Part cocktail-making seminar, part celebration of local drink, the weeklong event once again sought to spotlight local saloon culture, source of such homegrown as Pisco Punch and Irish Coffee. The latest trends skew locavore. Jon Santer, who runs the Bourbon and Branch classroom, said current flavors tend toward the savory -- cloying fruit bombs are a thing of the past, at least for now. The hot ingredients? Açai berry, egg, and jalapeño. Brooke Arthur, bartender at Range, came up with a drink for this year's event that included sea beans. The Rhubarbarella combined vodka with shiso and rhubarb syrup.
Mass-market spirits are out. Small-production bottlings such as artisanal genever (Dutch gin) are in. Mixing techniques are morphing into don't-try-this-at-home exercises in alchemy. Eben Freeman, the molecular mixologist who ratcheted up bartending at wd-50 in New York, appeared this week in SF. His tinctures, foams, powders, and emulsions transform simple ingredients into mysterious new flavors, often aided by xanthan gum, liquid nitrogen, and gelatin. A Freeman signature is The Waylon, with bourbon and smoked Coke.
The official drink of Cocktail Week 2009 is The Barbary Flip, made with cachaça, pineapple-infused vodka, Benedictine, and bitters -- taste it at Absinthe, Cantina, and Elixir. And the local winner of this year's US Bartenders Guild Competition? Ronaldo Colli, who works the bar at Americano. We can't wait to taste what he does with his crown.