The Mix of Now: What’s Shaking in Ireland’s Best Bars?
Trends are tricky. Sometimes what goes viral on Instagram might not necessarily translate to real life popularity (has anyone actually had “mermaid toast”?) and some crazes are so short lived or niche that they don’t really achieve the mainstream success trendspotters predicted. In order to find out what’s really “in” in the Irish bar scene, we have searched and cross-referenced the cocktail menus of 26 well known cocktail bars across the country.
The bars chosen have either been visited personally by the team or recommended by multiple trusted sources. They include ten venues in Dublin (Bow Lane, The Exchequer, Lemuel’s, Zozimus, The Side Car, The Liquor Rooms, VCC, The Blind Pig, Fade Street Social and The Mint Bar), five in Galway (Tribeton, Nova, Buddha Bar, The g Hotel and The Twelve), five in Cork (Electric Bar, Edison, Pigalle, Cask and SoHo), two in Killarney (The Celtic Whiskey Bar and The Ross), and one in Kilkenny (Paris Texas), Limerick (CoqBull), Waterford (Davy Macs), and Carlow (Dinn Rí Bar).
In order to find patterns, we divided their cocktail menus (as published on the venues’ sites on April 2017) into categories according do the drink’s main alcoholic component: Gin, Irish Whiskey, World Whiskey, Rum, Vodka, Tequila, Poitín, Sparkling Wine, others (pisco, absinthe, Cognac, etc) and non alcoholic cocktails.
After going through 728 cocktails, we found ten cocktail trends Ireland is experiencing at the moment…
Gin starred in 19% of cocktails offered in the bars studied (nearly in a quarter -24%- if only counting Dublin bars, compared by 15% in other cities). Tonic appeared as an ingredient in a fifth of the gin cocktails and the three most popular premium tonics on the list were Fever Tree, Poachers Tonic and Fentimans. Other popular additions to gin cocktails are eldelflower liqueur, cucumber and citrus fruits.
Bars are shying away from overcrowding gin cocktails and simplicity, with a couple of flavours that compliment the spirit, seems to be the way to go.
Irish bars have embraced premium bitters and different flavours. While Angostura Bitters are still widely popular, bartenders are incorporating other flavours of bitters such as orange, chocolate, cherry, lavender and celery.
When it comes to syrups, quality has also taken a turn for the premium and the varied. Bars such as Lemuel’s and The Mint have homemade syrups in interesting flavours such as apple shrub, beer and pink grapefruit. Other bars are using innovative syrups are Bow Lane (Guinnes IPA, white chocolate, ginger root), The Exchequer (lemon tarte syrup), Zozimus (herbs and juniper), Liquor Rooms (pimento syrup), Fade Street Social (apple, coconut and lemon & almond syrup), and Celtic Whiskey Bar (barrel aged bitters) just to name a few.
If we’d leave out Dublin bars, vodka would be the most featured spirit in the cocktail menus observed, appearing in 22% of drinks. In Dublin, there’s less love for its neutral wonders (or blandness, if you ask most bartenders in the capital) and in this city, the spirit is only the fifth most featured. On average, however, vodka is used in 17% of the cocktails researched, making it the second most common spirit on the menu.
One might argue that this doesn’t mean vodka is actually selling, however, if that was the case, why offer such a wide variety of vodka based cocktails? Contrasting with the trend in gin drinks, vodka cocktails are often made with fruits or sweet ingredients and syrups as well as with flavoured vodkas (Absolut Vanilla, Citrus and Pear are among the most featured), therefore offering an alternative for many bar goers that don’t have much love for the taste of alcohol.
Together, they’d be as popular as gin and would share the first place with the clear spirit, but if you observe Irish whiskey and world whiskeys (including Bourbon, Scotch and others) separately, they’d still be a strong presence with a similar amount of nods across Ireland (11% for Irish and 8% for world). Dublin seems to be keener to promote local, as the proportion becomes almost double for Irish whiskey, which serves as the base for 16% of drinks observed, compared to 9% with world whiskey.
The Old Fashioned is the most popular way to enjoy the spirit (besides non-cocktail serves such as neat or on the rocks), featuring in 13 out of 25 bar menus (16, if we count 3 rum based Old Fashioneds).
Rum is almost as frequently featured on the menus as Irish whiskey is in Dublin and more times than gin outside the capital, yet the spirit is rarely talked about or considered fashionable. Perhaps due to the fact that there is not a local rum production, interest in discussing it doesn’t reflect the thirst for it. Mojitos are a frequent presence (14 bars offer one or more variations of it) and most rum cocktails feature a combination of tropical fruits or citrus and a sweet component. When it comes to Daiquiris, purists will cringe as 16 bars offer it, but only 3 mix the classic and the majority are either strawberry, frozen or both.
Golden, aged rum is the most popular style and brands wise, Havana and Bacardi take front seat, with Zacapa, Diplomatico and Gosling’s Black Seal also on the menu on a smaller scale.
Opposite to what happens with the sugar cane spirit, Poitín gets a decent coverage and the interest is there. You’ll find it in tastings and festivals, and drink enthusiasts will point out that several of the new distilleries popping out across Ireland are producing fine, flavourful Poitín, completely legit and worthy of love.
However, very few bars would actually have it on the menu. One could even worry it features more as a token than as a popular choice. The only exception is VCC, which offers 11 options (out of the 16 Poitín cocktails observed in total).
Can we put anything on a Martini glass and call it a “Whatever Martini”? Apparently yes. Flavours range from chocolate martini to appletini to the phenomenon of the Espresso Martini, a relative newcomer that has managed to do what its hot doppelganger -the Irish Coffee- never did (not that it shared the goal): become trendy.
Love it or love to hate it, this creamy mix of alcohol and caffeine appears in 12 out of 25 menus (that’s twice as often as a classic Martini) and while some bartenders will roll their eyes at its mere mention, it is definitively one of the most popular inis of 2017.
While sparkling wine cocktails are common, Sherry in mixed drinks is less heard of, however, this fortified wine has made its way into premium menus. Bars such as Lemuel’s, Zozimus and VCC offer versions of the Sherry Cobbler, a 19th century drink combining dry Sherry with citrus fruit and a sweet component. Sherry -both sweet and dry- is also part of other drinks, often mixed with whiskey or rum.
While the buzz around the globe is all about Negroni and specialist publications all over point at the century-old Italian gin-based drink as the one to watch, the cocktail hasn’t yet hit the mainstream in the Irish bar scene. Some bars such as the Liquor Rooms, The Exchequer (Dublin) and Tribeton (Galway) offer it and it is likely to become pore popular in the near future.
The same can be said for Italian aperitifs Aperol and Campari, which are making their way to Irish menus, often as balancing flavours in drinks with sweet elements, but also in simpler combinations as the spritz. Another popular Italian drink is the Bellini (and other variations of Prosecco and fruit puree). Perhaps the Italian palate is more used to bitterness, but as gin stays on top and cocktail lovers shy away from the more sugary combos, Mediterranean inspiration might become bigger.
While mocktails (mock-cocktails or alcohol-free cocktails) are a global trend, they are not that common in Irish bars. You might get one, if you order it, but most bars would only offer a “soft drinks” section with minerals and maybe tea or coffee. Only 8 bars had at least one non-alcoholic drink on their cocktail menu.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.