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Old School Cool: Retro Cocktails Rock Special Events

Old School Cool: Retro Cocktails Rock Special Events

House barrel-aged liquors, house-made mixers and homegrown garnishes — cocktails take it back a few decades with simple, classic recipes and fresh ingredients.

Whether on the rocks, up, neat or with a twist, traditionally made, retro cocktails are still the darlings of the bar set, particularly at hotel events. “Vintage cocktails have long been — and will continue to be — an expectation of guests who attend events at our hotel,” says Alan M. Shukovsky, director of private social catering at New York's famed Waldorf Astoria. “Many of the cocktails that we associate with being classic have been served at the Waldorf Astoria since the repeal of Prohibition. There is even a photograph in our archives of the legendary Oscar Tschirky, toasting the staff of the hotel on the day Prohibition was abolished.”

To that end, the hotel's popular “Vintage Bar” cocktail reception features a seasoned bartender preparing classic cocktails — Stingers, White Russians, Grasshoppers, Rusty Nails and Sloe Gin Fizzes — à la minute, often with house barrel-aged spirits, specifically whiskey and gin.

Speaking of gin, the favored libation from the 1950s is putting the lift in today's spirits-based drinks. “Gin has become a popular liquor with our mixologist, and is competing with vodka in traditional mixed drinks,” says Terry Shields, CPCE, CSEP, director of catering at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. “Vintage cocktails are still going strong, which is why gin has surfaced as a major player in this area.” And like vodka, gin is well-suited to infusions — from fruits and vegetables to herbs and spices. “Because many of our specialty drinks for events are color-themed, we tend to stay with the lighter and white liquors.”

On the darker side, single-malt scotches, served neat or on the rocks, are still holding strong on reception menus, according to Brent Duncan, director of catering and conference services at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village, Calif., as are whiskey-based signature cocktails with a contemporary twist, such as a whiskey sour with elderflower liqueur.

“This time of year naturally blends well with darker whiskeys and cognacs,” adds Peter Cwalino, CSEP, senior catering manager at the Fairmont Dallas. “When the weather is cold, we often see more demand for darker, richer liquors that fit the season. For example, we recently served Hennessy on the rocks at an Indian-American wedding celebration.”

The complete version of this article appears in the November-December issue of Special Events. The magazine is free to ISES members; subscriptions can also be ordered here.

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