’s Corner Louisville and Fontleroy’s, tells me that she sees spicy, savory flavor profiles on 2016’s horizon. “Savory drinks are making a huge comeback into modern cocktail menus,” says Towning, who recently hosted a “guest bartending” event at 8UP Elevated Drinkery and Kitchen at which she made and auctioned off one hundred different classic cocktails in celebration of Prohibition’s Repeal Day.  Is it proper journalism to #badbitchalert?

It’s not uncommon to see some of the country’s newest culinary and beverage trends being executed with ease in our very own restaurant mecca of Louisville, which could be part of why the late 2015 opening of Bobby Benjamin’s Butchertown Grocery has continued to ripple with critical acclaim into 2016. Methinks we’ll be seeing more themed cocktail menus, such as that of beverage director Marie Zahn at the swanky eatery and its sexy second-floor bar, which hosts a Tom Waits-themed cocktail menu (three sections of drinks seemingly ranging from light on the booze to zero mixers — A Little Rain, More Than Rain and Little Drops of Poison). In light of the tragic passing of the Goblin King, I see a Bowie-themed cocktail list on the horizon. Louisville bartenders, beverage directors, someone, do it.

Constantly grateful I live in Louisville, where chefs and mixologists simply aren’t afraid to take risks, I have no doubt 2016 will be filled with unprecedented potions that are both avante garde and beautifully simplistic. We can daydream, fantasize, inquire and interview the industry veterans, but truthfully, who knows what these talented barkeeps will mix up next? After all, I drank wine out of a can last week. Anything is possible.