Cocktails Give Us Spirit(s): Why We Love Cocktails

It’s finally that time of day. The sun is slipping below the horizon and it’s time to put a pin in all of the day’s tasks. Time to turn our attention to feeding ourselves literally and figuratively. We love this time of day. We’ve been reading about this exciting new place with a menu that we just can’t wait to explore, or have a comforting go-to spot that just “gets us,” or maybe we are just hustling home to shed our city clothes and cozy up stat. Whatever the scenario, whatever the vibe, whatever our tastes are, there’s a drink for that.

Be it life’s respite or remedy, some form of fermented alcoholic beverage is woven throughout every society since as far back as 7000 B.C. Known for a myriad of purposes from medical to celebratory. Consumed by every class level from the impoverished to the royals. Alcohol’s history in society is long and storied and it’s evolution shows no signs of slowing. Cocktails had one recipe when they made their debut at the turn of the eighteenth century: some kind of spirit, sugar, water, and bitters. Nowadays though, drinks are an artform. And we have become a society full of art collectors and connoisseurs. So what is fueling our collective cocktail endearment?

More than Just a Drink

In this cocktail lover’s opinion, cocktails, and the spirits that comprise them, speak to our souls and respond to our inner tastes, feelings, and desires. Soulmates in liquid form. With each new imbibement is the opportunity to meet a new soulmate to match our ever changing, dynamic personalities. The possibilities are endless and as our eyes peruse each successive name and subsequent listing of ingredients, our taste buds start dancing and feeling festive.

In this sense, the cocktail is not just a drink, it’s a personality. Once unified, the carefully crafted and measured concoction of liquors and mixers emerges as a unique soul ready to mingle with it’s perfect human mate. Perhaps that’s why we started referring to parties as “mixers.”

Parties, by design, envelop us in a world completely outside our daily environment. In the same vein, cocktails are fantasies in a glass. From the carefully selected glassware down to the artfully appointed garnish, they’re mini-vacations, capable of transporting us to another time, place, mindset, and/or mood. We might not have the actual time or funds to go on a multi-destination trip every week, but the moment each potable escape-pod is presented, we can send ourselves on a variety of adventures in one sitting!

Beyond the Glass

Cocktail culture though, is more than just what’s in the glass. It’s what surrounds the glass as well. The aesthetic of the spaces that were built to draw us in in order to imbibe are just as key of a component to the cocktail fantasy as the spirits themselves. And business in this sense, is booming. Just how booming? According to industry market research company IBISWorld’s report of the US bars and nightclubs industry, 26 billion dollars in revenue in 2018 alone, kind of booming. Clearly, everyone wins when fantasies are realized. Each space is a self contained world completely separate from the one we existed in before we stepped through the door. Want to time travel to the roaring 20’s? There’s a speakeasy for that (many). Want to feel like you’re on a tropical vacation? There’s a tiki bar for that (many). It’s a complete sensory experience designed to suspend your reality and create a new one for which you are the captain of your own ship.

The concept of epicurean fantasy may have begun on the plate, but it is hurtling forward with what’s in our cup. A chef’s careful curation of gastronomy on the plate is now matched in the glass. If my palate wants to be tickled with every bite, it wants the same from every sip. This doesn’t mean that every alcoholic beverage that I order needs to be some miracle of modern mixology – just as sometimes it’s a classic burger I desire, I might want a classic manhattan – but if it’s a classic I crave, I still want it to be the best damn, highest-degree of quality classic, in perfect condition, to deliver me back to a simpler time – the one that exists magically in my mind free of any blemishes.

Kat Odell, author of Day Drinking: 50 Cocktails for a Mellow Buzz and Unicorn Food: Beautiful Plant-Based Recipes to Nurture Your Inner Magical Beast shares a similar outlook for the current and exciting state of quaffable affairs:

“I see the trend of sophisticated tipples as a direct result of the global food revolution. Food, in general, has become such a hot topic, and thanks to globalization, it’s easier for chefs to procure high quality ingredients from virtually every corner of the globe. There’s a renewed focus on local, seasonal, etc, and this ultimately yields straight up better food. Today, there are more excellent restaurants around the world than there ever have been in the past. And of course it only makes sense that the drinks world would follow. If you have a Michelin-starred restaurant, then of course you need to serve drinks at that level. Our palates have become more sophisticated, which means when it comes to drinks, we demand quality-driven cocktails of the same calibre.”

A Cocktail Love Affair

This calibre is a result of chemistry. Cocktails aren’t just a mélange of liquors in a cup, they’re a science. If and when you want to get down to brass tax drinking, you’ll guzzle down a shot or swig down a beer. But when it comes to activating the gustatory sensor in your brain, you require a little bit more from your beverage experience. You order the eucalyptus martini. The same chemistry that goes into a chef creating the perfect bite is what goes into your cocktail sculptor creating the perfect sip. We look at a menu and get enticed by the combination of high-level ingredients and spirits that we never thought possible or never would have considered ourselves, or perhaps never even heard of before… What is that? Whoa X and infused Y together? Oooh I love fresh Z.

Bar Mateo in Los Angeles – a craft cocktail bar that’s housed in a 1914 barn in the arts district of downtown – is a prime example of this marriage of ingredients and aesthetic. Mixologist Mark Gutterman shares his insight into the cocktail love affair:

“The cocktail is far reaching– from all corners of the world. Using bottles with recipes that date back to 1737 made by monks in the mountains of France or monasteries in Sicily or lonely dusty fields in the desert waiting ten years for a plant to flower. All these ingredients come together and it means more than a simple libation. The cocktail is an American invention, it’s Ellis Island, it’s the melting pot. We want cocktails because we want to feel something, now more than ever.”

When it comes to cocktails, it’s all about spirit. And this goes far beyond the liquor itself. The concept of “Spirit” is all encompassing. It’s us, it’s the ingredients, it’s the room, it’s the maker, it’s the glass, it’s the journey, it’s life!

Alexandra comes from a background in production that spans various hit television series like The Cleveland Show and Project Runway to websites including CNBC.com. Growing up around New York City, she was exposed to cuisines from all corners of the world. It was these experiences that inspired her insatiable love for travel and adventure. She now lives in California, where she is immersed in both wine country’s as well as Los Angeles’s food and beverage culture. Combining the yin of her media expertise with the yang of her epicurean appetite, her role at Wine4Food.com is the ultimate synthesis of her professional and personal worlds.