World's 50 Best Bars: Cocktail trends

In the next instalment of the Cocktail Report we delve into trends. Hamish Smith has been talking to the World's Best Bars.


Now we know what cocktails sell best, which drinks are the ones bartenders love? On the cocktail side we can say Dry Martinis, Sazeracs, Daiquiris, mezcal Margaritas, Tommy’s Margaritas and Boulevardiers are popular but they are the only drinks that had more than one mention. Of their own creations the themes are rum, mescal, tequila and gin. At Maison Premiere it’s amontillado sherry “in a wine glass”, at Buck & Breck it’s a Ford cocktail, but we have to say we’re a little surprised. Perhaps it was the way we phrased the question, because whenever we see bartenders after work they are invariably cracking open a beer. The closest we come to that is a mention for Boiler Makers. There is a lot more to come on the beer and spirit chasers – and not just from the responsible drinking lobbies.

Are there any drinks that bartenders are bored of – or even refuse to serve? The Mojito is the arch nemesis of the bartender, according to our poll. The Long Island Iced Tea has long had its day and, for some, the Cosmopolitan still draws derision. Frozen drinks and fruit bombs such as Sex on the Beach are not exactly en vogue either. There also seems to be a backlash against Mad Men drinks – though this ripple of resentment has yet to reach all bars polled.

But when does boredom turn really sour? 36% of bars we polled say they reserve veto for certain orders. While many will make a Mojito grudgingly, there are bars that refuse to make a Long Island Iced Tea, and fruity versions of Mojitos. For many the best tactic is, if you don’t stock the ingredient, they can’t order the drink. For instance, many of our polled bars do not have cola. At Artemisia they have this to say: “Unfortunately in Mexico they only like to drink Cuba Libres, which leaves no room for people to try new things. This is why we decided to be different and be the first bar in Mexico City to not serve cola.” Nightjar, Imperial Craft and 1930 have a similar cola policy.

At Black Pearl they don’t like their drinks to be on fire: “Anything flaming, such as the flaming Lamborghinior flaming shots – and no energy/alcohol drinks.” At Lui Bar seasonality is important. It doesn’t serve drinks that “require off- season ingredients, such as strawberry Daiquiris or lychee Martinis, in the middle of winter”. Vodka isn’t served at Buck & Breck and Imperial Craft stashes its away - from speed rail and sight.

At Lobster Bar, they take a ‘service above anything’ approach: “I’d make any cocktail for guest satisfaction just as long it’s legal and moral.” As the consumer becomes more acquainted with a cocktail bar’s raison d’être, incongruous orders are likely to lessen. But for now, the best bartenders look beyond a consumer’s order to their palate. A ‘no’ can be a positive answer if a myriad options follow.

What percentage of customers order off menu? Twenty-eight per cent of bars said more than half of the drinks they serve are off-menu. No matter how hard the trade tries to innovate, some customers want what they want. In fact, bars that don’t allow any off-menu ordering are few. 

It’s a quirk of bartending that doesn’t exist in restaurants. This is bartenders’ lot, their homemade birch bark spirit freshly rotor evaporated on- site may not be as irresistible as a bartender might imagine. For those not totally comfortable in a cocktail bar, being able to name-call a classic can be reassuring. After all service is service and business is business.

How often do top bars change their menus? Our poll tells us a couple of bars never change their menus. We’ll see whether they stick to their guns in a few years when trends change. If bourbon, mezcal and gin become old hat and cream liqueurs are what the cool kids are drinking new menus might be needed. Possibly new careers too.

For other bars, a menu change every three months to a year is about the norm. Artesian favours the annual change and even has a menu release date, while Dead Rabbit will want to get some wear out of its new menu – it’s full of nice illustrations and must have cost a bomb. Meanwhile 8% of bars change their drinks weekly. This approach comes from the kitchen and if bars grow their own fruit and veg, it makes sense to pick them and use then when ripe.

What new ingredients are bartenders using? Such is the imagination of the W50BB bartenders, new ingredients vary from the exotic to the seemingly ridiculous, but no doubt delicious. The clearest trend seems to be diary. Ghee butter (and peanut butter) are used at Hemingway. At Callooh Callay they use bread and milk for their Bun in the Oven. At A for Athens quail egg is used in the Golden Flip. Papa Doble makes goat milk syrup and Stockton uses cheese foam for its Figs and Cheese drink. Curd of another sort (yuzu) is used to twist their Moscow Mule into a Heather Mule.

Salt is also a favourite. Little Red Door says it uses it in “everything”. At Kita Koguta they use salt in a sesame paste, bourbon and PX cocktail and at Broken Shaker they use whatever the gardener has planted to flavour salts, make vinegars, infusions, syrups and bitters. Also from the exotic larder comes syrup of red rice at 1930, sea urchin caviar for Varsovia’s The Fisherman and Gin Mare Fizz drinks. Charcoal, fortified wine, shrubs and spices all get a good mention.