Call it the cocktailing world’s New York Fashion Week. The Manhattan Cocktail Classic kicks off tonight: five days of boozy events, many of which will highlight the hottest drinking trends of the season. To get a jump on what cocktails are cool this spring, we tapped some of our favorite bartenders for the trending tipples to look out for.
- Think pink: You may already be aware that we have a soft spot for pink drinks and we’re not ashamed to admit it. Not only does port now come in pink, but the beautiful French apéritif, Lillet, now comes in rosé, as well. Lillet Rosé is its maker’s first new product in half a century, since the 140-year-old company launched Lillet Rouge back in the swingin’ ’60s. The rosé is mellow, both in flavor and proof, allowing you to sip it all day without getting sloshed. With lush notes of strawberry, white flowers and brighter citrus, it’s great served chilled on its own with a grapefruit twist, or in a pink-hued cocktail. Brand ambassador Amanda Boccato suggests mixing it with Hendrick’s Gin, itself full of rosy notes, some fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, and just a little crème de violette for a floral springtime sipper.
- Soda pops: Time to get un-fancy. The days of 12-ingredient cocktails, intricate homemade syrups and tinctures, and elaborate stirrings and shakings are numbered. For at-home drinking, all you really need are two things: good booze and good soda to top it off. Think of the gin-and-tonic. Or even, heaven forbid, the rum and Coke. Now, use those inspirations to see what other two– or three-ingredient drinks you can mix up. Get your hands on the aromatic Vergano Luli Moscato Chinato, from Piedmont, and top it with club soda and a lemon twist. Abigail Gullo of SoBou in the W Hotel in New Orleans recommends capping two parts vermouth and one part aquavit with Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda. Have you been hoarding cases of Cheerwine? Spike it with gin for a cheerful tipple. And we all know that ginger beer and aged rum make dark ‘n’ stormy magic. So, toss that shaker and libate the lazy way this season.
- Get high: Move over, overproof rum and rye whiskey. This is the year of Navy-proof gin. They say that alcohol, like fat, is a vehicle for flavor. So, you can expect the handful of high-proof gins that are making their debut this year to be robust, both taste– and strength-wise. At 114 proof, Navy-proof gin is up to 17 percent stronger than its conventional counterpart. Apparently, the British Navy deemed 57 percent alcohol by volume to be the exact level at which gin would not ruin gunpowder if it spilled and soaked it. The New York Distilling Company launched its Perry’s Tot late last year. Royal Dock Gin, by the company that produces Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, is gearing up for its U.S. launch at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. Either one is sure to take your gin and tonic to the next level.
- Veg out: Garden-fresh cocktails are everywhere this season, meaning drinking your vegetables has never been such a treat. Why should fruit get all the fun when it comes to mixing with booze? If you can juice it, you can spike it, from carrot juice to muddled green peppers. Jenny Kessler at Masa Azul in Chicago is using sweet potato-avocado leaf puree in a tequila drink; Christine Jeanine Nielsen at Cocktail Bar at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans is making pisco sours with deep-purple beet juice. How’s that for a great way to get your vitamins A through K, plus magnesium, potassium and iron? Not to make it sound like a health shake — it’s actually tart and light. Vegetable cocktails offer a break from the sweet for a taste of the savory. And what better incentive to get that spring garden started?
- Berry interesting: Concord grapes were on everyone’s lips (and in everyone’s cocktail glasses) last year. In 2012, the humble blueberry gets its due. Sweet and snappy — at least, that’s how we like them — these fruits of the forest add the perfect pigment and zing to a spring drink. Muddle them, puree them or even freeze them whole into ice cubes. Jason Littrell of JBird Cocktails in New York uses blueberry syrup in a classic swizzle. Cure in New Orleans serves up a tangy, crisp blueberry and cucumber shrub sipper. These blue-skinned beauties are a North American treasure, native to this continent and growing from Washington State to Florida. With a patch of ground and enough sunlight, you can even grow your own. Your booze will love these plump little orbs as much as you do.