Often, the robust and enticing flavors are found in small-batch,
local or artisanal spirits, which are growing in both availability
and popularity, much to the delight of bartenders. “Micro
distillation is going wild right now. We are seeing a ton of gin,
vodka and whiskey. Plus, so many people are going after unique
spirits and amaros [bitter liqueurs, traditionally from Italy]. It
is awesome,” says Bryan Dayton, owner/bartender of Oak at
Fourteenth in Boulder, Colo.
Those spirits, he notes, generally are made into cocktails.
“On the rocks is the second most popular order. Third is
Pearson agrees that more and more artisan producers are
cropping up. “One of my favorites is North Shore Distillery,
which makes world-class spirits just outside Chicago.” But he
warns that as the trend increases, people should be more aware
which brands are actually local and not just marketed that way.
“Also, just because it is artisanal and made locally does not
mean it is a good product.”
WHAT’LL YOU HAVE?
Knowledge of spirits may be at an all-time high right now,
and consumers are curious about regions, distillations and the
OPPOSITE: Syrups and shrubs are natural mixers and a must for the bar at One
Flew South in Atlanta.
ABOVE: Rye, single-barrel bourbon, scotch and cognac are popular choices at
Sepia in Chicago, where Joshua Pearson mans the bar.
stories behind the bottle. But while that may be a nationwide
trend, where people come from and other demographic factors
continue to play a role in what they drink.
In his travels around the country, Laird has discovered that
regions play a big part in spirit preference. The East Coast is
a scotch market, whereas the Midwest, especially Wisconsin
and Minnesota, prefers brandy. The bourbon belt, though
expanding globally, is prevalent in the mid-South. The West
Coast is heavy with premium vodkas, while tequila is huge in
Texas and Arizona, and along the Mexican border, as well.
“Though rum is popular in warmer climates, Canadian
whiskies also do well in those climates,” Laird says. “I can
attribute that to older demographics in warmer states and
that Canadian whiskies offer a lighter taste at a value.”
Not all older folks choose light, though. “I swear I see more
older women order strong drinks—like the Manhattan or
old fashioned—than the younger people. I personally think
this is because 20-30 years ago, strong drinks were king,”
says Dayton. “I love making women my mother’s age a
Manhattan. I take great pride in it, and the ceremony.”
Pearson notes, “Women are moving away from the sweeter,
low-alcohol drinks that are traditionally marketed toward them
and are moving toward assertive flavors, such as whisky and
gin.” At some bars, men are moving toward the white spirits.
Pop culture is another factor in what people drink. HBO’s
“Sex and the City” brought back the Cosmopolitan. Other
television programs have their influence, too. “Most of our
spirits go into cocktails,” says Kilgore. “We do surprisingly
less with straight liquors, but we’ll see if that changes when
‘Mad Men’ [AMC’s series about ad men for whom drinking
straight spirits is a way of life] returns.”
Brand loyalty still exists, especially among the older generations. “A
traditional Crown Royal drinker is much more interested in trying a
Crown Black than switching categories to a tequila,” Pearson says.
Laird says Jack Daniel’s is the brand of choice for many,
from bikers to bankers and all ages.
SUZANNE HALL HAS BEEN WRITING ABOUT CHEFS, RESTAURANTS, FOOD AND WINE
FROM HER HOME IN SODDY DAISY, TENN., FOR MORE THAN 25 YEARS.