Craft cocktails growing in popularity

Melody Baetens and Steve Pardo
The Detroit News

The year 2015 saw a slew of new bars and restaurants. As Detroit continues its emergence from bankruptcy and what many are calling a “revival,” trends and tastes will continue to evolve, local bartenders and restaurateurs said.

The market and tastes have already shifted to craft beers and microbrews. Craft beer sales now account for 10 percent of beer volumes, according to industry estimates. The numbers were a fraction of that percentage just a few years ago.

And professionals in Metro Detroit are seeing the trend toward more sophisticated, richer and complex drinks continuing in the spirits market.

“It seems like it’s the norm that almost everyone has craft cocktails,” said Zack Sklar, chef/owner of the Peas & Carrots Hospitality Group, an organization with six restaurants in Michigan and Illinois. “Everywhere you go it’s so common to have fun ice cubes, tinctures and syrups. It’s such a draw for people.”

Brown liquors — Scotch, bourbons, rye whiskeys — are trending up, Sklar said. Vodka is trending down, he said, in part because vodka as a neutral spirit doesn’t have the flavor and character of other liquors.

At Sklar’s newest restaurant, Arthur Avenue, an Italian concept that opened Dec. 1, he’s looking to capitalize on an ancient favorite of patrons — the heavy pour.

Every hard-liquor drink will contain at least 2.5 ounces — about double that of a traditional drink.

“That’s our hook. The stiffest drink in town,” he said.

For 2016, expect bartenders and mixologists to up the (drinking) game with more exotic mixes. At Gold Cash Gold in Corktown, bourbon is combined with elderflower liqueur to create a drink dubbed “The First of the Day.”

“This one I find appropriate for the New Year, because it’s boozy, bubbly and pretty damned easy to find the ingredients and whip up in a frenzy,” said Kevin Burrows, general manager of Gold Cash Gold.

He said he recently made it for a friend who had abstained from alcohol after having a baby.

“She hadn’t been able to imbibe for a while, so I thought this would bring her back into the fold softly.”

She enjoyed it so much that she grabbed the recipe and made herself three in one sitting “to inspire her holiday spirit,” he continued.

It’s not just hard liquors expected to shine in 2016.

“I really think that people are learning more about wine and drinking more wine as they learn that they don’t need to spend a ton of money on a good wine,” said Lindsay Martinik, beverage manager at Café Muse in Royal Oak. “Also Jagermeister is trying to go back to its ‘more sophisticated roots,’ so I think that they will be seen more around town in more complex cocktails.”

Also in Royal Oak, at Vinotecca and at next door at Bastone, bartenders are putting their own twist on a gin-and-champagne cocktail that dates back around 100 years.

“New Year’s Eve is synonymous with champagne,” said Keith Martin, beverage manager at Vinotecca. “Our French 75 is a little bit of the years’ passed with a modern twist with rosemary syrup.”

At Republic in Detroit, they’re specializing this New Year’s with a craft lemon and herb cocktail called, appropriately for the holiday, “At Midnight.”

“It’s a refreshing sparkling cocktail with hints of elderflower and tons of citrus with a creamy mouth feel finishing with floral notes,” said Republic bartender Nelson Kazan. There’s a hint of sweetness and a slight bite from the house-made limoncello that is made with Everclear, lemon peel and a touch of orange.

“I named it ‘At Midnight’ because it will bring you joy just like when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve,” he said.

Turning Tea Punch

From Jen Rehfuss, bar manager of Au Cochon (can also be ordered at Arthur Avenue).

1 quart of granulated sugar

3 ounces peach puree

3 ounces lemon juice

1 quart of strongly brewed black tea

2 cups of ice

750 milliliter bottle of Smith & Cross rum

2 or 3 lemons, peeled in half and hollowed

In a punch bowl, pour in the sugar, peach puree and lemon juice. Add the hot tea and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the ice. (As an alternative to ice cubes and for a bit more flair, you can make an ice ring in a Bundt pan and place that in the punch bowl. Pour in the bottle of Smith & Cross rum. Fill each hollowed-out lemon half with some rum and place gently around the rim of the punch bowl.

Stand back and light the rum in each of the lemon peels on fire. A long-necked lighter is recommended. Serves 8-10.

At Midnight

From Nelson Kazan, bartender at Republic in Detroit.

1 ounce of lemoncello

1/2 ounce of Two James old cockney gin (herbaceous gin)

1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice

3/4 ounce St. Germain

1/4 ounce aperol

Top with sparkling rosé

Mix all the ingredients and serve in a champagne glass.

The First of the Day (or year)

From Kevin Burrows, general manager of Gold Cash Gold.

1 ounce bourbon (Burrows recommends Old Fitzgerald or Benchmark 8, but any bourbon will work)

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

1/2 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur

1/2 ounce simple syrup

3 ounces sparkling wine

Shake all ingredients except sparkling wine in a shaker with ice. Strain into a wine glass and top with sparkling wine.

New Year Pardon

From Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria and Brewery in Detroit.

1 1/4 ounce gin

1/2 ounce simple syrup

1/2 ounce lemon juice

3 ounces of Nomad Cider

Lemon twist for garnish

Served in a martini glass.

Pour the gin, syrup and lemon juice in a shaker with ice and strain into a martini glass. Top with the cider.

Vinotecca French 75

From Keith Martin, beverage manager at Vinotecca in Royal Oak.

1 ounce Plymouth London Dry Gin

1/2 ounce rosemary simple syrup

1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice

Shake over ice and strain into a champagne glass. Add 2 ounces of champagne. A dry sparkling or cava works, Martin said. Prosecco adds a sweeter finish.

Vingt Seize

French for “2016,” from Lindsay Martinik, beverage manager at Café Muse.

2 ounces Lillet Blanc

3/4 ounce Grand Marnier

3 ounces of champagne

Mix together and serve over ice or not, with an orange twist.