The Retro Cocktail Revival

By Carlynn Woolsey, Foodable Contributor

What’s old always becomes new again in some way, shape, form or fashion. As of late, this is very true in the world of cocktails. After several years of bartenders churning out over-sweetened, booze-infused, complex cocktails, Millennials are looking to simplify their spirits — not to mention their orders — and are harkening back to the drinks of yesteryear while doing so.

What Defines a Cocktail?    

This question is up for some serious debate! Accounts vary as to where the word was first used, be it in England or the United States. Some argue that a cocktail is a mix of two ingredients (one being alcoholic, of course), but traditionalists maintain that it’s actually three — a base spirit, an aperitif or citrus element to modify, and some form of flavoring like a liqueur. Keeping it simple ensures that the ingredients in the drink are allowed to shine. The simplicity principle also explains why classic cocktails typically become classics. They are easy to prepare and are universally pleasing to the palate because the flavors in them cannot outdo one another.

Old-Fashioned Ways

The first cocktails on record in the United States were composed of alcohol [of any variety], sugar muddled into water to form a syrup, with a dash of bitters. Sound familiar? Then you may have ordered an Old Fashioned or two in your day. The term ‘Old Fashioned’ actually refers to the way our grandfathers may have ordered a drink, asking for the classic, oh-so-basic 3-ingredient mix, void of newfangled add-ons. Today, this drink is sometimes topped with a splash of soda, and often garnished with an orange slice and a Maraschino cherry. Bartenders are further elevating the Old Fashioned by using artisanal ingredients like flavored bitters and house-marinated cherries to create the perfect combination of old and new. 

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The Manhattan Takes Center Stage     

According to popular legend, The Manhattan was created for a party thrown at The Manhattan Club in 1874, giving this drink a befitting name. The original recipe made vermouth the star of the show, with a higher concentration of that in the cocktail than rye. The Manhattan also predates the Martini, as far as vermouth-anchored cocktails go. Modern-day versions of The Manhattan have the classic proportions reversed, as most are made with a 2 to 1 ratio of bourbon [over straight rye] to vermouth. This drink seems to be particularly popular amongst the Millennial set, both for its storied history and the fact that the concept can easily play to the trendiness of whiskey, too.

The Lame Game

Some trends are best left where they belong — in the past — but the bartenders at Golden Cadillac in New York City are looking to revive cocktails from the disco era, many of which in their first go-round, were deemed pretty lame. What does this mean for the bar scene? We can expect to see new and improved versions of the Long Island Iced Tea, Frozen Fruit Daiquiri, Shandy, and White Russian. And while the Cosmo might not seem that far removed from 2014, Lonn Coupel-Coward of Red Rooster in Harlem is giving that a makeover, too, opting to remove the sugary-sweet cranberry component in favor of grapefruit flavored vodka, Combier (“The World’s First Triple Sec”), and 2 dashes of bitters. Carrie Bradshaw might not be a fan of these changes, but Millennials most definitely will be!