Cocktails have been a staple of bars in America for years. Whether it is a classic drink, like a Manhattan or martini, or an easy combo of rum and coke or 7 and 7, ordering a cocktail is typically a straightforward affair. But much like the foodie and craft beer cultures, cocktails are now getting the special treatment. A new pedigree of bartenders, dubbed “mixologists,” are adding new life to cocktails by acting as both drink historians and alcohol scientists, perfecting their craft in bars and lounges styled after speakeasies. Cocktail culture is on the rise, so let’s take a look at what’s fueling the resurgence of the mixed drink.
Cocktails have a long, storied history dating all the back to the early 1800s. By the early 1900s, the classic drink of whiskey, sugar and bitters became known as the “old fashioned,” deemed such because of all the new styles of complicated cocktails being created at the time. So at the start of the 21st century, there had already been a vibrant, experimental cocktail culture, with bartenders creating new drinks and methods of mixing them for nearly 200 years.
Mixologists distinguish themselves from your everyday bartender with the effort they take in their ongoing search to mix you the perfect drink. They read up on the classic cocktail procedures and study the history of cocktails, searching out long lost cocktail recipes from famous bars or recipe books. They also train themselves in the standard methods of combining sugars, fruit, juices, bitters and spirits. They create their own signature mixed drink recipes, using shaved ice or even adding essential oils.
Such expertly crafted cocktails surely need to be imbibed in a fitting atmosphere, so many retro-styled speakeasies have opened in major cities. Outside of the occasional food and dining section in the local paper or gourmet magazine, the speakeasies rely on word of mouth and somewhat out of the way locales to generate buzz and curiosity. Many are built out in old storefronts, warehouses or industrial businesses, and the bar owners will keep the original facade of the buildings while hanging a simple, well-placed neon “BAR” sign to give a clue about their location to patrons in the know. Some speakeasies even have a prohibition-style secret entrance and password.
Has the latest trend in artisan delicacies sparked your interest? Well then, there are plenty of new sites out there dedicated to the study and art of mixology, like dipsology.com. The media has taken note and claimed interest as well, as seen in this Rachel Maddow clip:
There’s even a YouTube video tribute to the mixologist by the San-Francisco-based duo Fog and Smog:
Logan Harper is the Community Manager for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Government’s online MPA@UNC program. He also loves television, travel and technology. Follow him on Twitter @harperlogan.