How cocktails could actually be good for your health one day (or better than they used to be, anyway)
There’s a guy in America who wants to patent something he calls Cocktail Drops. These are cocktails in solid rather than liquid form. They look like the bite-sized, scooped-out spheres of fruit that you sometimes see in hotel breakfast buffets. Could this be the future of cocktails? I’m not convinced that it is, though it does have a ‘suitable for consumption by off-duty astronauts in a zero-gravity environment’ aspect to it that I find appealing. Nor is it any weirder than some of the other predictions out there. One recent industry report looks forward to a brave new world of ‘provocative theatre’ enacted in bars with ‘disturbing design flourishes’ staffed by obnoxious know-it-alls whose job it is to ‘educate’ any customers who dare to order unfashionable drinks. The authors refer to this as ‘backlash culture’. To which I predict there might well be a backlash, should such a desperate state of affairs ever come to pass.
So, briefly, three more likely — and optimistic — developments. First, healthier cocktails. ‘Wellbeing has become the primary driver of food- and drink-related consumption, and this trend has hit cocktails as well,’ says Tobias Dahlberg, one of the brains behind the Nordic Spirits Lab, a confederation of drinks specialists based in Helsinki.
Cocktail lovers want the hedonism without the hangover, the fun but not the fatty liver, the indulgence minus the muffin-top. To this end the NSL has initiated a programme of consultation and experimentatio , looking in particular at ways to eliminate or minimise the use of artificial sweeteners, flavouring and other additives , which are the roots of so much cocktail evil. The problem with booze, they reckon, is not just the booze itself. The synthetic junk we throw in alongside it only makes matters worse. The NSL has released its own gin along with recipes created around it. The recipes are available online; the Irving Penn-esque photographs that accompany them will make you want to rush out and buy a lab coat, a chemistry kit and a bunch of fresh botanicals.
A second development, which follows on from the first, concerns flavour. The cocktails we’re used to are made not of sunshine and sea breezes but of poison and refined sugar. Less dreadful alternatives are trickier and more expensive, and not quite identical. On the plus side, these alternatives may help us learn — or re-learn — to appreciate more complex flavours that would have been familiar to consumers of pre-Prohibition-era cocktails. As Tobias Dahlberg puts it: ‘With such drinks you might sacrifice a bit on the typical cocktail experience but you might actually like them more due to both their taste and the fact that you know that they’re «clean».’ This seems to me a completely compelling argument.
A third development will be the consequence of the fact that by 2020 there will be 400 million more high-end spirits consumers in the world, mostly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. This will have a significant bearing on our collective cocktail-drinking future, just as influences from foreign countries had on our cocktail-drinking past. So much of the pleasure we take in drinks today has to do with ingredients and ideas that we found elsewhere, 200 or more years ago. ‘If you seek the future,’ said Confucius, ‘look to the past.’ Bottoms up, wise old bean.
Steve King is our Editor-at-large
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