Winter Hot Spots

winter hot spots - thom mccorkle

I first reached out to Anthony Caparelli, South Beach Area manager for Southern Wine and Spirits, and asked him what he saw as interesting trends this upcoming season. “These days it seems most every bar is concerned with beverage and mixology, and cocktail importance is becoming mainstream in all Miami bars,” said Anthony. “Muddling drinks and using fresh fruit and coconut water isn’t something you would have heard about a few years ago and now it’s everywhere. Also, we are seeing a lot of bars making their own infusions and flavors. Ginger-flavored liquors are big, along with mojitos, cosmos, and blood orange liqueurs.”

Anthony went on to say, ‘Bar chefs’ is a term I hear often to describe the bartenders who put forth more effort. We are seeing classics with a more modern spin, like in the Negroni or Manhattan. Pre-prohibition-type cocktails are big. Vodka is still king, but now gins and brown goods are being used a lot more and we see it opening up a whole new dimension for the guest, one that relies on the bartender for ideas and not just going with the standard vodka martini.”

The fact that the Miami beverage scene is a trendsetter and has been for years is one of the main reasons I looked there first. Okay, I got the trends. Now where do I go to find someone making this stuff happen?

meat market miami

One place I kept hearing about was Meat Market Miami. Meat Market is located in the heart of South Beach, at 915 Lincoln Road. “A sexier, more glamorous take on the traditional steakhouse” is the way the Miami Herald described Meat Market. It’s got an upscale feel but with a real welcoming touch. South Beach has been a trendsetter for years now and setting trends on cocktails is no exception. Bar manager Brijette De Berardinis heads up a team of all-female bartenders at what has to be a go-to location for South Beach-bound cocktail aficionados. (Uh . . . that’d be me).

Passion for the beverage business is what came through to me in my discussions with Brijette. And although she eschews the title ‘mixologist,’ she certainly could fall into that category. I asked Brijette what she sees as upcoming trends this season.

“We are seeing a big push on brown spirits and gins. However, vodka is still a big part of our business. We will certainly cater to the guest wanting a vodka cocktail, but suggesting new things is where our bartenders really shine, as they encourage guests to try something they’ve never considered before.”

“Fresh ingredients are very important so we always use the freshest, in-season ingredients, which give our drinks their great taste. Our current cocktail list includes eleven choices but our goal is to let the guest decide, with the help of suggestions from our bartenders,” says Brijette. “Our bartenders are trained to ask guests a series of questions to help determine what style of cocktail they might like. Guests may say ‘I’m not sure what I want but I don’t want anything sweet’ or ‘I don’t want anything too fruity tasting.’ Our job is to create a well-balanced cocktail based on what the guests say, and if they are unsure, we encourage them to venture out a little and maybe enjoy something they haven’t tried before. If our bartenders can make the guest feel special, and at the same time get them to experience something new and maybe a little different, then we’ve accomplished our goal.”

When asked about specific cocktails Meat Market will feature this year, Brijette replied, “Tequilas are big and we are featuring two tequila creations this season. One is called Some Like It Hot, which is a batch recipe prepared at three different levels of spiciness. Agave nectar is infused with jalapeño juice, muddled raspberries, reposado tequila, and lime juice. The server explains this and then lets the guests decide which level is best for them. Our second featured margarita is I Love Gold and was created by one of our bartenders using Anejo tequila, muddled oranges, honey syrup, a dash of cinnamon, lemon juice, and finished with a brown sugar rim. It is a huge favorite here at Meat Market.”

duke's bar waikiki

Since no article on hot destinations for great drinks would be complete without a visit to Hawaii, I packed my OP shorts, Hawaiian shirt, and Detroit Tigers cap and headed out (Magnum PI reference for you younger folks). The place to be is Duke’s Bar in Waikiki. Duke’s is the ultimate Hawaiian traditional bar and is the epitome of location, location, location: on the sand on Waikiki Beach. Duke’s is named for Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, the champion surfer and gold medal swimmer of the early 1900s.

Duke’s has been rated the #1 restaurant/bar in Waikiki for 19 years. Visitors as well as locals are always on hand and don’t be surprised to see a couple of surfers along with a few native Hawaiians who spent time with Elvis on the set of Blue Hawaii. (Seriously.)

Duke’s reputation is built on offering “a good product and a good price.” There, my man Jesse Greenleaf has been bartending and creating great cocktails for 16 years! Jesse is the author of The Cocktail Handbook and is a fixture on the cocktail scene in Hawaii. One thing I found surprising when I asked Jesse about upcoming trends at Duke’s this season, was his response that “they don’t follow trends” at Duke’s. “Duke’s has been so successful because we have an attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ We rely on tried-and-true standards because when people come to Duke’s, they expect the Hawaiian experience. You won’t see a mojito or an energy drink, or lot of new-style drinks on our menu. We don’t even stock mint.”

Jesse went on to say, “We use our menu to give the guest the experience they would expect in a Hawaiian bar and we do a lot with what you would expect a Hawaiian drink to be. Some of our signature drinks are the Tropical Itch and, of course, the Mai Tai. One of our signature best sellers is the Pau-Hana Punch with Absolut Mandrin, muddled limes, oranges, passion fruit juice, and cranberry juice topped with soda. Another is the Hawaiian Island Iced Tea with equal parts Bombay Gin, Absolut Vodka, banana liqueur, and Malibu Coconut, served in a tall glass with passion fruit juice and a splash of 7 Up. The Pau-Hana Punch has outsold every drink except the Mai-Tai and the Pina Colada. We realize that guests want to be able to taste the alcohol in a cocktail, not just have it covered up by a mixer. The Hawaiian-style drinks we serve really make that happen.”

Jesse is also working on creating his own “barden” for Duke’s. A barden is a garden where you grow your own spices, herbs, and fruits for the bar experience. It’s a great idea and brings new meaning to the term “grow your own!”

jw marriott camelback - scottsdale

The JW Marriott Camelback Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona is one of the most beautiful resorts in the world. The resort recently underwent a huge renovation and is now welcoming guests to see all the great changes. Here we find Trudy Thomas, director of beverage. Trudy’s accomplishments are many, including spirits judge at the world-renowned San Francisco spirits competition, and previously a spirits and wine judge at Chicago’s Beverage Tasting Institute. I knew I had to get Trudy’s input on upcoming trends this season.

As Trudy plans her menus each season, she uses the guests’ perspective to plan what drinks she feels they will be looking for, along with working in a few new things. Trudy says, “This year we will be focusing on seasonal fruit-based cocktails. A lot of our guests expect fruit-based drinks at a resort location. It’s our job to find what makes the best drinks with the seasonal fruit we have to work with.”

No resort in the Southwest can have a menu without a great list of tequilas and Camelback addresses this trend. “Obviously, we are a big margarita location every season, and this year is no different. To take advantage of that this year, we will feature the Cranberry Spice Margarita with muddled cranberries, and what we call the Fireside Margarita with Hornitos Tequila, Cointreau, and Malibu Coconut rum. I will probably add a blood orange margarita, as that is a hot flavor right now. Those I expect will be big hits with the guests. Gin drinks and bourbon cocktails are also very big now and we plan to feature those when the menu is complete.” Finally, Trudy is also creating a Strawberry Pimm’s Cup with Pimm’s No. 1, Effen Cucumber vodka, and muddled strawberries. For winter she plans to top it with ginger beer-a great drink with a new twist. Sounds fantastic, Trudy!


w san diego

If I could just talk the city of San Diego into moving to the east coast, all would be right in my world. The W Hotel San Diego is downtown and close to the Gaslamp Quarter. It is one of the go-to spots in San Diego and its rooftop Beach bar is second to none. W San Diego Hotel manager, Spiro Frangos, says, “We get a lot of traffic from hotel guests and locals at The Restaurant, Beach bar, and The W Living Room. Beach is our rooftop bar and it has great views of downtown. This winter season, we will have locals and hotel guests come to sit by the fire pits and try our cocktails.”

“We see punches and batch drinks being the leaders this season. We get a lot of groups that like to share different tastes and that’s what makes us unique-serving drinks that meet those varied tastes as well as, obviously, serving a lot of margaritas and fresh in-season fruit drinks. We have to be flexible in the cocktails we serve because of the diversity of our guests. Margaritas and vodka cocktails are the biggest sellers but I think we will see a lift in brown goods this season. We may even try a margarita with an Irish whiskey and feature a few coffee-style drinks for the rooftop bar.”

I gotta try one, but as a friend reminds me, “Seriously, have you ever had just one of anything?” Touché.

swan and dolphin resort - walt disney world - todd english's bluezoo

Finally I had to see what’s going to be hot in the land of the big-eared mouse. Many folks will be traveling with family this winter season and whether you’re with family or not, the Swan and Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World is a great winter destination for cocktails and food. They boast some of the best dining and beverage experiences anywhere. If you plan to visit, I highly recommend a visit to Todd English’s bluezoo. The cutting-edge décor at bluezoo was designed by renowned architect Jeffrey Beers, and the restaurant features the freshest seafood, in coastal cuisines from around the world.

The man that oversees all food and beverage locations at The Swan and Dolphin Resort is long-time Food and Beverage Director, Tony Porcellini. Tony has a very refreshing take on cocktails and bar and how they must integrate with the chefs in the kitchen. “We see the restaurant and bar as a whole program. We don’t split them into separate entities,” says Tony. “It’s all based on culinary, and when the food menu changes, the beverage menu changes. We don’t believe in drink lists; it’s all about menus. If we change the food menu for fall to reflect heartier dishes, then we change the beverage menu to reflect heartier drinks.”

Asked what he sees as upcoming trends, Tony replies, “We also see the menu as an opportunity to educate. The biggest trend is education for the guests. I believe in writing descriptions for drinks that are short, slick, and pique customers’ interest. Then the server can sell it. I don’t like to label drinks in categories like scotch, gin, vodka, and so forth. We prefer to use key descriptive words for a particular taste and then mention the spirit base. If the drinks are listed by brand category, then the guest who doesn’t think they like gin or scotch will completely skip over that section. I prefer to give a compelling description and then let the server sell the drink to the guest. Get rid of headings on drinks; they keep people away.”

Elaborating further on future trends, Tony says, “In addition to education, we see that darker spirits are hot now but we are smart enough to realize vodka is still king. Micro beers are also hot and we are planning to brew our own beer in the very near future. We also look at heartier cocktails for the winter season, taking advantage of the cooler weather to introduce classic cocktails with a twist. Every Christmas season we add ‘1 hot and 2 not,’ meaning one hot cocktail, like a cider-based drink, and then two more fun drinks that aren’t served hot, such as an adult milkshake. Those make for a special Christmas selection that the guests seem to really enjoy.”

Tony goes on to explain about his operation, “I like to see what’s going on in the kitchen and follow it into the bar. The chefs have studied for years and are professionals; we like our bartenders to be the same.”

Each bartender gets a bar kit when they come on board and they bring their own tools to work like a chef does. Again, we mirror what culinary is doing, which brings a sense of pride to what the bartender is doing and that shows in their work.

For example, garnishes are fun and we are using a lot of air now as our garnishes, such as lemon air. If the chef is doing light tropical, we get the bar to do it as well. I see what happened in food ten years ago is now happening in the bars. Bartenders are becoming celebrities and it’s making for more fun with cocktails as well as generating more sales for us.”

Two of the signature drinks to look for at bluezoo are the Lavender Side Car with Hennessy VS, Cointreau, and lavender honey syrup; and the Blood and Sand cocktail with Chivas 12, sweet vermouth, and cherry herring. Thanks, Tony, for a truly unique perspective on cocktails and how the bar must follow the kitchen.

I hope you have a chance to check out a few of these great locations and the trends in cocktails this winter season. Cheers!

 Todd English’s bluezoo

Todd English’s bluezoo



  • Jesse is ok but it’s his awesome wife Amie who keeps the customers coming back She free-pours and is by a mile the most popular bartender at Duke’s. She also co-wrothe the book you mention and should get some credit. PS This IS the best place in the world to sit at the bar. Mahalo.

  • Sorry to hog space but one more note. I just read the digital magazine and think it is terrific. Any chance you will be covering our Okanagan region in British Columbia and in particular, the fantastic ice wines coming out of the area? Thank you.