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July 3, 2011

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Cocktails mixed for real men

"SHAKEN! Not stirred!" James Bond chooses a vodka martini. A Cosmopolitan is Carrie Bradshaw's drink in "Sex and the City." And, what about your favorite cocktail?

Drinking a chilled cocktail on a summer night is a good way to relax after a stressful day at work and cocktails are getting more interesting and diverse - they're not just "ladies' drinks" anymore.

Shanghai bartenders and food and beverage experts tell Shanghai Daily about three trends in mixology. Cocktails are getting more "masculine," they're using more fresh and organic ingredients and they're going creative, mixing and matching - nothing seems off limits or too crazy.

'Men's drinks'

Many trendy drinks are designed to appeal to men who tend to choose beers and spirits, such as whisky and brandy.

David Wang, who likes his after-work drinks, speaks for a lot of men when he tells Shanghai Daily. "Most cocktails are feminine, very colorful, either peach pink or mint green. And the flavor is nothing but sweet and sour. For me, they are too light and lack body."

Taking that sentiment to heart, bartenders are mixing up "masculine" cocktails, "men's drinks" with strong Oriental spices.

"Cloves, star anise, cinnamon, even chilies - whether in an infusion as the basic ingredient or used as the final garnish - are welcomed by male drinkers," said Cross Yu, the bartender at Cvrve.

"Usually, we mix them with strong liquor such as vodka and gin, which gives the cocktail body, full and firm, which men like," said Yu who has nine years' experience in mixology.

Yu said that compared with most women who enjoy fruit and flower flavors, men prefer herbal flavors such as anise, cardamom and artichoke.

That view of men's drinks is consistent with those of famous bartender Gary Regon, author of "The Joy of Mixology" and "The Martini Companion." He said in the Diageo World Class Trend Report in January that vermouth, a red or white wine flavored with aromatic herbs, would be a star mixer in 2011.

Fresh approach

Among five bars we visited, three of them have their own roof gardens growing organic herbs such as basil, mint and rosemary and vegetables such as tomato and cucumber.

Julien Laracine, director of food and beverage of Shook!Shanghai, explained that cocktails are becoming fresher and using organic ingredients, just as organic and healthy food has become popular.

"I prefer using the term 'bar chef' to replace 'bartender' since the bar area now is more like a kitchen filled with the fresh vegetables and fruits, which the bar chef collects every morning," he said. "In the old days, we used different flavored syrups to increase the sweetness, enrich the flavor (the classical example is using grenadine syrup to make Pink Ladies that are sweet and pink.). But now syrup is gradually being replaced by fruit or vegetable puree."

A cocktail using fresh puree, such as a Bloody Mary has a pleasing texture and refreshing taste. In pursuit of fresh and organic ingredients, a bartender can sacrifice some of the appearance.

Tommy Ying, the bartender of Jean Georges Shanghai in Three on the Bund, with eight years' experience, said there's always a contradiction between fresh taste and final presentation. "To best maintain the original flavor of the natural ingredients, we don't over-treat them, but simply crush them, which makes the cocktail a little muddy. However, not only me, but also my professional brethren in New York and Hong Kong insist on giving priority to taste and health."

Mix and match

Nowadays bacon may be used in a martini, spirit infused with fruit tree wood in a Mojito and curry powder may be poured into gin. Bartenders are now coming up with crazy combinations for cocktail potions.

"There's nothing that isn't allowed to be used in mixing a cocktail," said Tibor Versits, operations manager of glo London, who has more than 11 years' mixology experience. "There isn't a pairing rule to constrain our imagination, and it's quite similar to last year's fashion trend to mix and match."

Mix and match extends to tea infusions, another trend.

"Originally, it's hard to imagine that tea can be combined with alcohol," said Ying, "but when we mix them, tea is found to add depth for the spirit. For example, green tea give some nuttiness while jasmine tea gives certain flower notes."

On one hand, the ingredients become more diverse and elaborate; on the other, the spirits used to be simple.

"No matter whether it's bacon, cucumber or tea, they are just the icing on the cake. What really determines the personality of the drink is still back to the spirits," said Yu from Cvrve. "This year and in the future, the kinds of spirits being used in one drink will not be more than three, or the drink is bound to be undistinguishable, which means tasters cannot catch a dominant tone," he said.

This week, we asked five Shanghai bartenders to present five trendy cocktails. We hope they can give you some ideas when you read the long cocktail menu at the bar.


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