The 35th annual Nightclub & Bar Show recently wrapped up at the Las Vegas Convention Center. While there were plenty of club events, pool parties, keynote speakers and industry workshops, the real action happens on the exhibit floor, where you can experience this year’s liquor trends hand-on and glass empty.
The mule still kicks
If the number of ginger beer exhibitors was any indication, the popularity of the Moscow Mule will carry on. Reed’s Ginger Brew has created a new “strong” variety especially for mules, and their ginger candies make a better garnish than the traditional lime wedge. Cock ‘n Bull Ginger Beer has also come up with a cherry variety, while Barritt’s makes a diet version. There were also quite a few companies making copper mugs of all shapes and sizes; Hammered Mules also customizes, in case you want to go the old wedding matchbook one better.
Beam Suntory — the Japanese conglomerate bought the American bourbon company last year —and Mixxit360 hosted a series of small-audience liquor and cocktail tastings. While the single-batch bourbon explorations drew a crowd, the Japanese whisky tasting offered a chance to discover some less common bottles. The Yamazaki 12-year-old single malt is smooth and could almost accompany food, while the Hibiki 12-year-old and has slightly more fruit/flower finish.
Things to put in your Blood Mary
Olives stuffed with anchovies. Olives stuffed with feta cheese. Olives stuffed with jalapeños and garlic. Shishito peppers. Cherry peppers. Cucumber puree. Red pepper puree. Cocktail picks topped with basketballs. Cocktail picks topped with sparkly silver stars. Vodka with vitamins. Vodka with tequila. Meat straws…
We all have our guilty pleasures, especially when it comes to booze: The cheap beer, the college-kid shot, the girl drink. I have a weakness for flavored liquor, and 360 Vodka has quite an array, from a sweet/salty buttered popcorn to an authentic-tasting double chocolate and, yes, a glazed donut flavor that begs for bacon. Piehole is a series of pie-flavored whiskeys with a pecan pie variety that is dangerously delicious. Just don’t drink it out of one of those Peni-Colada things because then it’s nothing but shame …
Not your average beer
While there was enough Bud and Heiniken poured to fill the Bellagio fountain, ciders and stouts seemed to be pulling the most attention. Vermont Hard Cider–the company behind the Woodchuck brand–showed off a new flavor called Gumption, which mixes cider apples and eating apples for a slightly more complex taste. However, the Stella Cider dispensed at the Budweiser kiosk was on the bland side, low on sweetness and bite. Young’s pushed their Banana Bread beer and Sticky Toffee Pudding ale, both darker-toned beers that could take the place of a desert; Belching Beaver Brewery had a coffee-tinged Milk Stout and a Peanut-Butter Milk Stout that begs to be poured into a pint glass and topped with a scoop of ice cream.
There’s always plenty of odd paraphernalia at the convention. There were “Roofie-Blocker” drink lids, automated jello-shot makers, vodka bottles that display flashing LED signs. But my favorite was the whiskey elements made by Time and Oak: Small, slotted oak sticks that can “age” your whiskey for a smoother finish and thus, turn mid-level brown liquor into something a bit more polished.
Social media continues to infiltrate your bar and club time. Photo kiosks will snap your picture and upload it to Twitter and Facebook, even if you forget your smartphone. A variety of apps will allow patrons to buy each other drinks, play trivia and talk shit about sports, even with people in other bars. And, of course, there’s a legion of ways for bars to monetize the plea of “Can I charge my phone?”