Layered Cocktails Are Back On Top

These labor-intensive cocktails offer multiple drinking experiences and visual appeal.

While Pousse Café–style layered drinks have been around for more than a century, they fell out of favor during the rise of modern mixology. The labor-intensive layering process was often relegated to shots or abandoned for more refined cocktail trends. However, as bartenders seek to provide more visually creative drinks presentations, they revived this technique.

“Understanding the varied viscosities of each spirit ensures proper layering and displays the tremendous knowledge and skill of the person preparing the drink,” says Joaquín Simó, a partner at New York City bar Pouring Ribbons. “These drinks attract a lot of attention from guests. We drink with our eyes first, so there’s no discounting the power of an aesthetically pleasing cocktail.”

Pouring Ribbons takes pride in its cocktail creativity. The bar offers several layered drinks, including the Lovage Will Tear Us Apart ($15), a take on the Queens Park Swizzle that’s made with El Tesoro Blanco and Cimarrón Blanco Tequilas, Galliano L’Autentico liqueur, lemon juice, and a house-made Riesling syrup that mixes equal parts Charles & Charles Riesling with superfine white sugar. The mixture is poured over muddled lovage leaves in a Pilsner glass and then topped with a blend of Peychaud’s Aperitivo and Aromatic cocktail bitters.

In Houston, Anvil Bar & Refuge offers an updated Pousse Café in a sophisticated shot format ($8) that starts with house-made mint and lemon syrups on the bottom of the glass, topped with Aperol aperitif, then Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur and finally chilled Citadelle gin. “The layered effect lets you taste each component separately while it’s going down,” says assistant general manager Jessey Qi. “It’s interactive and beautiful. We suggest drinking it through a straw from the bottom up, which allows you to taste each ingredient. It will be sweet, then sour, then bitter and finally boozy at the very end.”

Amit Gilad, head bartender at The Annex at GreenRiver in Chicago, points to the contrast in flavor and texture provided by topping a drink with foam, bitters or wine. He notes that foam-topped drinks should be sipped from the top of the glass, while those enhanced with a float should be sipped through a straw. The Sunday Best ($16) is inspired by red velvet cake and comprises Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva rum infused in-house with cacao, The Bitter Truth’s Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter bitters, Bittermens Burlesque bitters, Clear Creek Cranberry liqueur, Marie Brizard White Crème de Cacao liqueur, Cocchi Americano Rosa aperitif and beet syrup, topped with whipped buttermilk heavy cream.

At the restaurant 312 Chicago in the city’s Theater District, head Bartender Jennifer Knott makes the Sky With No Ceiling ($13), a cocktail containing H by Hine VSOP Cognac, Montenegro Amaro liqueur, lemon juice and simple syrup, topped with an ounce of Taylor Fladgate’s Late Bottled Vintage port and shaken egg whites. Meanwhile, The Aviary in Chicago lists an updated Jungle Bird ($28). The drink starts with lime and pineapple juices and pineapple syrup on the bottom of the glass, followed by Campari aperitif and gelatinous spheres of Cruzan Black Strap rum. The cocktail is then topped with Caña Brava Light rum and a float of Cruzan Black Strap rum. Micah Melton, The Aviary’s beverage director, notes that the Jungle Bird is presented in a glass with its layers, but adds that after the guest sees it, the bartender or server mixes all the ingredients together. “The layering effect is mostly visual,” Melton explains. “It’s hard to create a layered cocktail that tastes great, so we generally mix them after we present them.”

At The Sixth in Chicago, beverage director Benjamin Schiller uses egg whites or cream to provide flavor and aromatics. In his Dream of Spring ($12), Aperol and Peychaud’s bitters are added to a Collins glass, followed by The Botanist gin, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon and grapefruit juices, and simple syrup. The drink is topped with lemon cream, a basil blossom and vanilla-mint-flavored powdered sugar. “Layering lets guests know to expect different flavors and viscosities while enjoying their cocktail,” Schiller says.