Are Classic Cocktails Making A Comeback In The United States?

bar Gin martini, mint julep, manhattan, old-fashioned, sidecar – these classic cocktail favorites are nothing new in the world of libations. In fact, they’ve been around since Prohibition, standing the test of time, exemplifying a certain class of drinks that focuses on the spirit in a simple and honest way. While many modern drinks have been invented since then, incorporating exotic ingredients and high-tech machinery into the mixology, there has been a revival of classic cocktails in the last few years. But, how did this quality culture of cocktails begin, where did it go and why is it coming back?

History

According to Derek Brown of the classic cocktail bar The Passenger in Washington, D.C., cocktails are an American invention.

“There were many mixed drinks before, and these drinks such as Juleps, cups and punches have a very old pedigree, long before the United States,” Brown explained to Gadling. “But, the technical definition of a cocktail is first found in 1806 in a New York paper and it states that a cocktail is made of spirituous liquor of any kind, sugar, water and bitters. We exported that to the entire world and, in that way, a cocktail is as American as baseball or apple pie.”

That was during a time when Americans were making punches hot and in large quantities. The drinks were essentially composed of brandy, gin or whiskey and a bit of sugar. However, it was Jerry Thomas, often considered the “father of American mixology,” who started making individual drinks. He also introduced the notion of adding fruit and ice, helping to define a modern cocktail era. Thomas was the leader of what is thought of as the real golden age of bartending. This was between the 1850s and Prohibition, which is when Thomas wrote the first bartending guide titled “Bon Vivant’s Guide” or “How To Mix Drinks,” published in 1862.In the late 1800s and early 1900s, cocktail culture in America was really booming and beginning to expand. Bartenders began turning to famous cocktail venues all over the world for inspiration and knowledge. However, in 1920, congress introduced the Volstead Act, marking the beginning of Prohibition and forcing American cocktail culture to go underground.

cocktail Where’d They Go?

There are many opinions as to what the main cause of the classic cocktail’s decline was. For one, many people correlate the end of these quality craft cocktails with Prohibition. During this time, top mixologists moved out of the country, switched professions or retired. Moreover, the level of skill necessary to be a bartender has also declined in past decades.

If we look at culinary trends in the United States since the early 20th century, you also see less craft production,” says Brown. “Bartenders are no longer making their own ingredients, and bartending no longer requires the high-level of knowledge and skill it had during the golden age. Obviously, this and many other reasons lead to a decline of professionalism in bartending.”

Tim Stevens, bar manager of Seven Grand, agrees, although he also believed the 80s had something to do with it, as well. This is when artificial flavoring and sweeteners were introduced, and fresh squeezed juices and class liquors deemed “our Grandfather’s booze” were pushed to the side.

“In came high sucrose corn syrup and the fun game of engineering flavoring instead of using the actual source,” explains Stevens. “How could the American public fall for this? Well, we were in the middle of embracing convenience, microwave ovens, the first cellphones, and yes, canned cocktails. The faster we could get something became more important than what we were getting.”

And while, Edmundo Molina, bar manager at Andaz 5th Avenue’s The Bar Downstairs, agrees with all of this, he also cites vodka as a culprit. The spirit even began replacing former classics in well-known cocktails.

“By 1955, 4 million cases of Vodka were sold in the USA, and by the ’60s it had surpassed whiskey and gin, to become the country’s biggest selling spirit. Martinis were prepared with vodka instead of gin,” Molina states.

gin Making A Comeback

For those looking for high-quality libations, you’ll be happy to know classic cocktails are making a comeback. One reason for the revival is a few passionate bartenders who cared about the old days. For example, bartender Dale DeGroff, also known as “King Cocktail,” pioneered a method for recreating these timeless favorites and consults with various hotels, restaurants and bars.

Moreover, you can’t ignore the fact that there is hardly a city in the United States that isn’t currently promoting craft cocktail bars. Is it really a surprise, though? These classics are timeless, hence the name “classic cocktails.” They promote the spirit in a very honest way.

“It is like finding out that someone has been lying to you for years. What would you do?” asks Stevens, before continuing. “Rediscover where you were, embrace freshness, adjust your mind and tastes back to your grandmother’s cooking and toss the fast food in the trash. It was only a matter of time until Americans revived the romance.”

Additionally, it’s hard to ignore the physical proof in terms of sheer numbers and resources.

“There are now thousands of interested bartenders and tens of thousands of consumers interested in better drinks with carefully chosen ingredients and more of a story attached to them,” says Jackson Cannon of Eastern Standard in Boston. “Conferences like Tales of the Cocktail, which had 20,000 plus attendees in New Orleans this year, provide a platform for the like-minded to share information on this restoration of cultural ideals.”

And for some, these cocktails never actually left. Instead, the venues to find these quality drinks just became more difficult to find.

“Since the ’90s, cocktail bars in New York, San Francisco and London started to make a comeback and helped re-introduce the concept,” says Molina. “I think people forgot how amazing a well-made cocktail tastes, and thank God for those mixologists who never forgot about the history of the classic culture!”

museum of the american cocktail Museum Of The American Cocktail

The Museum Of The American Cocktail, which was founded by Dale DeGroff himself, is the world’s first museum dedicated to educating the public on classic cocktails and preserving their heritage. Moreover, it also serves as an association of the country’s most accomplished mixologists. Visitors will have the chance to take part in mixology seminars, view multimedia presentations, experience rare Prohibition-era literature and music, see vintage cocktail shakers and gadgets and more.

cocktail Where To Get A Classic Cocktail In The United States

Want to know where you can try some classic cocktails for yourself? While myriad worthwhile venues exist around the United States, these are some of the best:

The Passenger (Washington, D.C.)- Says bartender and owner, Derek Brown, “We serve a lot of classic cocktails. That’s the base for all the drinks we do. Old-Fashioneds, Martinis, real Martinis with Gin and Vermouth, sours. People love them and, when they have great, balanced drinks, have trouble going back to syrupy crap.”

Seven Grand (Los Angeles and San Diego, California)- “We really have the roots on our menu. I refer to them as the Hard Five, an unwavering grip of tradition that stands the test of time. The Rye Manhattan, Whiskey Sour, Mint Julep, Old-Fashioned and the Sazerac,” explains bar manager, Timothy Stevens. “These are not only amazing representations of whiskey consumption, but some also date back to 1890, which sums up the point we are trying to make here. Learn from the past, embrace the future.”

The Bar Downstairs (New York, NY)- This bar dedicated a full menu page to classic cocktails. They carry a small selection of spirits, carry high-quality ice and make their own fresh juices everyday. “Guests favorites are: East Side, French 75, Sazerac, and of course the Manhattan and Martini,” says bar manager, Edmundo Molina. “We love to amaze our regulars with new tips, information and recipes each time they come in, and educate new guests about our classic cocktails and about the NYC cocktail scene in general.”

The Cure (New Orleans, Louisiana)- On their website, this bar states, “Inspired by the historical period when cocktails grew out of medicine and home remedies, our idea at Cure is to reintroduce our guests to another time where the experience of having a cocktail and a bite to eat was both healthful and enjoyable.”

The Violet Hour (Chicago, Illinois)- This place is classy and tasteful, and goes to great lengths to give you that old world ambiance. Some of their house rules? No use of cellphones in the lounge, no reservations, no Jager bombs or bombs of any kind, no Grey Goose, no Cosmopolitans, no light beer, no Budweiser and no bringing anyone to the lounge that you wouldn’t bring to your mother’s house.

Eastern Standard
(Boston, Massachusetts)- When asked about how their classic cocktails, Whisky Smash, Jasmine, Pegu Club and Pisco Sour, reinforce classic cocktail culture, beverage director, Jackson Cannon states, “They are tried and true and appeal to a wide-ranging palate. Their stories are evocative yet succinct, and they can be ordered in a growing number of fine bars with slight variations to them but still maintain their own obvious identities.”

Herbs And Rye (Las Vegas, Nevada)- This dark, leather-adorned bar captures the spirit of a speakeasy and is truly dedicated to making quality classic cocktails. At the top of their menu, they state, “Equal parts quality and simplicity, with a dash of controversy! Every truly classic cocktail is a study in exquisite simplicity, both in recipe and presentation.”

Mouton (Columbus, Ohio)- While the city is filled with trendy bars, Mouton delivers a cozier experience that pays homage to Prohibition-era classics. The drink menu has a strong focus on classic cocktails, like Manhattans, Mary Pickfords, Sazeracs, Aviations and Negronis. Pours are strong, smooth and perfectly crafted.

[Images via walknboston, Jessie on a Journey, Mr. T in DC, Museum of the American Cocktail, TheCulinaryGeek]

Peru’s Best Beach Town: Mancora

Surfing in Mancora, Peru. Surfglassy/Flickr

Surfing in Mancora, Peru. Surfglassy/Flickr

After hiking the Inca Trail outside Cuzco and exploring the museums in the bustling city of Lima, many travelers agree they crave nothing more than a relaxing setting and a beautiful beach. If you’re making your way north, a worthwhile stop is Mancora, thought by many locals and tourists to feature Peru‘s best beaches.

Getting There

If you’d like to make the journey in style and comfort, my recommendation is to take the Cruz del Sur bus company. Backpacking six countries in South America, I definitely had my fair share of questionable bus rides; however, Cruz del Sur was the best company I traveled with on the entire continent. Not only do they check bags …

Relaxing At The World’s Highest Beer Spa In La Paz, Bolivia

adventure brew hostel At 11,975 feet above sea level, the city of La Paz in Bolivia is pretty high. In fact, it is the highest “de facto” capital city in the world. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to experience some kind of reaction to the altitude. To help your body relax, backpackers can enjoy the world’s highest beer spa at The Adventure Brew Hostel.

This hostel has many opportunities for experiencing Bolivia’s beer culture. Along with having their own on-site microbrewery, giving guests a free beer each night and featuring a rooftop lounge, their beer spa allows for a unique outdoor experience.

“The beer spa came as an idea some six years ago. It was the result of having lots of leftover beer from Sayabeer brewery,” explains Remo Baptista, creator of the beer venue. “We built two old hot tubs with brick chimneys – we can heat the water with wood under it – filled it with 20 liters of beer plus water and voilà!”Weeks on the road can be draining, and spa-goers can relax while sipping on ice-cold brews. For those who are skeptical if this is just a gimmick or if it’s actually healthy, studies have shown beer can treat everything from acne and dry hair to cancer and ulcers.

The service is free of charge, as long as you purchase a jug of beer at the beer spa.

Where To Get Singapore’s Favorite Historical Cocktail: The Singapore Sling

cocktails Developed sometime before 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boon, a bartender who worked at the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel Singapore, the Singapore Sling is a historical cocktail that has made a revival over the past few years. The original recipe used only the best ingredients – gin, Cherry Heering, Bénédictine and fresh pineapple juice. While by the 1980s the quality of the drink had begun to suffer – for example, substituting soda water and bottled juice instead of the fresh variety – a reappearance of Cherry Heering and fresh ingredients has revived the cocktail favorite.

Want to know where to get a quality Singapore Sling on your next trip to Singapore? Try these top venues.

Raffles Hotel Singapore

This should be the first stop on your mission to find the perfect Singapore Sling, as this is where the drink was created over 100 years ago. Inside the hotel is the legendary Long Bar, the birthplace of the cocktail. For those who enjoy sipping their drink in a laid-back atmosphere, the two-story venue features Earthy decor inspired by the Malayan plantations of the 1920s.Moreover, if you’d like to try a unique spin on the drink, modern day bartenders at the Long Bar have created six variations – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Tropical and Courtyard. To pay homage to the Ngiam Tong Boon, however, each recipe contains at least one original ingredient. For instance, the Spring Sling contains Smirnoff Apple Vodka, Apple Sourz and fresh pineapple and orange juices, while the gin-based Courtyard Sling is made with Lychee Liqueur, fresh mango juice and ginger beer. To help guests remember their cocktail experience, Singapore Sling Glasses and Sling Shakers are available for purchase.

Fullerton Hotel, Singapore

At the historic Fullerton Hotel, Singapore (FHS), patrons can enjoy more than just your average Singapore Sling. At their onsite Post Bar, there is actually a Singapore Sling collection, featuring eight unique variants of the famous cocktail, including a Coconut Sling and a Lychee Sling. The trendy bar also features a private music room with contemporary and new world music. Moreover, guests can choose to enjoy their cocktails at the under-lit honey onyx bar tables or outside in the bar’s adjoining outdoor East Garden.

The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore

At The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, patrons will be able to enjoy classic Singapore Sling’s in a lounge named after the famous American glass artist, Dale Chihuly. The recipe for their version of the Sinapore goes like this:

  • 30 ml Gin
  • 15 ml Cherry Brandy
  • 15 ml Grenadine
  • 10 ml Triple Sec
  • 10 ml Benedictine Dom
  • 90 ml Pineapple Juice
  • 15 ml Lime Juice
  • A dash of Angostura Bitters
  • Sliced Starfruit, Watermelon and Rock Melon for garnish

“There are many variations of Singapore Sling as different bartenders tweak the cocktail’s components for the best result,” explains assistant beverage manager Karamjeet Singh. “Our Singapore Sling is completely made a la minute when orders are received. This freshness really allows the subtleties of different flavors come through, from the warmth of the cherry brandy to the sunshine that pineapple juice imbues on the palate. Our Singapore Sling is slightly less sweet and doesn’t contain club soda unlike most other establishment’s version.”

Paraty, Brazil: A Colonial Beach Paradise

paraty When visiting Brazil, many people head straight to the big cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. However, there is a beach paradise located in between the two metropolises called Paraty that is a worthwhile destination no matter what your travel style is. During my trip to the area, I couldn’t get enough of the historical activities, colorful colonial buildings, beautiful beaches, adventure sports, excellent shopping and old-world charm that hasn’t changed in centuries.

Paraty is a small town and it’s almost impossible to get lost. Just because it’s not large in size, however, doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to do. Here are some of my favorite experiences I had while exploring the village.

paraty History

The main reason most people visit Paraty is to learn about the colonial history of the city. Paraty was built around 1600; however, it wasn’t until the 1800s that the city really made its mark on the map, as this is when gold was found in the area. During this time, the area prospered, two-story homes began to be built and Paraty became the second most important port in Brazil, as it was shipping gold to Portugal. Moreover, African slaves created cobblestone roads for transporting the gold. These have been perfectly preserved, as you can see by how uneven and not uniform they are.

It’s a bit difficult to find an affordable, English-spoken tour in the area. However, Paraty Tours on Av. Roberto Silveira was excellent for this. For about $11, I was able to get a guided walking tour of all the historical sites with a knowledgeable guide. You’ll get to learn about Antiga Cadeia, an old jail from the early eighteen century, the Morro do Forte, an ancient defense fort from 1703, and the historical churches of Igreja de Santa Rita, Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário, Capela de Nossa Senhora das Dores and Matriz de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios.paraty, brazil Shopping and dining

Take a walk along the Rio Perequê-Açú. It is a very peaceful river with colorful boats, immaculate houses and people happily fishing. It is especially beautiful at night, when the sun is setting and the streetlights illuminate the water. Along the river, on its more commercial side, is a row of handicraft markets selling handmade jewelry, scarves and souvenirs.

Continue on to the carless Rua do Comércio and you will be placed in the most romantic shopping setting you’ve ever experienced. In Paraty, shops stay open until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., so I would recommend also exploring this area after sunset. It’s really charming with illuminated cobblestone roads, boutique stores, art galleries, specialty shops, fine dining restaurants and white carts selling delicious cakes and pastries. You’ll also be able to experience an array of local and international music, as one block may be filling the air with upbeat Brazilian music and another could be blasting Akon or jazz and blues. It’s also very lively at night, as the streets are filled with locals and tourists shopping and going out for dinner and drinks. Note: Do not wear heels! While beautiful and historical, the cobblestones are very uneven and difficult to walk on. Even locals do not wear heels on this street.

acai If you’re hungry but don’t want to spend a lot of money, turn down Rua da Lapa and walk one block until it turns into Av. Roberto Silveira. You’ll know when you’ve hit it as there will be cars again and the charming ambiance will be replaced with a more hurried feel. Instead of going into a typical restaurant, enter one of the many Acai cafes. Brazil is well known for its delicious Acai (shown right), and these eateries not only sell juices and desserts, but usually dinner as well. My favorite was Boutique do Acai, where I was able to get a cheeseburger and bowl of acai gelato with banana slices and honey for about $4 total. They also have outdoor tables, ideal for people watching and enjoying the fresh air and surrounding palm trees.

rainforest Hiking and adventure sports

Paraty features many mountains and tropical Atlantic rainforest, so there are ample options for the hiking enthusiast. I took the bus to Laranjeras, where I was able to take a two-hour rainforest hike, which ended on a white sandy beach. There’s also a little fishing village that’s fun to explore. Getting there can be a little confusing, but not impossible. Catch the LINHA 1040 bus from the bus station, which costs 3 Reais (about $1.60) each way. The stop is towards the end of the route. However, the driver will complete the entire route without telling you where the end is, so if you don’t know where to get off, you could end up back in Paraty. The stop is at the top of the hill, once you enter the uphill community off the main road. Your best bet is to ask the driver to announce your stop. If you don’t speak Portuguese, ask someone at your hotel to write the request down on a piece of paper to show the bus driver.

beach Another excellent hike that will allow you to explore lush rainforest, challenging mountains, unique rock formations and paradisiacal beaches is in Trindade (pictured right). There are four beaches and Trindade is first on the hike. I usually subscribe to the thought that while certain beaches are more beautiful than others, a beach is a beach. Trindade changed my mind immediately, as unworldly rock formations scatter on one end of the beach and tropical flora sets a jungle-like background. You can also explore various hidden rock and forest alcoves, all small but very unique. To hike all four beaches while also going through patches of rainforest and stopping at Caixa d’Aço — a natural swimming pool excellent for snorkeling — you can access the trailhead at the opposite end of the beach from where the bus drops you off. It is in the area where the bars and restaurants are.

For more intense hiking, you can cross the road behind the beach and head up an opening in the mountain. I accessed a trail by first following the arrow for “Vila de Trindade.” When you’re about two-minutes uphill, there’s another sign advertising “Pousada Encontro das Àguas,” which is where the hike begins. To get to Trindade, simply take the Trindade bus from the bus station. You will see signs for the area and the beaches.

Those looking for adventure can enjoy more than just hiking. Paraty is also known for its exceptional scuba diving. In fact, multiple people in the hostel I stayed at were in Paraty specifically to become certified divers. The waters in the area are calm and clear, making for high visibility underwater. Furthermore, tropical fish and marine life make the experience really worthwhile.

Biking, kayaking, surfing, horseback riding and outdoor adventure ropes and climbing courses are also available in Paraty. Click here for more information on these activities.

drinks Drinks

The national drink of Brazil is the caipirinha, which is so strong and delicious thanks to the special ingredient, cachaça. If you haven’t had a caipirinha in Brazil, you haven’t really had a caipirinha, as it needs this locally produced alcohol to make it truly authentic. In Paraty, you’ll not only get to sample this real-deal cocktail, but also learn how cachaça is made and sample some at one of the seven distilleries in the area. Why should you do this in Paraty? The city was known during colonial times as the most important brandy producing area in Brazil. In fact, until the mid-twentieth century, the word “Paraty” was synonymous with the word “brandy.”

If you’re in the mood to dance, Paraty 33 is an energetic club located in the historic center of the town. While fun, just know it’s also the only dance club in Paraty so it gets crowded. If you want to dance but need more space, head over to any outdoor bar in the area. I loved the popular Geko Hostel Bar, and Brazilians have no problem creating their own dance floors in the streets.