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New Classic Cocktail | Wine Enthusiast

New Classic Cocktail | Wine Enthusiast

Over the past few years, nostalgia has been a through line in cocktail trends. From the tropical Penicillins that were everywhere post-pandemic to the effervescent Negroni Sbagliatos that went viral on TikTok and foamy espresso martinis that kept us going well into the night, drinks of the moment have, of late, been old classics. And there’s a reason why these stalwarts keep returning. 

“For something to trend, it has to be very accessible to everyone,” says Simon Sebbha, the beverage director at St. Theo’s, a restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village. “We’re seeing these forgotten classics coming back.” 

This year is no exception. While the drink of the moment will certainly change, expect bartenders everywhere to be pouring something that sounds familiar—but with an unexpected twist. 

The New Old Fashioneds

Among the cocktails taking over menus are Old Fashioneds, Manhattans and Shirley Temples. “We’re really getting back to the basics as an industry,” says Anna Mains, brand ambassador for the Scotch whisky brand Monkey Shoulder, about the classic cocktail revival. But these aren’t faithful renditions. “They’re using these new, amazing, high-quality modifiers to make a slight twist,” she adds. 

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Many of the adaptations you’re likely to see involve layering in tropical flavors. Gabe Urrutia, a wine and spirits consultant and restaurateur, says we’re in “the golden age of bitters.” He points to the Jailbreak at Jaguar Sun, in Miami. There, bartender Will Thompson’s adaptation of an Old Fashioned features a split base of rhum agricole, Japanese whisky and bourbon and both Angostura and Angostura orange bitters. 

“It’s a global cocktail, and it’s got this beautiful complexity to it,” Urrutia says. “It’s almost a passport to travel through the world of aged distillates.” He’s also excited about the Cuban Manhattan, a rum-based Manhattan with a touch of créme de cacao and coffee-chocolate bitters. 

Mains also thinks that the banana Old Fashioned is poised for a revival. The fruit is “having a moment,” Mains says. “There’s banana art, banana trinkets and anytime you see something in pop culture, it ends up in drinks.”

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Getting Smoked

One of the most frequently cited flavors in revamped classics is the smokiness of mezcal, a spirit that’s skyrocketing in popularity as new varieties become available. Bartenders especially like using it in the Oaxaca Old Fashioned. 

“It’s one of those cocktails that’s been around for a while, simmering below the surface,” says Peter Kalleward, mixologist for Destination Kohler in Wisconsin. “It could take over.” 

William Santos Valdez, lead bartender at Il Molino New York, agrees that the Oaxaca Old Fashioned, sometimes called the mezcal Old Fashioned and first served at Death & Co. in 2007, is what everyone will be drinking. “Substituting the traditional whiskey for mezcal brings a smoky flavor to the traditional version of the cocktail,” Valdez says. 

Riesler Morales, head bartender at tán in New York City, says that “instead of margaritas, you’re going to be drinking mezcalitas.” Meanwhile, the Naked and Famous—a cocktail made with mezcal, Chartreuse, Aperol and lime—is “really rearing its head in the cocktail community,” Kalleward says. 

The Great Escape

There’s a sense of being on vacation—or grooving in a 1970s disco—in many of these newly popular classic drinks. 

“Life is really serious and very complicated and people need an escape,” Mains says. She’s especially keen on Dirty Shirleys mixed with grenadines like Liquid Alchemist’s, which is made from real pomegranate juice. Midori sours are another retro drink that’s coming back, but with better ingredients this time. “I’ve always loved Midori, but its flavor has recently been recalibrated to be less sweet, so it’s more appealing,” she adds.

At Urrutia’s Miami restaurant Cafe La Trova, the Buenavista is among the most-ordered drinks. It’s made with gin, elderflower and cucumber—refreshing flavors that nod to a warm-weather destination. The cocktail landed its inventor, the bartender Julio Cabrera, on the cover of GQ. “I think you’ll see this replicated elsewhere,” he says. 

The Just-Cheeky-Enough Drink

One of the biggest predictors of the next trending cocktail might be its name. The Naked and Famous speaks to this. And so does the Dirty Shirley. The Banana Old Fashioned, too. “They’re fun, they’re a little silly, and they’re just cheeky enough in name that they attract people,” Mains says. 

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In cocktails, as in everything else, sex sells. Another drink with that appeal? The French Blonde. Originally published in Saveur in 2011, this elderflower, gin, Lillet Blanc and grapefruit juice concoction started trending this year after Taylor Swift enjoyed it at a Kansas bar. 

But all of these cocktail monikers, no matter the ingredients, are also simple enough to remember. This is perhaps one of the defining tells for what we’ll all be drinking next.

“For a cocktail to become globally popular, its name has to transcend language differences around the globe,” Mains says. 

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