COCKTAIL TECHNIQUES AND THEORIES spread fast and wide thanks to internet reach, international conferences and guest bartending gigs, making it more challenging to define true regional tendencies. Major French cities regularly employ now industry-wide techniques such as bottling, barrel ageing, smoking, slushies and taps. But, 2015 looks to be the year France comes into its own as it develops a definable cocktail personality driven by some key elements of the culture.
France is looking inward for inspiration with French ingredients and historical recipes. Le Coq kicked off this trend in Paris by focusing on overlooked or forgotten ingredients, from cognac to liqueur d’ambrette. Since then, French mixologists have been doing more than just going local – they are recognising France’s historical role in cocktails, celebrating it and updating it. Newly opened bars such as Le Syndicat use a selection of 100% French ingredients to reimagine classics as well as create new cocktails. As a result, the likes of cognac or calvados are being repackaged for a new generation.
While many cities are moving towards the use of bottled liqueurs or syrups as better quality options make it to market, France is still heavily focused on house-made syrups and sweeteners. Perhaps it’s their longstanding gastronomic tradition, but French mixologists have plenty of confidence in their palates and continue to create syrups for specific cocktails. Bars such as Little Red Door take things a step further by experimenting with fruit syrup fermentation.
Though it’s easy to dazzle with drink decoration, the French tendency remains understated, sophisticated and functional when it comes to garnishes.
French bars generally finish their drinks with vegetal elements that add to the flavour or scent. This showcasing of the cocktail itself is also evident in the glassware that is typically simple and sophisticated without distracting from the drink.
With the proliferation of Paris bars, a simple, well-made cocktail is no longer the draw it once was. France still is, after all, a country founded on food and wine. The forward-thinking team behind Candelaria, Glass and Mary Celeste recognised early on the city’s saturation point for pure cocktail bars and developed venues that incorporate extensive food options, natural wine and beer. Since then, most new bars are bringing a food element to the game.
But French bars are finding even more creative methods to add value to the cocktail experience – going narrow with a focus on a single spirit such as Sherry Butt with its extensive whisky selection, or Death by Burrito Paris’s all-tequila and mescal cocktail menu.
A tendency for creative collaboration is also emerging with bars developing drinks along with local restaurants, brewers, or perfume noses. At Copper Bay, The Beast cocktail is made with bourbon that is fat-washed with bacon grease. The UC-61 team worked with perfumer Jean-Charles Sommerard to select the oil to be diffused in its smoking room to mask the odours without detracting from the cocktail.
It is now looking to create a bespoke fragrance that enhances the cocktail experience through a more multi-dimensional approach.
French mixologists are still differentiating their cocktails from the overly sweet Mojitos and fruity flavours favoured for so long by French patrons, so in general there is still a prevalence of spirit-forward with less fruit.
Yet we are beginning to see a reintroduction of things slightly sweeter and more accessible as the latest generation of bars attempts to ‘de-snob’ their offerings with easygoing sours, slushies or low-octane cocktails in order to reconnect with the larger drinking population not yet accustomed to brown, bitter and strong.
Ambience and general attitude are relaxing as well. As the majority of new bars in Paris are partially or fully bartender owned and they are putting more of their own personality into their venues. In short, they’re bringing more fun to the bar. Prime examples are places such as Red House and Dirty Dick that offer a more laid-back sensibility and youthful rowdiness, but can still whet a whistle with aplomb.