The Issue Bobby Flay Has With The Craft Cocktail Trend

While classic cocktails have never truly gone out of fashion, modern bartenders are really pushing the boundaries of mixology to wow discerning drinkers with craft cocktails — classy or innovative takes on familiar favorites. As the industry continually bucks its own trends with everything from meat-flavored, fat-washed tipples to all manner of unusual infusions, it's no surprise that the culinary world's leading names have something to say on the matter.

Food Network super-chef Bobby Flay is never one to shy away from sharing his insights on the latest trends and ultimately sees the ongoing craft cocktail movement as having a positive impact. "What's great about the recent cocktail explosion," he told Bon Appétit, "is that it's gotten us to think about the ingredients we use when making a drink."

However, despite his praise for mixologists highlighting the potential of individual components, he's not convinced everyone gets it right. Flay goes on to say that his main gripe is that too many craft cocktails are "cloyingly sweet," and that we should think of them like vinaigrettes, as they need to be balanced.

Bobby Flay's ideal cocktail is a superb example of balance

Booby Flay has talked about his favorite cocktail – the sbagliato (a type of negroni) — before, so it's no wonder he appreciates a well-balanced drink. The classic negroni is a prime example of how a cocktail's ingredients can reach perfect equilibrium, with intensely bitter Campari liqueur working in harmony alongside sweet vermouth and dry, herbaceous gin.

The negroni sbagliatio is a twist on the classic Italian cocktail, topping the drink off with prosecco in lieu of gin. It's a great demonstration of how the right ingredient — in this case, one that's not too sweet nor too dry — can keep flavors balanced.

It's important to note that Flay doesn't dismiss the idea of sweet cocktails in general. Everyone's allowed a preference, and many folks enjoy a more saccharine beverage, but even intentionally sweet drinks can become unenjoyable if the sugary ingredients aren't kept in line by the other ingredients. Otherwise, you're left with something decidedly one note rather than a complex drink that you can unravel sip after sip.

The key to crafting balanced cocktails

Few set out believing they're going to create the next negroni, but experienced mixologists will always be thinking about balance when crafting a cocktail. It helps that they can assign flavor attributes to the individual components via cocktail families. These families build upon classics, like a negroni, old fashioned, martini, and more.

Generally speaking, the base ingredient of a cocktail will be a spirit of some kind. While the flavors of the additional components are crucial, they have their own characteristics — such as bitter, sweet, or sour — that have to complement one another. The goal may be to create a tart, citrus-forward drink, but there has to be some sweetness to counter the sour. Conversely, a sweet drink will benefit from something like lime juice or fresh herbs to even things out.

Once a bartender is familiar with how to balance, they can even start playing around with substitute ingredients to change a flavor profile without affecting the balance. Take Giada De Laurentiis' lemony twist on a margarita for example. Laurentiis masterfully demonstrates how to transform a classic drink with a clever swap, but the secret to its success is that she accounts for the extra lemon tartness by using limoncello, a liqueur that has a hint of sweetness. Plus, she adds a touch of agave. It just goes to show how important understanding the concept of balance and knowing your ingredients is when it comes to crafting delicious cocktails.