Cocktail trends, like any trend in the food or drink world, are fleeting, ever changing, and contagious. They may come and go quickly, or stick around for a bit, shifting slowly in a barely perceptible movement, but you can be sure that regardless of pace, their movement is guaranteed. The copper cups of the Moscow Mule begin to give way to the Old Fashioned glass, and the namesake drink that Don Draper and company have inspired the masses to sip, and before you know it, whiskey outsells vodka, and bitters find a place on home bars made out of old tube televisions, or some other Pinterest-inspired DIY home bar.
The Mason jar’s moment has passed—much to the chagrin of the Ball Corporation—and there’s a lot of money to be made in accurately predicting the next vessel, and the spirit that will fill it. There is a collective nostalgia for the drinks and accompanying aesthetic that our grandparents enjoyed, and the word “craft” seems to be our agreed upon quality guarantee despite having no discernible meaning. This current moment in our imbibing history seems to be a direct response to the neon-colored, artificially-flavored, cocktails of the ’90s and early 2000s where affixing -tini to the end of every drink became the status quo. Sooner than we think, a martini bar will open again, hoping to cash in when the nostalgia swings back in the opposite direction, and the children of the ’70s and ’80s start to miss drinks made with apple pucker, and razzmatazz… whatever that is (besides a song by Pulp).
The constant thread in our evolving tastes, if there is one to be found, is nostalgia. The throwback reigns supreme, and we are ruled by it’s stranglehold on our memories and emotions, whether or not we actually lived through the era we choose to throwback to.
It might seem odd that this nostalgia informed drinking habit would even extend to our childhood, a time when our only exposure to alcohol was a sip of dad’s beer, but nostalgia always wins, and our pre-teen, and even pre-school years are now fodder for the cocktail trend machine. It started innocently enough; years ago somebody decided to pour some booze in a bowl with jello, and the jello shot was born. We could get drunk while slurping brightly colored gelatin that could remind us of being a kid, while still firmly planted in an adult activity. How fun. For a long time this was as far as it went, but within the last decade the throwback has roared back to life, and we now find ourselves in the midst of a drinking trend based on childhood memories that shows no signs of stopping.
The throwback reigns supreme, and we are ruled by it’s stranglehold on our memories and emotions, whether or not we actually lived through the era we choose to throwback to.
Like most food and drink trends, it took a little while for the “kids cocktails” to travel to Columbus, originating in places like New York and Chicago, but there is no question they have arrived. When Oddfellows opened in the Short North, the Negroni Slush also arrived, along with a number of other rotating frozen options. Blended drinks have existed for decades, but this drink was different: dispensed from an actual slushy machine, the same kind you could find in gas stations across the country. Daiquiri shops in New Orleans have been serving boozy slushies for a number of years, but the drinks are typically fruity or sweet and designed to hide the flavor of the alcohol, and with the bitter flavors of the Negroni, there is no hiding. Oddfellows is also beginning to experiment with another throwback in the form of cereal milk cocktails served with Saturday and Sunday brunch. Cereal is allowed to infuse with almond and cashew milk for 10 to 20 minutes until the flavor is imparted and then the milk is strained and used in cocktails with appropriately nostalgic names. The Boris and Natasha, a Cocoa Pebbles-infused cashew milk White Russian, is joined by the spiced rum-based Powdered Toastman, featuring Cinnamon Toast Crunch infused almond milk with Fireball whiskey and Liquor 43. Bam Bam and Pebbles caps off the list, and features Fruity Pebbles infused almond milk and Three Olives Loopy vodka, a fruit loop flavored vodka whose very existence exemplifies both the fascination with childhood nostalgia and the boom of flavored vodkas experienced in the past five to ten years.
Worthington’s The Whitney House takes it one step further by serving the actual cereal—choices include Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cocoa Puffs, Trix, or Cheerios—along with a side of milk spiked with different spirits and liquors meant to complement the cereal choice. Getting drunk by the spoonful.
On food side, Columbus has Jeni’s OYO-fueled Whiskey & Pecans pints, and popsicles from J-POPS, and relative newcomer Rime Time—the latter are created with flavors like watermelon mojito, passion fruit blackberry margarita, and Strawberry Angostura. These deserts might not get you drunk, but the connection between childhood treats and adult beverages remains, and perhaps it’s not that strange of a connection after all.
Whether it’s slushies, sugary cereal, popsicles, or ice cream, these were some of the pure indulgences of childhood. As children we looked forward to the sound of the ice cream truck, and we celebrated our parents letting us eat the sugary cereal for breakfast on the weekends, or a trip to the movies that included a slushy from the concession stand. These moments of sugar induced joy were rare. They were treats we looked forward to, rewards for good behavior, or items purchased with allowance money. As adults, or at least healthy adults, our relationship with alcohol isn’t all that much different. The Margarita on a hot day, the Old Fashioned after a long day at work—or the second round we order for Friday happy hour. These too are indulgences, things we could easily do without. A birthday celebrated with champagne isn’t that far off from one celebrated with ice cream cake, and one celebrated with both is best of all. In a way, it seems natural to combine these nostalgic indulgences of childhood, with their adult replacements, and allow ourselves to be transported back to a simpler time. We’ve traded in the sugar buzz from our childhoods for the alcohol buzz in our adult lives, and now we want to circle back and combine the two. We want to have our cake and drink it too. Combine equal parts sugar, alcohol, and nostalgia, and you’ve got yourself a cocktail trend.