What’s new in the world of craft cocktails? After enjoying wide popularity in the form of speakeasies and leather-bedecked hotel bars, there is a trend away from conspicuous consumption of expensive limited-edition spirits and toward simple, flavorful cocktails that accentuate a quality base spirit with local, fresh ingredients. Bartenders are crafting their own syrups, squeezing fresh juice, and experimenting with creative flavor combinations, presentations and showcasing unique, local brands that allow patrons to expand their horizons and promote local small business.
Joel Lavelle of Omaha’s Proof Whiskey Bar suggests the best way to ease into a new flavor profile is to sample a new spirit in a cocktail. Bourbon is versatile and easily paired with a smorgasbord of flavors, its spicy notes perfect with cozy flavors of fall.
According to Lavelle, rum is on the cusp of becoming the next big thing. A quality Blanco rum can be produced in about a year, with complex Anejo distillations ready in as little as 3-5 years. Proof offers classic Blanco rum cocktails, including the Mai Tai, and my personal favorite, the refreshing Hemingway Daiquiri. Both cocktails rely on a solid base highlighted by quality ingredients offered at the height of seasonality, and thus are not found on the menu year-round.
Spirits distilled in the United States are a distinctive manifestation of tradition, heritage and quality. Locally, you can find several ambitious producers of interesting spirits. Brickway’s award-winning Libertas Colonial Rum draws you in from the first sip, needing no accompaniment, but singing when paired with smoky grilled pineapple and a splash of soda. Both Brickway and Cut Spike distill exceptional single malt whisky, and if you want to venture a bit farther afield, Lavelle mentioned an outstanding Barrel Strength Rye produced by family-owned Union Horse in Lenexa, KS.
Good cocktails do not have to break the bank. Choose quality over quantity and keep combinations simple—the best creations are approachable, delicious and feature a maximum of five simple, elegant, honest ingredients, allowing each to shine. Stop in to a local establishment and get to know the bartenders—part of the experience is watching them excel at their craft, educating and entertaining while delighting your palate.