Hip revelers pass up the bubbly, sip spirits instead

December 31, 2005|By DAN THANH DANG | DAN THANH DANG,SUN REPORTER

At the stroke of midnight tonight, Michael Furr and his fellow revelers will blow their noisemakers on the rooftop of his house near Penn Station, hug and then toast the new year with Grand Marnier.

Champagne? The bubbly stuff will make an obligatory appearance at the crucial hour, too, but at this house party for young urban hipsters, the drink of choice is the orange-flavored French liqueur.

"We'll have lots of wine and some beer," says Furr, a 26-year-old retail manager and interior decorator. "But I think the idea of drinking beer with your friends is a little passe. Of course, there will be champagne. It's tradition. My friends and I, however, are fans of Grand Marnier. That's what we'll be drinking all night.

"The champagne we'll save for mimosas the day after."

Move over, boring beer and mellow wine. As the year winds down and parties heat up tonight, Stoli Razz and Jaeger bombs will be the crowd pleasers at party central Max's on Broadway in Fells Point. At the hopping Eight by Ten Club in Federal Hill, imbibers will probably partake in a jolt of Grey Goose vodka and Red Bull. Drinkers in the know at the chichi Oya Restaurant and Lounge near the MCI Center in Washington will surely ask for the exquisite Remy Tres in a crystal decanter that sells for $225 a shot.

Worry not. The usual sloppy celebrants will still be there ringing in the year by getting plastered, hammered and sloshed on more mundane fare, but partygoers with panache - or pretensions to it - will choose this year to sip, not slurp, an assortment of trendy cocktails and spirits.

You've heard of the prestige car and the "It" bag. The time has come for the status drink, and for those who aren't absolutely sure, the pricier the alcohol the better.

"It really started with the Sex and the City thing, the cosmopolitan," says Todd Thrasher, general manager, bar chef and mixologist at Restaurant Eve in Old Town Alexandria - a new nightlife destination for D.C. partygoers. "It's the same thing that happened with dining. Years ago, people were looking for steak and potatoes, a regular gin and tonic or a three-olive martini. But now you've got some great bartenders making some really creative cocktails. And people are looking for an unbelievably cool menu and really cool cocktails."

Those with such discriminating tastes might be pleased to find out that Food & Wine magazine has dubbed 2006 the year of the cocktail.

Mixed drinks with unusual ingredients such as mint, sage, basil and cilantro are all the rage now, says Monica Bell, spokeswoman for the Distilled Spirits Council in Washington, who adds that "People aren't necessarily drinking more. They're just drinking better."

The fact is, it's probably a little bit of both.

Americans spent a whopping $154.6 billion on alcohol last year, almost $10 billion more than the year before, according to Adams Beverage Group, a market research company based in California.

In sheer volume, beer is still king, with $82.2 billion in sales, compared with $23 billion for wine and $49.4 billion in sales of spirits, Adams says. But consumption of spirits has grown over the last seven years, jumping 4 percent this year.

And with 75 percent of Americans planning on celebrating New Year's Eve, according to a study by California-based shopping mall owner Macerich Co., a good many carousers will likely be finishing off a month of holiday parties with an end-of-the-year alcoholic toast. Figures from Adams Beverage show that 20.7 million cases of spirits were consumed in December 2004, a major jump compared with the 11 million to 14 million cases consumed every other month of the year.

Don't count out champagne completely, even though Adnane Kebaier, maitre d' and backup sommelier at the Tony Marcel's near Georgetown, calls it "old-fashioned."

M.J. Cavanagh, a manager at Beltway Fine Wines and Liquors in Towson, says that the sparkly stuff is selling as briskly for New Year's as toys do for Christmas.

"This is champagne season," Cavanagh says. "People are looking for something tasty that's affordable. From now until we close on Saturday, that's basically what we'll be selling. We'll be locking the doors in people's faces who are trying to get in at 10 o'clock. We gotta close sometime."

But regardless of whether partyers enjoy a premium single-malt whisky, a blues martini made with Blue Sapphire gin or a $950 red ruby (made famous in Chicago for its mix of vodka, champagne, cognac, pomegranate liqueur, orange juice and a one-carat, grade-A ruby), all that really matters among the younger set is that it exudes cool.

"In my group of friends, they're more shots type of people," says Elijah Brooks, a 21-year-old junior at the College of William and Mary. "Shots of Patron, that's big right now."

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