NEW ORLEANS Gin might not be the new vodka, but it has emerged from relative obscurity to the forefront of the spirits world, thanks to the efforts of bartenders, according to panelists who kicked off this year’s Tales of the Cocktail conference here.
"Gin sort of made this 180, where three years ago there were so many people coming to me with new vodkas, now it's a new gin," said panelist Jim Meehan, co-owner of PDT, a New York cocktail lounge.
"Gin has taken over from vodka ... In the U.K. and Europe in general," said Simon Difford, owner and editor of Sauce Guide Publications. "Gin has taken over overnight. Drink lists used to be vodka, vodka, vodka now it's gin, gin, gin."
However, he noted that change from vodka to gin was largely driven by bartenders, not consumers.
"Consumers are only drinking [gin] because bartenders are giving it to them in the drinks. Bartenders changed the list," Difford said. "I don't think the consumers have changed from vodka to gin, I think we've switched them from vodka to gin."
Michael Waterhouse, the owner of Dylan Prime and Devin Tavern in New York, pointed out that vodka's not going to disappear from cocktail lists and continues to be the top-selling spirit at his establishments. Rather than deny faithful customers what they want, he suggested bartenders might steer vodka drinkers toward vodkas they haven't yet tried.
Nor is gin the only trendy spirit these days. Tequila, mescal, cachaca, rum and rye also made the panelists' list.
Ryan Magarian, co-founder of Aviation Gin and president of the cocktail consulting firm Liquid Relations, said cocktail trends reflected culinary trends, noting that tastes were moving from quantity to value.
"Now people want flavor, a richer experience, and spirits are following that," he said.
He added that consumers are moving from straightforward sweet drinks to tarter and more complex cocktails.
Signature flavors also have a draw for customers, the panelists said, and that might include fresh or seasonal fruits or vegetables.
Meehan said he spent $1,500 on a piece of equipment to juice pineapples, which was a large investment for a small cocktail lounge like PDT. However, that same piece of equipment also allows him to juice carrots, beets, ginger, celery and rhubarb, depending on the season, to use in cocktails.
The Tales of the Cocktail festival began Wednesday and runs through Sunday in New Orleans.