Retro Mad-Men-Inspired affairs are on the way out. Modern, swanky, dressing-up-and-wearing-heels private cocktail parties are in. Ginger beer is cool, and the classics aren’t going anywhere. That’s the word from regional bar catering companies.
So what’s in? According to Brett Soulek, co-owner of Portland, Oregon-based My Bartender, Moscow mules. “People are really interested in the Moscow mule: vodka, ginger beer and lime. It comes in a copper mug and is served with ice,” he says. Kentucky mules, which substitute bourbon for vodka, are also popular.
Janet Lickey, owner of the Seattle-area liquid catering service Pour Girls and Some Guys Inc., agrees, noting that Moscow mules are currently “one of the more popular signature drinks.” Because the cocktail requires a special copper mug, however, she says they are generally reserved for smaller weddings or private events.
“I think it’s the sexiness of the copper mug that makes the drink so appealing,” explains Soulek. “People are looking for things that remind them of the past.”
Beer cocktails are also gaining popularity, notes Soulek. He says clients request them during the summer months “because they are more refreshing and easier to drink. They’re relatively new and you can do all kinds of recipes with beer cocktails.”
“Also emerging is the concept of barrel-aged cocktails,” he explains. “People are putting negroni or Manhattan recipes in tiny barrels, corking them and then aging them for as long as they like. It adds more complexity to the drink. A lot of people are doing barrel-aged cocktails for weddings or corporate events.”
Of course, some things never go out of style. “The classics are always around; they aren’t going anywhere. People are just reinventing them by substituting an ingredient like whiskey for tequila.” But clients today want them a little more complex. “The two-ingredient cocktail is on the way out; people want more than two ingredients,” says Soulek.
Thanks to a resurgence of craft distilleries, whiskey is making a comeback, while tequila and rum are taking a backseat. And, at the risk of disappointing your college buddies on the guest list, so are shots.
“We do shots on a limited basis,” says Sean Moloney, owner of My Bartender. “Shots have a very frat-party feel. People want more sophistication now.”
For nonalcoholic drinks, Lickey says planners are experimenting more with infused waters. At a recent industry trade show, Lickey’s cucumber, pineapplemint, citrus and vanilla-orange flavors garnered rave reviews from attendees.
My Bartender recently added an appetizer catering menu to its offerings. “As opposed to full meals, people are keeping the catering to more cocktailparty food—a heavy appetizer service,” says Soulek.
Another trend that Lickey has observed is rising wedding head counts. “After 2008, people were still getting married, but head counts fell to 75 to 100 guests. Now guest lists are averaging 150 to 175 guests again. They require two bartenders rather than one,” she says.
Using bar catering companies is also a growing trend. “People are going out of the way to hire a separate bar service. Because the bar is open from the beginning of the event to close, planners and hosts are spending a little more time and energy on the bar than before,” says Soulek, adding that the growing use of food trucks for catering lends itself to hiring a separate mobile bar to serve guests.
If you’re itching to try the newest beer cocktails, here are some drink recipes, courtesy of My Bartender’s Sarah Briggs. Cheers!
Chocolate Stout Beer Shake
—1 cup ice cream (your choice of flavor)
—6 oz. Rogue Chocolate Stout
—2 oz. Holiday Peppermint Bark Liqueur from Eastside Distilling
—Fresh mint leaves for garnish
Add first three ingredients to a blender and blend for five to 10 seconds. Pour into a chilled pint glass and garnish with plenty of fresh mint.
—1.5 oz. Vida mezcal
—.5 oz. Combier peach liqueur
—.75 IPA reduction (instructions below)
—Fresh lime wedge
Shake and strain first three ingredients into a rocks glass with a smoked salt rim. Garnish with a lime wedge.
IPA reduction: Simmer one bottle of IPA to half the volume with one-quarter cup of granulated sugar.