Raising the Bar on Beverages

Trends in alcoholic and nonalcoholic refreshers

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Better bars have switched from bottled mixers to freshly squeezed juices and proprietary mixes -- such as simple syrup of sugar infused with basil or mint, and a sour mix of sugar, bottled water, and fresh lemon and lime juices. Exotic garnishes, like pickled okra and asparagus, also are on-trend.

Another creative idea: Try coordinating a signature cocktail with the room's color scheme (linens, flowers, lighting) or even with the company's logo colors.  

Beverages are a key but often overlooked component of events. Following is a rundown of the latest trends in drinks, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic, to ensure the liquid offerings at your cocktail parties, receptions and dinners are au courant.

Classic Sips Retro, or traditional, cocktails, e.g., Manhattans (whisky, sweet vermouth and bitters) and sidecars (brandy, orange-flavored liqueur and lemon juice), are back in style. To give them a modern twist, rev up the classic recipes with ultra-premium ingredients. For example, today's sidecars are elevated by using artisanal brandies like Charbay No. 83 or Germain-Robin.

Another old favorite, bourbon, is back. This whiskey, distilled from corn mash, malt and rye, is now being produced by small-batch purveyors like Booker's. This smoky spirit gives a new dimension to mint juleps (bourbon, sugar and crushed mint leaves) and old-fashioneds (bourbon, sugar, muddled orange and bitters).

Bloody Marys (vodka, tomato juice and seasonings) are getting a fresh twist with the addition of flavored vodkas (pepper, citrus, etc.) and dressed up with exotic garnishes, such as pickled green beans, asparagus and okra. Up the wow factor by lining the rim of the glass with one of the colored salts on the market, such as black or red.

Global Varietals Today's most value-conscious wines are coming from regions new to the global market. Among these lesser-known wine-producing countries are China, Georgia, Moldova, Paraguay, Portugal and Uruguay.

Another relatively new entrant to the international wine market is Greece. Over the past few years there has been a major improvement in the quality of Greek wines such as Assyrtiko and Agiorgitiko, and they now are widely available in North America.

Also worth noting is the growing popularity of wines made from the muscat grape, such as moscato, asti and muscadel. The grape is one of the oldest types used for wine and believed to be the ancestor of many modern-day grapes. Muscat wines are crisp, clean and light, and are perfect for outdoor receptions and picnics; they also serve well as post-dinner drinks, when the event is held in a traditional indoor setting.

Jazzed-up Java/Tea Many events now feature coffee bars where guests can enhance their brew with cordials or whisky. A newer take on the theme, especially in summer or warmer destinations, is to offer iced coffee with alcoholic accompaniments such as Starbucks Coffee Liqueur, Tia Maria, Kahlua, Godiva's chocolate liqueurs and Grand Marnier.

Give iced tea a grown-up twist with a splash of citron vodka or Southern Comfort.

Savvy Soft Drinks Nonalcoholic offerings are getting more sophisticated these days, with many bars and restaurants offering house-made sodas, typically made with sugar, carbonated water, and syrups or flavorings such as root beer.

In place of bottled and "designer" waters, some establishments have installed carbonation units to create their own sparkling waters. And humble H2O is further elevated with ice cubes infused with herbs, bits of fruit or even flowers.