17 years of cocktail trends

Words by: Jane Ryan

Since the launch of CLASS in 1997 we have seen so many trends come and go. We've seen disco drinks at the height of their glory days, we've seen tiki bars spring up in every corner of the world, we've seen cocktails become scientific and experimental, we've seen them aged and infused, fat-washed and smoked. It's impossible to think that more could be done but somehow bartenders always find a new way to impress us.

So what were we all drinking in that late 1990s? This list has been taken from an article in the June/July 1998 edition of CLASS magazine. In no particular order, here's the top 20 most requested cocktails:
- Sex on the Beach #1
- Blow Job #1
- Long Island Iced Tea #1
- 1-900 FUK ME UP
- Alabama Slammer
- B52
- Margarita
- Pussy Foot
- Slippery Nipple #1
- Sex on the Beach #2
- 3-Mile Island Iced Tea
- Kamikaze
- A Piece of Ass
- '57 Chevy with White License Plate
- Alien Urine Sample
- Bahama Mama
- Liquid Cocaine #2

Our favourite? It's got to be the Alien Urine Sample.

Fast-forward to 2014 and, thankfully, we're drinking cocktails with slightly better names and much better ingredients. We talk nowadays about a second golden age, a time of Scotch drinks and fresh produce.

Japanese Bartending

This one became being at the end of the naughties. All of a sudden every bar had a stunning block of ice, sharpened and polished knives and the Japanese hard shake was the only skill worth learning. It's still very much with us as well, and as more of their techniques and spirits make the journey west it's force is only going to grow.


Wood, glass, bottle, leather, clay, steel. Surely we're seen cocktails aged in every way they possibly could be by now?

But as Tony Conigliaro wrote for CLASS in July 2011 "the global interest in aging cocktails has started a new conversation - the latest stage in a discussion that began a hundred years ago. This kind of open forum allows us as bartenders to look at what we do from a different perspective. I think that's always a positive thing - creativity is born from communicating ideas - both new and old, and then twisting them round, turning them on their head. It's become something of a mantra for me.

"What concerns me about the aging trend is that it has become more about the package than the content. It appears now that there are a multitude of bartenders serving up aged cocktails, with little understanding of how and why they work. Displaying the barrels on the bar itself for example, leaves them open to constant temperature fluctuation, changing the flavour daily with no control over the results. If you endeavour to take on a project without understanding the process behind it, you can't pass on that knowledge to the customer. The bartending profession pivots on this action - the bartender is an informant, imparting the story behind the drink and the reason for why it just tastes so good. This accounts for a large proportion of what makes the experience and the product more enjoyable for the customer. For me, the debate between barrel-aging, steel-aging and bottle-aging is a moot point - an aged cocktail is not a superior product, it is just different. Hopefully the dialogue will spawn a new generation of bartenders interested in the science behind alcohol, with the patience to study and wait for the results. But like I say, it takes time."


This technique was elevated to global trend status with PDT's Benton's Old Fashioned, made with bacon-infused bourbon. We asked its creator Don Lee to recall how it came about.

"Fat-washing was a technique that was being discussed in the context of modern food. People like Wylie and Eben Freemen were experimenting with it and, without considering the logistical nightmare that would ensue, we decided we'd try to put a fat-washed drink on the menu."

Flair bartending

It's rare to see flair behind the best cocktail bars these days but is it dead? Not according to Oliver Pluck, Roadhouse World Flair Organiser.

"Flair has come a long way since it materialised in the mainstream during the 80s. The thing about flair is that once upon a time anyone with an empty bottle and a VHS copy of Cocktail could try their hand at it...To me, if done correctly, flairing can be an outstanding form of bartending that is not only visual but interactive. If mixologists had the time I am sure that they would take the barspoon-thumbspin to the next level."

H20 cocktails

It was in a Tales of the Cocktail seminar in 2011, by Kathy Casey, an American chef cum mixologist, that the concept of water infusions was bought to light. She had been experimenting with water infusions - berries, celery, clementine, cucumber, mint, pineapple and peach, compounds including apple and thyme, and watermelon and lime, and even certain delicate flowers.

She uses two infusion methods. The first is "cold, long and slow", with a ratio of one to two cups of produce to four cups of water. The water takes on a delicate hue from whatever fruit you've used. The second method is a rapid infusion, using a catering creamer/whipper.

To serve infused waters, Kathy collaborated with famed Las Vegas mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim creating simple spirit/water combinations at a ratio of 1oz spirit to 2oz water, though each was served elegantly in a Martini glass with an appropriate garnish.

Smoking cocktails

So many of these trends have come about from borrowing ideas from the kitchen, so it's no surprise that innovative bartenders have been inspired by the food smokers used by professional chefs to add new flavours to drinks and to create smouldering sensory experiences in bars.

Hong Kong bartender Antonio Lai had this to say: "I'd heard about Eben Freeman smoking cola syrup so I tried my own version, with Coke and Jack Daniel's. I found I didn't get enough intensity, so instead I decided to smoke the ice first....Customers seem to really like smoked cocktails - the smoke conjures up the smell of barbecues or campfires. I don't smoke personally, but smoking a drink on the bar-top also has a real wow factor - it's a real visual, atmospheric thing."

Garnishes that came and went

From garnishes so large they obscured the cocktail to discarded zests, a garnish never fails to impress. At diffordsguide we've taken to photographing our favourites.

The uniform

In the 1990s bartenders wore pristine black shirts and trousers, some braces but bow ties and tattoos were relatively unusual. Things are a little more relaxed in most places these days, and of course the hotel bars haven't really updated their blazers since the 1920s. As for the waistcoats, sleeve garters and mustaches...let's see how long they last.