In the mixology community, experimenting with new ingredients keeps cocktail-making fun and challenging. Mixologists are always on the hunt for interesting spirits, and the trail often leads to other countries for inspiration.
Ivy Mix, co-owner and head bartender at the pan-Latin cocktail bar Leyenda in Brooklyn, New York, particularly enjoys working with the vast variety of Latin American spirits. “The range of flavor profiles is bigger and offers more to work with,” she explains. While Tequila and rum serve as a typical introduction to Latin spirits, lesser-known products from Mexico, Brazil, Peru and elsewhere are becoming cocktail mainstays. “First the cocktail boom kicked off mezcal’s rise, and now the trend is branching out into other Latin American spirits,” Mix says. At Leyenda, Mix’s Tia Mia ($13) comprises Del Maguey Vida mezcal, Appleton Estate Signature Blend rum, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, Orgeat Works T’Orgeat toasted almond syrup and lime juice.
Just as interest in Tequila expanded to include mezcal, the popularity of rum has allowed another spirit to enter the mainstream: cachaça. The spirit’s signature cocktail, the Caipirinha—which mixes the spirit with muddled lime and sugar—is still the most popular way to enjoy it. Jim Romdall, bar manager at Rumba in Seattle, offers this classic drink made with Novo Fogo Silver cachaça for $11. He notes that twists on the Caipirinha that use other fresh fruits and ingredients are also trending, but adds that because of the increasing range of cachaça expressions now available, the spirit is starting to be used more experimentally. “The difference between aged and unaged cachaça is like night and day—there’s a wide array of cocktail styles depending on which cachaça you use,” Romdall explains. He touts the Brazilian spirit as a replacement for whisk(e)y in spirits-forward drinks. His Tanagerac ($12) is a twist on the Sazerac, featuring Novo Fogo Tanager aged cachaça, simple syrup, Scrappy’s Orleans bitters and Angostura bitters, served in a Pacifique absinthe–rinsed glass.
Like cachaça, Pisco—a Peruvian spirit distilled from grapes—has gained a higher profile in recent years. “Pisco has been making its way into more cocktails,” says Pamela Wiznitzer, creative director at New York City bar Seamstress. Her Carmen cocktail ($14) blends Portón Mosto Verde Pisco with Tissot Crémant du Jura Extra Brut sparking wine, Nardini Acqua di Cedro citron liqueur, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, basil and Regans’ No. 6 orange bitters. “Bargoers are really interested in different, unique spirits,” Wiznitzer explains. “They want to drink cocktails from the 1800s and find new flavors. Pisco was extremely popular in the States during the Gold Rush. Modern drinkers want to try these kinds of cocktails to understand where recipes came from and how they’re developing now.”