For the Best New Bartenders of 2023, the imperative to have a good time comes before any staid rules for the way drinks ought to be built or served. The experimental, rule-breaking, creative mindset they bring to this pursuit is reflected in each of their signature cocktails, which draw on everything from nostalgic childhood dishes—like almond jello, which features in Han Suk Cho’s Monterey Park Lychee Martini—to centuries-old recipes and 1990s throwbacks alike, filtered through a thoroughly modern lens. The following drinks vary greatly, but in the hands of the individuals who represent the future of bartending, it’s precisely that variety that makes the future look so bright.
Tammy Bouma | Albuquerque, New Mexico
Since leaving Baltimore, where she worked at The Bluebird and NiHao, to join Happy Accidents in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tammy Bouma has been putting her penchant for tinkering to good use, expanding the bar’s menu with playful cocktails built around a roster of ingredients unique to the Southwest. In this flip, champurrado—a hot Mexican chocolate drink—nods to time-honored regional flavors and is paired with rum distilled in-house and a porter reduction, plus passion fruit liqueur and a whole egg.
Han Suk Cho | Los Angeles
At Kato, Han Suk Cho is known to mine cherished memories and childhood flavors for inspiration. The Monterey Park Lychee Martini is modeled after almond jello, a popular Korean dessert that is usually served with canned lychee or canned mandarin. Cho notes that most people are either Team Lychee or Team Mandarin—she’s Team Lychee, as evidenced by this playful cocktail made with elderflower, a blend of rums, pisco, yogurt, citrus and of course lychee, served atop a scoop of almond jello.
Renée Fitzgerald | Tampa, Florida
As the launch bartender of North America’s first and only Punch Room, located in Tampa, Florida, Renée Fitzgerald is dressing a centuries-old format of mixed drink in party clothes. Her modern takes on punch celebrate the flavors and spirits of the Caribbean and Gulf regions while incorporating contemporary techniques and unconventional ingredients. (Today’s wealth of agave spirits wasn’t so close at hand for yesterday’s punch makers.) Here, two types of clarified citrus join forces with manzanilla sherry, banana liqueur and crème de cacao atop a tequila base. True to tradition, a measure of orange rooibos tea remains in Fitzgerald’s modern punch.
Erika Flowers | New Orleans
With its striking scarlet hue and manicured lemon twist studded with a mint plume, the Banana Blossom is the perfect encapsulation of Erika Flowers’ ability to blend the dramatic with the approachable. The drink features banana liqueur, lime and aged rum infused with hibiscus, an ingredient “so ingrained in me, growing up in a Caribbean household,” says Flowers. She finishes the drink with a spritz of lavender tincture on both the surface of the cocktail and the stem of the glass, so the aroma transfers to the drinker’s fingertips.
Kat Foster | Brooklyn, New York
Drawing on her upbringing in Richmond, Virginia, Kat Foster is flexing a repertoire of passed-down Appalachian kitchen techniques—including pickling, canning and fermentation—to execute complex culinary cocktails at Margot in Brooklyn. The Windowsill Thief, whose name alludes to pilfered pie, is one such example. Central to the recipe is a lacto-fermented cherry syrup—the fermentation process, Foster says, lends the cherries a savory, meaty quality—paired with brown butter–washed rye.
Laura Maddox | Austin, Texas
“When I was introduced to the Tequila Daisy, it was eye-opening,” says Laura Maddox, who credits the simple sour as the drink that got her into bartending. She cites the combination of lemon and tequila (rather than the more common lime-tequila pairing) as particularly captivating, especially in the land of Margaritas. It sent her down a rabbit hole of classic drinks that continues to inform the core of the work she and her team carry out at Small Victory. Her version departs from the original only in fine-tuning the ratios.
Ramsey Musk | Los Angeles
“I’m taking you back to the 1990s,” says Ramsey Musk of his Apple Martini. But unlike the cloying construction prevalent in the drink’s heyday, this version calls on a clarified Granny Smith cordial, paired with pear eau de vie and a split base of vodka and gin. “It’s crystal-clear,” says Musk, “but it tastes like you’re biting into a fresh Granny Smith.”
Jake Powell | Denver
As the bar manager at Death & Co. in Denver, Jake Powell uses his self-described “mathematical” process to doggedly shape his drink concepts until they are not only balanced but efficient in build. Testing through a recipe is an exercise in editing, and the Alabaster, with just four ingredients in equal volume, displays the power of a well-edited drink in its balance of spirited backbone, citrusy zip and full-bodied texture and flavor.
Marc Rodriguez | New York City
At Atomix, bar manager Marc Rodriguez insists on crafting most of the nonspirit components of the Korean restaurant’s cocktails in-house, from Sichuan peppercorn tincture to kelp syrup and house-fermented elixirs. In this drink, an unconventional cocktail ingredient—butternut squash—drives the flavor alongside curry leaf–infused oat milk, two types of citrus, acidified syrup and both gin and rye.
Kim Vo | Baltimore
“Gin & Tonics, on the surface, are not attention-grabbing,” says Vo. “But I love to play around with drinks that people know and ... find ways to improve on that experience.” Green tea brings an earthy, grassy quality to the expected gin botanicals, peach schnapps adds fruit flavor without tilting the axis of the drink too sweet, and Becherovka provides an underlying spiced quality for a layered take on the G&T. “This particular cocktail reads like a boozy, fruity green tea, but it’s actually semi-dry,” explains Vo. “I really enjoy subverting people’s expectations on how they think a cocktail will drink.”