Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, the great archaeologist of Tiki drinks and cocktail commentator, posted a short essay wondering about the state of mixology today:
We love mock speakeasies. We love bartenders who wear bowler hats, Jerry Thomas facial hair, and sleeve garters. Even more than the theatricality, we love the ceremony of watching a vintage cocktail being scrupulously and lovingly brought back to life before our eyes…But we have seen the future, and it’s not mock speakeasies. It’s mocking speakeasies.
Berry relates how he was recently watching a show on FX called The League when one of the characters (Andre) announces that he's become a mixologist. Andre converts his loft into a speakeasy for a party and starts making custom ice and showing off his muddling technique. His friends, naturally, mock his pretentions, and the guys all end up drinking shots of vodka instead.
It sounds like a funny gag, although I'm not sure who the intended audience for the humor would be. (Bartenders and cocktail bloggers?) But this points out a real challenge that those of us who appreciate fine spirits and craft cocktails face.
Is the mixology movement nothing more than a fad? Will we end up back in the bad old days, where all cocktails were made with canned sour mix shot out of a sticky gun? Will rye whiskey and Creme de Violette disappear back into the mists of time?
I don't think that's going to happen. I think enough people have come to appreciate how fun and and satisfying it is to enjoy a well-made cocktail. (Or to make one themselves at home.) I do, however, think that the more precious aspects of mixology — some of them the very things Berry leads off this post expressing his love for — will fall by the wayside.
The allure of drinking in a mock speakeasy is the kind of thing that is likely to last only in certain environments with a certain audience. (Manhattan, for example.) Bartenders with unusual facial hair — I never got that one in the first place. Homemade tinctures, carbonated cocktails — the jury's still out. Molecular mixology — well, even El Bulli closed.
But the emphasis on fresh, quality ingredients, expert mixing, authentic recipes — in other words, all the things that truly make modern mixology great? I think they're here to stay.