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Back to the classics Add to ...

Cocktails didn't resurface again until the age of disco arrived in the late 1970s. But these were fruity and frothy concoctions that glowed bright under mirror balls. The piña colada went hand-in-hand with the booming economy of the eighties. But not unlike the muddled martini mania that has run amuck for the past few years, it wasn't very smart.

"Fruit martinis can be sold as upmarket, sophisticated drinks," Barr explains, "but after a while people realize they're not. It's a gradual learning process."

Grimes attributes our elevated taste buds to a resurgence of serious bartenders. "Most of these guys," he says, "are working out of a respect for cocktail tradition and are building on that."

For further evidence of increased respect for the cocktail, Grimes points to a newfound co-operation between the front and the back of the house in New York restaurants. Chefs and bartenders, he says, are finally sitting down together and coming up with ways to help the bar support the cuisine. "You see more and more cocktail menus that draw on the flavours and the spices of the food. That's a dramatic example of what's happening."

While Barr agrees that the renewed interest in classics has been fuelled by properly trained bartenders, he also believes it's a generational development. "There are lots of young people with very highly paid jobs today. They have lots of money and they're looking for glamour."

He points to the Ten Room in London's Cafe Royal in the Soho district, where 24-year-old master mixologist Andrés Masso has created a multiple-page menu that lists 130 premium cocktails, including an entire page devoted to "grinders." Otherwise known as mashed cocktails, the category encompasses Cuba's refreshing crushed-mint mojito, and its Brazilian cousin, the lime caipirinha. Although Masso offers many sweet and fruity variations on all-time favourites, he makes a great effort to only use ingredients with integrity -- house-made vanilla-infused rum in his daiquiris, for instance, or freshly puréed raspberries in his champagne cocktails.

Quality ingredients, Grimes insists, is the key to a great cocktail. "Nothing ruins a Manhattan faster than 'well' liquor," referring to inferior house brands used by many bars. "I think people today know more about whisky and rum and bourbon, so there's a better chance of getting a good drink."

Premium liquors may be on the rise, but the premium cocktail almost contradicts one of its primary raisons d'être: to mask the taste of hootch. According to Calabrese's research, 70 per cent of the cocktails ordered in bars these days -- like the mai tai -- were created during Prohibition.

Back in Toronto, Agg has definitely noticed an increased awareness (and availability) of premium bourbons, rums and tequilas. So, in addition to the increased space alloted to classic cocktails on her new drinks menu, she will be offering an expanded list of premium shots -- that can be used to upgrade a cocktail or sip straight up.

"I want to give our customers as much choice as possible -- so we don't have to ride the cocktail thing. Because they are going to go out of style eventually. I think people are going to go back to straight booze."

Grimes, however, remains adamantly optimistic. "Unlike many, this was actually a trend that was a good idea. But I think it's gone beyond a revival. Classics are now just a fact of life. And I don't see any course correction."


he original sour -- a brandy sour -- was a favourite drink in the 1850s. You can make sours with any spirit. Bourbon and whisky have been the most popular versions for years, but to the dismay of some connoisseurs, the amaretto sour is the up-and-coming drink of choice for the Toronto club crowd. 2 ounces amaretto Juice of ½ lemon ½ teaspoon sugar or sugar syrup Orange slice Mix all ingredients, except orange slice, in a shaker with cracked ice. Strain into a chilled whisky sour glass. Garnish with a slice of orange.


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