FARM-TO-SHAKER At its core, mixology is a culinary art, and many bartenders are eagerly embracing the hottest food trends. So while chefs have farm-to-table, bartenders have farm-to-shaker.
Whether tended in a backyard herb garden, sourced at the farmer's market or purchased directly from the grower, much of today’s finest restaurant food both nods to seasonality and honors the ingredients at their source. Likewise, fresh ingredients are finding their way behind the bar, whether it's welcoming the bounty of winter citrus on the West Coast or taking advantage of autumn apples back east. The trend of fresh ingredients has also contributed to divergent local and regional cocktail styles, much the way regional cuisine developed from local ingredients and food traditions.
With fresh and authentic flavors as the hallmarks of farm-to-shaker drinks, the strategy should include choosing spirits that complement and enhance these thoughtfully chosen ingredients, rather than mask them. The obvious choice is vodka: When you are taking the time to source the best ingredients, selecting a spirit to elevate their flavors without interfering with them is the best way to showcase your efforts.
“You should be using fruits when they are in season and meant to be eaten, so farm-to-shaker is by definition a dynamic menu idea.”Carlos Rios, Stoli® ambassador, says farm-to-shaker mixology requires regularly revisiting the cocktail menu and drinks selection to reflect the changing seasons. “Using strawberries all year round just does not make sense when you know it will make an inferior drink,” say Rios. “You should be using fruits when they are in season and meant to be eaten, so farm-to-shaker is by definition a dynamic menu idea.”
After assembling a palette of fresh ingredients, the mixologist’s next challenge is often how to best capture and incorporate their flavors. Ingredients like fruits and herbs, for instance, can be juiced, muddled, infused, reduced into syrups, or simply added as aromatic garnishes, depending on the desired result. For bartenders who might be new to these techniques, Rios suggests looking to the back of the house. “One of the positive aspects of farm-to-shaker is the opportunity to reconnect with the kitchen. The bartender should be talking with the chef. If you need help, this is a great opportunity to engage your chef in some drink creation and collaboration, rather than trying to figure it all out on your own,” says Rios.
Like determined farm-to-table chefs, mixologists must not be deterred by more challenging seasons. A Midwest winter, for example, provides the opportunity to embrace traditional means of preserving farm ingredients, in things like jams and jellies, vinegars or pickles. By looking at every available option to capture the flavors of the farmers market, then presenting them with vodka, which acts like a clean white canvas for cocktail artistry, bartenders are demonstrating that farm-to-shaker creations are a natural extension of fresh, local and seasonal food trends.
For a selection of inspiring farm-to-shaker drinks, check out these recipes from Dillon McCarthy.