What Will Be the Next ‘Bartender’s Ketchup’?

Bartenders share the qualities of a must-have cocktail modifier and speculate on which ones will reach the top shelf

A photo of Little Ned's downstairs bar
Certain cocktail ingredients have established themselves as must-haves for bartenders. Photo courtesy of Little Ned.

St-Germain: the liqueur that launched a thousand cocktails. The brand’s success derives from many factors, including timing, appearance, flavor, and quality. It came along in 2007 as the cocktail renaissance was accelerating, packaged in a stylish Art Deco bottle that stood out on every backbar. St-Germain’s bright elderflower flavor worked so well across the spirits spectrum and was deployed so widely that many referred to it as “bartender’s ketchup.” It sold over 150,000 cases in 2022, putting it among the top 10 best-selling liqueurs in the U.S., according to Impact Databank. It has cemented a place in the cocktail canon. 

While St-Germain is not the only modifier to have trended far and wide, most of its companions, like orange curaçao, Campari, Luxardo, and Chartreuse, are centuries old. But as American cocktail tastes diversify and grow more sophisticated, there’s room for others to join the ranks—and no shortage of contenders. 

“Where liqueur is concerned, you’re starting to see brands come up with products that are breaking somewhat from tradition, because the intention is that it is going to be the star in the cocktail or it’s going to be pegged to a style of drink that every bar needs to have, therefore it will be in every bar,” says Shannon Mustipher, a spirits educator, consultant, and author of Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails. 

SevenFifty Daily talked to several bartenders to find out which, if any, new liqueur or other non-vermouth modifier could achieve canonical status behind the bar.

What Are the Key Qualities of a Successful Modifier? 

Bartenders agree that there are a few key factors in a brand’s successful quest to become indispensable. “What we’re looking for as bartenders is—and this is what St-Germain did—something that combines a familiar yet unique flavor and makes it palatable, yet strong enough to stand up in cocktails,” says Abigail Gullo, the creative director and bar manager at Loa at the International Hotel in New Orleans.  

Alongside distinct flavor, these products should be versatile. They must also meet the practical needs of a working bar, with sensible pricing and utility-minded packaging. Above all, a well-supported sales and marketing strategy is something that every brand should be building into its budget from day one. 

“Flavor can always make a splash, but today, popularity probably revolves around marketing,” says Nicolas Torres, the bar director of San Francisco’s True Laurel. The marketing can focus on influencers or traditional sales—or, more likely, both. And robust distribution partnerships are non-negotiable.

Flavor Comes First

Unlike base spirits such as gin or tequila, where one brand can easily stand in for another in a cocktail, an essential modifier should feature a singular flavor that’s not easily replicated. It has to be made from high-quality ingredients such as fruit, honey, and spices, rather than flavorings. And if there’s an authentic story that the bartender can share with guests, all the better to make it stand out. 

“For me, modifiers are the most interesting part of the drink,” says Chris Moore, the head of bars at The Ned NoMad in New York City. “It’s like architecture versus design. You never walk into a house and say, ‘Wow, these foundations look great.’ You talk about the design. The design, for me, is the modifier.” 

From left to right: The Dill Pickle; Chris Moore, the head of bars at The Ned NoMad; the Pimm's Rosé.
From left to right: The Dill Pickle cocktail from Little Ned; Chris Moore, the head of bars at The Ned NoMad; the Pimm’s Rosé cocktail from Little Ned. Photos courtesy of Little Ned.

Moore and others point to the passion fruit liqueur Chinola, Sorel, and Pierre Ferrand Yuzu as nailing the aspect of unique flavor. The hibiscus-forward Sorel is a particular standout for its authenticity, having been created by Jackie Summers, a Caribbean American who grew up drinking homemade sorrel, the non-alcoholic beverage on which the liqueur is based. 

Pierre Ferrand Yuzu joined a traditional orange curaçao variant when it launched in 2023. “I’ve been saying for a few years now that yuzu is the future,” says Gullo. She notes the fruit’s bright citrus profile and astringency that are rounded out by creamy vanilla tones. Whereas yuzu was once the province of Asian restaurants, she adds, “you’re starting to see it cross over into the modern vernacular.” 

A Cocktail Modifier Offers Versatility

Singular flavor doesn’t mean single use, however. “It should be really clear on how it works in a drink,” says Mustipher. “There’s a liqueur I tasted recently, it’s delicious, but it really in theory only has three uses.” 

One-trick ponies don’t work here: A successful bartender’s ketchup must go with every kind of spirit and flavor profile, even—perhaps especially—inspiring drinks that haven’t been invented yet. And it must taste good by itself. “When you taste it on its own, it should give you ideas,” says Gullo. “If it tastes like it would be good in this one thing, then you’re only going to use it for that one thing.” 

Bergamot-flavored Italicus shines in this department, to such an extent that multiple bartenders call it an evolution of St-Germain. “It’s a very versatile ingredient, very adaptable,” says Moore. “It’s something that guests look for on the backbar and if they see it in a drink, it just seems to move well.” 

Sorel also shows tremendous versatility. “It works across a spectrum of flavors,” says Mustipher. “Not just for rum or Caribbean drinks but for a whole swathe.” 

On the other hand, Mr Black—though highly popular for its distinct cold-brew flavor—seems to fall short on versatility, being employed primarily in the Espresso Martini. Mustipher thinks the brand’s moment will last only until another trendy drink usurps the cocktail-du-jour’s throne. 

Stability, Cost, and Ergonomics

More practical considerations are still paramount. Shelf stability has been a struggle for certain types of modifiers, especially fruit-based ones, but Chinola has figured out this part of the equation. “Liqueurs based on exotic tropical fruits are improving,” says Mustipher. “At one point they used to be relegated strictly to tiki and tropical bars, but I’m seeing products out there that are applicable to just about any program.” Passionfruit may be just the start of the trend: Chinola recently added a mango variant, and Giffard—a standby line of various well-regarded liqueurs—has also just launched a mango expression, both of which bartenders are eager to try. 

“Cost is always a consideration,” says Moore. “At the same time, there’s intelligent ways to use those [expensive] ingredients where you don’t have to eliminate them.” He cites as an example the Man O’War, a cocktail that incorporates just a quarter-ounce of 20-year-old Madeira. “It still delivers because there’s so much flavor,” he adds. 

From left to right: the Barbie Girl; Nicolas Torres, the bar director of San Francisco’s True Laurel; the Westside Southside.
From left to right: The Barbie Girl cocktail from True Laurel; Nicolas Torres, the bar director of San Francisco’s True Laurel; the Westside Southside cocktail from True Laurel. Photos courtesy of True Laurel.

Gullo notes the importance of packaging, which is something St-Germain nailed. “It has to be a bar-friendly package, which means it could fit in a well and it’s easy to open,” she says. “There’s some ergonomic things that become essential if you’re going to pick up a bottle a lot.” On top of that, she says, an eye-catching bottle design benefits everyone, as bartenders can show it off and it’s more memorable to consumers. 

Chinola, Italicus, Sorel, Mr Black, and Pierre Ferrand Yuzu all fall into a retail price range of around $30 to $40, in line with St-Germain. And they have attractive bottles that are largely friendly to frequent pick-ups and pours.  

Can There Be a Next Big Thing?

St-Germain achieved its peculiar success in a particular moment and set of circumstances, which may not be repeatable. “It opened up something,” says Gullo, pointing to the novelty of elderflower flavor in the U.S. as a key factor in St-Germain’s ubiquity. “When you look at the mainstream, they’re still flavoring everything with apples, cinnamon, and peach,” she adds. “If someone were to reinvent a really good apple or a really good peach [liqueur] then that might change the game.” But such workaday flavors aren’t enough to elevate a modifier to indispensable status. 

The brands cited above excel in many areas, but fall short in others. Some aren’t terribly versatile; others, while distinct and delicious, can clash in certain kinds of cocktails. Moreover, timing isn’t in anyone’s favor. St-Germain debuted as craft cocktails were being adopted more widely, and bartenders were looking for unique ingredients to give their offerings an edge. Nowadays, there are far more options in the modifier category, so that no single product may be able to ascend to the top. 

And a quarter-century into the cocktail renaissance, with a mature market nationwide, what’s trendy in one region or type of bar doesn’t necessarily carry over elsewhere. “I don’t think we are in the era of the next big liqueur,” says Torres. “I think there will be trends that come and go. They come from marketing, media hypes, and social hypes.” He points to the sharp spike in requests for the Negroni Sbagliato, after it was mentioned in a TikTok video by actor Emma D’Arcy, as an example, adding, “Somebody just needs to popularize the Rusty Nail.”


Sign up for our award-winning newsletter

Don’t miss the latest drinks industry news and insights—delivered to your inbox every week.

An award-winning journalist and seasoned critic, Susannah Skiver Barton writes about whiskey and spirits from around the world. Bylines include Bon Appétit, The Daily Beast, Whisky Advocate, Whisky Magazine, VinePair, PUNCH, Men’s Health, InsideHook, Men’s Journal, and Liquor.com, among others. She is a Certified Spirits Specialist and the Whiskey Editor for The New Wine Review. More at susannahskiverbarton.com.

Most Recent

From left to right: A Tale of The Forest by Glenmorangie with illustrated packaging by Pomme Chan. Bruichladdich has dropped the tin for its Port Charlotte range. Midleton Very Rare and its newly designed recyclable box.

Does Premium Whiskey Need a Box?

Secondary packaging signifies a bottle’s collectable status in the premium whiskey market, but, now that sustainability is top of mind, consumers are shifting their priorities