For the past couple of years, a familiar word has crept into our vernacular in an unfamiliar way: Craft. The word that many may associate with hot glue guns and scrapbooking has become a movement of sorts in the cocktail and beer world, spawning everything from hand-crafted mixers like Bittermilk out of Charleston, South Carolina, to the explosion that can only be best described as The Craft Beer Sensation/World Domination. It probably even inspired celebrity Chef Tom Collicchio during the naming process of his NYC restaurant called, you guessed it: Craft.
So what exactly does it mean? There aren’t exactly robots behind every bar spewing out perfect Moscow Mules and adding just that right amount of olive juice to your dirty martini…or are there?
Likened to the farm-to-table movement in the culinary world, there has been a cultural shift toward people valuing authentic experiences and wanting to know what they’re drinking and where their ingredients came from. Like many things, what was old is new again and nowhere is this more evident than in the cocktail world. In the past five years, craft cocktail bars have been opening up around the globe with unprecedented speed, affecting the hospitality industry from the bottom up.
The trend finds company in freshly pureed fruits, muddled herbs and interesting liquors. Often times cocktail menus will pair “hand-crafted” with “artisanal,” moving past the simple maraschino cherry or lime wedge into a frenzy of freshly pureed fruits, muddled herbs from someone’s local garden, and increasingly prevalent local liquors, like eastern North Carolina’s very own Covington Gourmet Vodka. The result is a tiny masterpiece of palate-awakening flavors swirled (or shaken) into anything not resembling a hurricane with a giant neon twisty straw.
More than 700 craft distilleries were in operation in 2014 according to the Distilled Spirits Council, up from 92 in 2010. While it is still decades behind the craft beer explosion, craft distilleries are borrowing the same methods and ideologies from their craft beer brewing counterparts. It takes about 20 pounds of sweet potatoes to create one bottle of Covington Vodka, which is made in small batches by 3rd generation sweet potato farmers out of Snow Hill, North Carolina. Much like sipping some illegal moonshine concocted out of your neighbor’s garage, craft spirits taste like a best kept secret; like you could coincidentally share a couple of drinks at your local watering hole with the distillers. There’s a sense of pride when you see their bottles on the shelves at the ABC store.
Because there is a more delicate process involved in crafting these artisanal cocktails, the downside is often a longer wait time for your drink--a disclaimer that has made its way onto many cocktail lists. The end result is well worth it though, so sit back and relax and watch your bartender work their magic.