ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Martinis, mai tais, Manhattans – the cocktails redolent of those Mad Men in hats and offices with secretaries – they’re back.
Men and women, millennials and more mature drinkers are rediscovering the hearty taste of whisk(e)y, gin and vodka and the classic cocktails popular in the 1950s and ’60s.
Arik Zonski, whose family opened Jubilation Wine & Spirits in 1948, has seen beverage trends ebb and flow. He pinpointed the surge in the popularity of spirits to 2008 when the economy crashed.
“Once the recession hit, people wanted to make sure they got value, so instead of buying a six-pack of beer and getting six drinks, they could buy a bottle of liquor and get 20 drinks,” Zonski said. “It had to do with money.”
While whisk(e)y used to be considered an old man’s drink, Zonski said, he is seeing more women and millennials eager to try it.
Spelled “whisky” it refers to Scotch; whiskey refers to Irish, Canadian, rye and bourbon. Either way it’s spelled it derives from “uisce beatha,” which means water of life in Gaelic, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.
Younger folks are also into trying out the mixed drinks “Mad Men’s” Don Draper and colleagues regularly enjoyed.
“Millennials love to experiment and they don’t mind waiting for a cocktail,” said John Rivera Sedlar, chef at the Eloisa restaurant in the Drury Hotel in Santa Fe, which also has a rooftop bar.
Various theories exist about the origin of the work cocktail. Some sources attribute it to the mispronunciation of the French word for egg cup, coquetier, in which New Orleans druggist Antoine Peychaud served the medicinal tonic now called Peychaud’s bitters. Another references the practice of mixing the dregs, called tailings, from drink barrels that had a spigot called a cock. Lastly, some say it came from the rooster-like appearance of horse’s tails that were cut short, horses that were frisky.
Start with classics
The classic Manhattan, a mix of rye, sweet vermouth and bitters, originated in the late 1800s, and martinis were originally made with gin and dry vermouth (vodka came later), according to Santa Fe-based Natalie Bovis, who has authored books on cocktails and writes The Liquid Muse blog on mixology, the art of mixing drinks.
Bovis also teaches classes around the country on mixology.
“There is definitely excitement around learning how to do it at home. We saw the same thing with wine classes. Now mixology is finally sort of reaching more of a mass popularity,” Bovis said. “People are going into liquor stores wanting to know what bitters are and asking how to make a Manhattan. The same kind of questions people asked about cooking in the past.”
Bovis advises beginning mixologists to start by perfecting the technique of making some of the classic cocktails. “It’s all about balance of flavor, following basic ratios,” said Bovis.
The renewed popularity of spirits has spawned a burgeoning cottage industry with distilleries around New Mexico producing their own styles. KGB Spirits in tiny Alcalde, north of Española, produces a gin, several types of rye whiskey and an absinthe, the once-banned drink associated with artists like Vincent Van Gogh.
“In the last five years we’ve seen a renaissance of the cocktail culture,” said John Bernasconi, president and master distiller at KGB. “Cocktails are perfect with hors d’oeuvres and light meals.”
Other enterprises like Distillery 365 and Left Turn Distilling in Albuquerque and Algodones Distillery are also making or developing their own varieties of gin, vodka and rum.
Restaurateurs and bartenders are seeing the difference, too.
“I think that people today love flavor, the intense, grab you by the throat flavor of liquor,” Rivera Sedlar said.
Experimentation is taking the form of infusions at the Apothecary Lounge in Hotel Parq Central in Albuquerque. Manager Chad Dotson said they are adding ingredients like camomile, lavender or vanilla to gin or vodka and allowing them to sit overnight to add depth to the flavor.
“Most people who come here want to try something different,” said Max Trujillo, one of the Apothecary bartenders.
He said Shrub cocktails, a blend of simple syrup, fruit and vinegar, with or without added alcohol, are versatile because they can be a good alternative for non-drinkers or designated drivers.
Trujillo is seeing a lot of demand for the Sazerac, a classic cocktail developed by Peychaud in 1830. Trujillo’s recipe calls for a cube of demerara sugar, crushed, Peychaud’s Bitters, a generous helping of rye whiskey, absinthe to rinse the glass, and zest of lemon squeezed over the finished product.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Trujillo said.