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Drinking Trends From Cocktails to Mocktails

Ambrose Burke grew up in the hospitality business. He remembers ordering his first shift drink at Barbette and being told he couldn’t have a Jack and Coke, just beer or wine. He had a Bell’s 2 Hearted and that opened his eyes to the multi-faceted world of bartending.


Arising tide of new ingredients and thinking has lifted all bars in the Twin Cities. 

“The last 10 years or so have been a pretty wild ride for bartenders in these twin towns,” says Sean Jones, the bartender at Fhima Minneapolis who was also just crowned Outstanding Bartender at the Charlie Awards. In his short tenure, he’s seen the bar scene go from “a time when only a few bars actually used freshly squeezed juice (instead of sour mix) to now, where you can get a decent Manhattan or Old Fashioned almost anywhere you pull up a bar stool.” 

Ambrose Burke, general manager over at Eastside in Minneapolis, also credits the last 10 years with a beverage renaissance. Not since before Prohibition have drinks been so interesting, he states. “Diners know their role is more than pointing to something on a menu,” he says. 

And just like diners want the back story on their meal’s ingredients, they want their drinks to have novel attributes. And there is a lot of fodder on drinks. Which distillery did the alcohol come from? Can that vibrant orange color possibly be natural? Are you smoking my bourbon? What botanicals are in those bitters, anyway?

Drinks have become sharable, such as The Swan at Eastside, a $50 concoction of bonal, oleo saccharum and sparking wine served in a golden swan. Drinkers ladle out the icy beverage into individual glasses. It can accommodate as many as six “tasters,” but most people who order it selfishly want a second glass, Burke says.

If there’s one main riff in bartending today, it’s that coming up with twists for new drinks is more than the orange or lemon peel garnishing the glass. Leftover citrus peels at Eastside are recycled and muddled in sugar to form a syrup or dehydrated for a gnarled look that sits in an interesting way on glasses. And talking about new takes on old classics, sherry is making a big comeback in cocktails in England, according to a U.K. website.

Bartenders can be spotted at grocery stores looking for inspiration. For Burke that came in the guise of red pears, which he turned into red pear whiskey for a signature cocktail served at a buy-out. Another sharable drink on the Eastside menu featuring prunes is one that 10 years ago only an elderly couple would consider sipping, although in fairness this one is made with Prune Armagnac. (Remember when only drinks’ names, not ingredients, provided banter?)

Sean Jones

Jones’ current obsession is “creating cocktails that change and evolve as they are consumed.” He accomplishes this by using “seasoned” ice that alters the flavor profile of a cocktail as each cube melts or by the changing temperatures in a cocktail to highlight or temporarily mute flavors. “The result is that as the beverage is enjoyed, the focus shifts from one ingredient to the next,” he points out. “Every great story has distinctive beginning, middle and end; studying how and when an ingredient will register on the palate allows one the ability to better articulate the story they tell.”

Are you mocking me?

Mocktails, cocktails without the swagger of alcohol, are also getting more play on drink menus these days—even once Dry January is over. Now referred to as “dry drinks,” they are stylish first, not second, choice. Lifestyle social media site Pinterest reported searches for “sober living” have been up 746 percent since last year. 

Need local proof? In addition to a wine pairing at his new restaurant, Demi in the North Loop, Gavin Kaysen is offering a nonalcoholic pairing. “We put the same thought and effort into creating our spirit-free, or ‘Temperance Pairing’ as we did selecting the perfect wines,” responds Robb Jones, bar manager for Soigné Hospitality Group. Marco Zappia over at Colita also extends his exotic herbal and fermentation to nonalcoholic drinks. Why should drinkers have all the fun? 

The Temper website posted an article on non-alcoholic pairings with food, such as pizza and grape juice, Indian food with ginger ale and steak with unsweetened iced tea. There’s science, not just whimsy, behind the pairings. For instance, ginger ale dissolves capsaicin in traditional Indian dishes, which cools the mouth down. 

And you knew this was coming: The latest ingredient for infused water and coffee is cannabidiol or CBD, the compound found in the resinous flowers of cannabis. 

“Sour” is another trend, manifesting in the popularity of kombucha and shrubs. Tea is a $6.4 billion-plus industry and iced tea accounts for 8 percent of total cold beverage sales, per the World Tea Expo. 

And plant-based creamers are here to stay as more diners become “flexitarians.” And while vegetarianism and its stricter sister, veganism, are growing, 86 percent of people buying plant-based products are meat-eaters, according to research from the NDP Group out of New York. 

And while we’re not sure we can call one observation a trend, we were intrigued when Burke said he was a nondrinking bartender. Not drinking, but just tasting (similar to a sommelier and wine) “helps me keep inventing,” he says.

And invention is the mother of all new drink programs. 

“In my opinion,” Jones says, “the greatest part of this moment is that with all of these innovations, attention to detail and unsurpassed integrity has run parallel with an industry wide shift away from stuffiness and pretentiousness...It truly is the best time to be a part of this amazing Twin Cities hospitality community, either as a guest or as a bartender.”  

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