Give it a shot: The revival of long-forgotten liqueurs
It's time to dust off that bottle of Midori at the back of the drinks cabinet – traditional tipples are once more on-trend
For the past three decades, the likes of blue curacao, amaretto and chartreuse have been brought out of retirement only in the kind of establishment that decorates a cocktail glass with a pineapple wedge, a glace cherry and a paper umbrella. However, trends in the land of cocktails are cyclical and, having explored the Prohibition era and dabbled with punches, vermouths and ryes, it seems bartenders are returning to the highly flavoured, strikingly coloured liqueurs that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s.
Pouring Ribbons, one of the coolest and best-loved bars in New York's East Village, hosts a monthly 1980s night – an affectionate celebration of the pop culture of yesteryear and an array of out-of-circulation liqueurs. The latter has included a reimagining of classics such as the Midori sour, made with the aforementioned melon liqueur, egg white, and lemon and lime juice.
Over in the West Village, craft cocktail bar Up & Up serves what it proudly proclaims is an "insanely good" Midori sour from a menu that features plenty of other "superlative versions of under-appreciated drinks". These include the Pole Star Conundrum (Jagermeister, rye, cognac, red pepper, and orange and lemon juice) and the Shaddock & Smoke (Scotch, grapefruit liqueur, amaretto, lemon juice and soda water).
Porchlight, in Manhattan's Chelsea, was named one of the best 18 cocktail bars in the US by US Esquire earlier this year. It has made a name for itself partly on account of its Gun Metal Blue – blue curacao, mescal, peach brandy, lime juice and bitter cinnamon syrup. It seems cocktail lovers are no longer afraid of drinks whose colour owes nothing to nature.
In the UK, the trend isn't yet as advanced as it is on the other side of the pond. The Aviation – maraschino liqueur, gin, creme de violette and lemon juice – has long been available in the best bars and the black-raspberry liqueur Chambord is regularly used to top champagne or sparkling wine (especially after a convincingly cool recent ad campaign), but concoctions with Midori and curacao are more difficult to find.
At Oskar's Bar in the UK capital, below Fitzrovia's Dabbous, however, the Kamma Kamma Kamma Kamma Kamma Kammeleon includes a drop of the melon liqueur blended with Kamm & Sons botanical spirit, vermouth and Gammel Dansk bitters. At Hawksmoor in Spitalfields, meanwhile, they mix a mean Manhattan Jr (Stagg Jr bourbon, orange curacao and maraschino) and a Good Tiki Drink (mint-flavoured Branca Menta, rum, fortified wine, smoked passion fruit and toasted coconut).
This tongue-in-cheek adoption of liqueurs is also apparent in the creation and current popularity of the legendary Dr Henderson, the hangover cure St John chef-patron Fergus Henderson learnt from his father. A simple combination of the bitter digestive liqueur Fernet Branca and refreshing creme de menthe, it is purported to both cure the pain of overindulgence and soothe the stomach.
Served at Edinburgh's venerable Bramble – one of the world's top-50 bars, according to Drinks International – the Campbeltown Cocktail is an intriguing combination of whisky, green chartreuse and cherry liqueur. Other cocktails on its menu feature ingredients such as yellow chartreuse, cremes de peche and cacao, and apricot and coffee liqueurs.
The Bramble's sister establishment, The Lucky Liquor Co, also in Scotland's capital, has a different take on how to revive forgotten liqueurs – it makes them in-house. It's a natural extension of the tendency of contemporary cocktail bars to create their own syrups and tinctures to get the flavours exactly right. Nightjar, on London's City Road, for example, makes a version of the Italian liqueur amaro. In its Mayflower cocktail, this is combined with Chambord, cognac, chocolate vodka, grenadine, lemon and tangerine. These homemade liqueurs have developed alongside a rash of new brand-made versions that have become popular with barmen, such as the delicious St-Germain Elderflower and Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur.
The new breed of cocktails combines the sweet and fruity with the bitter and herbal. For every creme de banane there's an amaro in the balance - the spirit of contemporary cocktail creation, you might say.