Is it possible to outline the zeitgeist of the current moment in cocktail history? We tried.
By poring over several dozen drink lists from top bars across the country and compiling a record of recurring trends, PUNCH was able to gain a bird’s-eye view of the national cocktail scene. Last year saw the entire industry forced to adapt and rethink their business model in the form of to-go cocktails and a return to comforting classics, and today’s menus reflect the lingering effects of a year unlike any other. Several familiar elements remain—spicy Margaritas and Cosmos aren’t going anywhere—while trends like aperitiki (aperitivo meets tiki) signal a growing taste for cocktail mashups. Naturally, after more than a year of limited recipe development, bartenders are eager to showcase their experimental side, whether in the form of pepita orgeat, a dollop of mascarpone or even Jolly Ranchers. Here are five trends that stood out, and the drinks that best illustrate them.
“Prickly pear adds electricity to cocktails,” says Chris Elford, of Seattle’s tropical-inspired bar Navy Strength. “It’s so craveable, and of course the color is compelling.” The cactus-grown fruit lends a distinct, highlighter-bright hue to drinks, but also imparts a singular flavor reminiscent of strawberries, raspberries and watermelon. Seen in Elford’s “eminently crushable” Del Estroibo, the sour template is sweetened with a combination of prickly pear syrup with an added tang from citric acid.
Elsewhere, prickly pear teams up with similarly desert-born agave spirits. At The International Bar in Philadelphia, where staff draws upon global ingredients in their cocktails, it’s paired with blanco tequila, citrus and desert flora honey. Leaning into prickly pear’s more playful side at the Broken Shaker’s Los Angeles outpost, it’s coupled with Aperol in the Spritz Me Away, alongside blood orange and a frothy crown of cava.
For the past few years, the concept of the cocktail mashup has been picking up steam. In 2018, Washington, D.C.’s Columbia Room debuted an entire menu of mashups, featuring drinks like the Daiquiriac (Daiquiri Sazerac), The Last Cup (Last Word/Pimm’s Cup) and the Cosmogroni (Cosmo/Negroni), to name a few.