Negronis made with mezcal instead of gin. Back-to-basic cocktails, with the freshest of ingredients. And nonalcoholic drinks that go beyond a Shirley Temple.
Those are just some of the trends that Westchester residents may be noticing as they sidle up to their favorite bars. County residents can simultaneously sip, and learn, about a wide range of alcohol from a new breed of masters.
Daniel Cahill, co-owner of The Blind Pig in White Plains, says increased interest in trendsetting drinks led to the cocktail lounge’s opening. “People in Westchester were traveling to lounges in Manhattan, and we were hearing demand for elevated cocktails.” Since opening in December, 2019, Cahill says they’ve already changed the menu a number of times. “Customers want the same attributes from their drinks that they’ve been demanding from their food — hyper-seasonality and recipes that provide a twist.” Cahill takes full advantage of the bounty of the neighboring White Plains Farmers’ Market to design the cocktail menu. The spring and summer menu is big on herbs and shrubs, while pears and cranberries make winter appearances. “We’re preparing a number of infused liquors in such drinks as our Moscow mules; there’ll be mint juleps in the summer, and we’ll be pouring some fun tiki-based drinks.”
At Tarrytown’s RiverMarket Bar & Kitchen, beverage director Emilio Ugarte echoes Cahill’s observation. “Local is at the core of our menu.” He notes as an example his use of a few drops of lavender extract from Lavenlair Farm in Whitehall, NY, to infuse liquors. By staying local, Ugarte sees a three-way benefit: to the customer, to the bar, and to the farm. And using the freshest ingredients go hand-in-hand with the back-to-basic classic cocktails. “What’s become trendy are cocktails that combine simplicity, beauty, and elegance,” he says.
“It’s important to keep up with trends, educate your guests, and open up a dialogue,” says JT Selimaj, owner of The Gramercy in Yorktown Heights. He says at the bar they love to “riff” on classics. “Customers have their go-to drinks, but most are willing to try something different especially when you’re pouring drinks that are seasonal and local.” Selimaj notes a drink such as their “Life in Pink,” made with Tito’s, fresh watermelon juice, house-made rosewater syrup, mint, and then topped with some Champagne, is an example of something that hits all the right notes. “You have to find that balance between pushing boundaries and keeping your customers comfortable with what you’re serving.” And Selimaj also says that seasonality is key.
Liz Torres, head bartender at The Rare Bit in Dobbs Ferry says her customers are looking for spirits such as gin, which have nuance, and again offer that opportunity to engage with customers. “I am seeing a greater degree of creativity in our customers and that they’re more receptive to suggestions.” Torres also says customers are requesting “more fun virgin drinks.” She’s playing with a blueberry rhubarb tea that she’s made and, if there can be a trace amount of alcohol, she’s combining bitters with basil and mint for a refreshing flavor.
Carlos Baz, general manager of Goosefeather at the Tarrytown House Estate, also sees a rise in requests for nonalcoholic drinks. “It fits in overall with people who are focused on wellness, and, especially in summer months, we can incorporate a nonalcoholic spirit with herbs and fruits.”
In the spirit sector, Baz says they’re looking to let flavor profiles come through in drinks that honor “simplicity.” He notes that drinks with homemade tarragon-infused aquavit or a carrot syrup “allows the bar service to be very focused and for the ingredients to be the star.”
Looking at the surge in mezcal and gin cocktails, Baz says there a number of great small-batch mezcals and gins appearing at bars, noting that he’s proud to be able to offer Neversink Spirits Gin from nearby Port Chester. Beyond cocktails, Baz says, “One of the most important trends is for bars to be part of the community with what they showcase.”
Abbe Wichman is a Katonah-based food and drink writer. She’s happy to hear there’s a trend toward simplicity in cocktails, as her bar cart can’t hold any more ingredients.