A true craft cocktail is handmade with expertise and careful attention while including premium spirits and fresh ingredients. It really doesn’t matter if it’s made by a mixologist at your favorite craft cocktail bar or in the comfort of your own home. A craft cocktail is a drink that stands out among a sea of typical bar drinks and is more than just a fancy label for a standard cocktail.
With such a strong trend in the industry toward craft cocktails and craft drinks, how do you know that the one just placed in front of you is the real deal and worth the extra price you’re paying for it? Here’s everything you need to know.
Defining a Craft Cocktail
In the very simplest of terms, the definition of a craft cocktail is one that’s made from scratch, using premium cocktail ingredients, with an extra dose of care and love. Craft cocktails aren’t quickly thrown together and slid across a bar or table. There’s an art to craft cocktail making, and it’s just as much about the process and presentation as the taste.
That was the short answer, now let’s roll up our bartender sleeves and get into the nitty-gritty of craft cocktail making.
If you think about the word “craft,” whether you’re talking about a cocktail, a beer, or even something like pizza, the word comes with an expectation that whatever you’re talking about was made with great care and expertise. The general concept is that the person making it is skilled at their craft, no matter what that craft may be.
In the world of cocktails, professional mixologists understand that craft cocktails are unlike other beverages. It’s pretty easy to pour any old vodka or tequila in a glass with a mixer, but with a craft cocktail, attention is given to every aspect of the drink, including the presentation.
As an example, let’s talk about a bourbon old-fashioned. This is a classic cocktail that people have been drinking for years. It has a predictable taste, no matter what bar you order it from. A craft bourbon old-fashioned would be something a bit different.
A bartender making a craft old-fashioned might use a specific top-shelf spirit, maybe use a special type of bitters or vanilla scented sugar. Perhaps it would include specialty vermouth and then garnished with a twist from an organic blood orange or an artisan preserved cherry.
In addition to the ingredients, there’s also special attention paid to the art of creating the drink. A true craft bartender understands that the process is important, that it’s an art form, and that you need to take the time to do the drink justice and create just the right flavor.
The Trend Toward Craft Cocktails
The craft cocktail movement has been trending for several years now. It seems that everything is craft this, and craft that, but what’s behind the surge of popularity in craft beverages? It isn’t just adult beverages. It’s also things like craft soda that have spiked in popularity.
What a craft bartender would tell you is that patrons are adopting a less is more attitude. They’ve grown tired of the fishbowls of drinks served in college bars, and they want to enjoy a cocktail with flavor and character instead of one that will just get them drunk. There’s a big difference between a well gin and tonic with a heavy pour and a top-shelf gin gimlet made with botanical spirits and an artisan, hand-crafted lime syrup.
We’re becoming more about the cocktail experience, from watching craft cocktail bartenders create the drink to admiring the presentation, and finally, savoring the layers of flavors that are present in a perfectly crafted drink.
5 Characteristics of a Craft Cocktail
“Craft” is a trending buzzword that’s attached to a lot of things. When you order craft drinks, how do you know that you’re getting what you pay for? There’s a couple of key characteristics that are present in every true craft cocktail.
There’s Something Distinctive About the Cocktail
It’s true that every drink, with the exception of some frozen cocktails that come from a machine, is handmade. But in the case of craft cocktails, handmade does not always equal “craft.” There has to be something distinctive about the drink. A typical Manhattan cocktail isn’t a craft drink, but one that uses top shelf, barrel-aged whiskey, specialty vermouth, or maybe even a dash of small-batch bitters would be.
Fresh and Artisan Ingredients
You’re not going to find a bar’s well booze in a craft creation. They always use a higher tier of spirits, often one with a specific flavor profile to complement the other ingredients. You’ll also have artisan ingredients, small-batch spirits, fresh squeezed juices, and garnishes that have been carefully chosen to compliment the drink, not just look pretty. Even the right ice is important for craft cocktails, and yes, bad ice is a real thing.
There’s An Art To Creating It
It isn’t always possible to see your drink being made at many bars, but whether you’re sitting at the bar or a table across the restaurant, there should be some love and care put into creating craft cocktails. Most cocktails in this category take a few minutes to prepare, so if you order one from a bar on a busy night, understand that the process might take a bit but that it will also be worth it.
Presentation is Important
Craft cocktails aren’t tossed into a glass with no thought. They take time to create and are made with premium liquor and other ingredients. You should expect your craft cocktail to come to you with a presentation that represents the beauty and taste in the glass.
It’s a Unique Experience
Two different bars might offer a similar craft cocktail recipe, but once you take the first sip, you should realize that they’re not really the same. There’s a uniqueness to the art of craft cocktailing that really can’t be duplicated.
Final Thoughts on Craft Cocktails
A true craft cocktail is a beautiful gift in a glass. It’s a unique experience, and you can taste the high-quality liquor, fresh ingredients, artisan mixers, and perfect ice. The next time you sit down at the bar, skip the happy hour well drinks and treat yourself to a craft beverage instead.