Last week I spoke on a panel in New York for the Vino 2011 convention. The event mostly focuses on Italian wines, but this year they also offered a cocktail seminar.
The seminar was called “Renaissance of the Cocktail in America: Top Spirit Professionals Assess the Role and Opportunities for Italian Spirit.” The panel was moderated by Francesco LaFranconi and the other panelists were Anthony Dias Blue, Lamberto Vallarino Gancia, Paolo Domeneghetti, and Tad Carducci.
I figure I may as well share my answers with people who couldn't attend the seminar.
Question 1: As one of the industry’s most credited spirits’ blogger and writer, what fascinates you the most about Italian liquors (Spirits, Amari, Aperitifs and Liqueurs) and which category provides you the most opportunities to write your stories/articles?
Prettymuch what I do for a living is identify and report on trends in cocktails and spirits, most of which are generated by progressive bartenders at the nation's top bars. So I'm most interested in what they're interested in.
Category-wise, we see the most action in amari and aperitifs as bartenders are playing with bitter modifiers, better vermouths/vermouth substitutes, and low-alcohol cocktails.
But across all categories there are other flavor trends into which different Italian spirits can fit.
- Extreme spirits. The most bitter, the most raw, the highest-proof, the funkiest, most challenging spirits are all the rage. Think: Smith & Cross, mezcal, Islay scotch, barrel-strength everything.
- Flavorful white spirits. Think: genever, pisco, cachaca, agricole rhum. Why not grappa too?
Question Two: When did you start noticing interest (among bartenders and mixologists) in the US for Italian liquors (Spirits, Amari, Aperitifs and Liqueurs) and cocktails made with them?
Back in the early 2000s when classic cocktails started their comeback. Back then it was all about making the most authentic Negroni, Aviation, Hemmingway Daiquiri, etc. These drinks need their original Italian ingredients like Campari, maraschino liqueur, vermouths, etc.
Now, even though we're still in the classic cocktail craze, it's more about spin-offs of classics: variations of the Manhattan using various amari, spin-offs of the Bamboo with other fortified wines, Negronis switching out everything for something else, and so on.
Question Three: Which Italian liquors (Spirits, Amari, Aperitifs and Liqueurs) categories do you believe are the most favorite by the American palate these days, and which are not fully embraced yet (what would you suggest to do about it)?
Now we're talking about consumers, and I don't think most consumers are in love with any of these spirit categories at all. That said, they all have their place in cocktails, which consumers love indeed. Italian (and any) spirit owners should think about their spirits as ingredients in popular cocktail formats and sell to the cocktail. Right now, consumers are especially interested in drinks they can make at home that they've tried out. Some top examples are:
- Anything that mixes with ginger beer in a Buck/Dark & Stormy format.
- Cocktails with baking spice flavor- allspice, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg. Many tiki drinks would fall into this category.
- Aromatic herbs like mint, basil, cilantro, lemon verbena, etc. These can be used both in the Gimlet and Mojito format.
- Anything coffee - cold or in the future, hot. With the fresh-roasted, slow-drop coffee phase that's sweeping the nation, perhaps the grappa producers could work on a deluxe version of Cafe Correcto.
- Anything floral in the wake of St. Germain, or with strongly floral aromas.
- Any liqueur that can be mixed with sparkling wine.
I even tried to look like I know what I'm talking about wearing a suit and tie (and an expression that says "I'm up in your seminar, dropping knowledge.") But you know, since it was in a room full of Italians, my wardrobe probably fooled no one.