Behind the Bar

The Rise of the Craft Shooter

Shooters in small glasses.
With all the charm and convenience of a shot but the complexity and nuances of a cocktail, craft shooters like those found in Chicago's Analogue bar feature the best of both worlds. Photo by Shelby Allison.

If you’ve ever hit that point in the night that has you torn between reaching for another cocktail or straight for a shot, deliberate no more. A convergence of the two exists in craft shooters, the coming together of at least two quality spirits to mimic a cocktail with its nuanced flavors and lingering finish, but with the shot-like convenience of its ounce-and-a-half size.

Jane Danger, beverage director at New York’s Mother of Pearl, is happy to be serving up more short orders. “I like it because of my dive bar roots — it’s a chance to experiment with all of that again,” she says. After recognizing the demand for the menu’s first two craft shooters — the Ferrari, with fernet and Campari, and the Maserati, with mezcal and Ramazzotti — Danger decided to add another fast car-inspired hybrid to the list: The Jaguar, an equal parts shot of Jägermeister and pear brandy. “We wanted to do something a little more seasonal, and this one has been a lot of fun,” she says.

Danger is no stranger to pouring shots, but the category of craft shooters is one she confirms she’s been seeing more of lately — especially within the past year. “It’s always been something we’ve seen within cocktail community, but the guests coming in now are more equipped in their drinking knowledge,” she says. “I think people also enjoy the fact that they know what’s going on in front of them — there’s nothing secretive about what you’re putting into their glass.” The other reason Danger loves shots — any shot — is their ability to rally a crowd. “It’s that sense of family and community, and the ‘cheers’ that results in having everybody in one place at one time.”

A shooter next to a bottle of Jägermeister.At New York City's Mother of Pearl, they're serving up The Jaguar, a shooter that's equal parts Jägermeister and pear brandy.

It was that feeling of camaraderie that first prompted Ryan Wainwright, bar director at LA’s Viviane, to play around with the idea of mixing spirits in petite portions. When spirits educator and Appleton Rum trade consultant Willy Shine rolled up to his bar, Wainwright wanted to take a shot with the industry pro, while also showcasing his favorite cocktail of the moment: a marriage of Appleton 12-year, Cynar, and dry vermouth. “The way the rum and Cynar meld together is spectacular,” he says.

“Most of the time when people take shots, they take what’s called a thoroughbred shot, which is one type of booze, but there was a time period when ensembles were the thing,” he explains. The terms "ensemble" and "thoroughbred" come from Andrew Willett's book, "Elemental Mixology." The ensemble is the same idea as a shot, but with multiple spirits and no dilution. “A cocktail before it is shaken or stirred is totally different, which creates several opportunities for a bartender,” says Wainwright, who has been proving that point at Viviane with a handful of ensembles currently in the works, from Tapatío tequila and Byrrh, to Lazzaroni Fernet and Chartreuse.

He’s also enlisted a reverse martini, with two parts dry vermouth, one part Old Tom gin, and one dash of orange bitters to round it out. “My goal with these is to create shots that are layered and nuanced,” he says. “Whether you’re a veteran of the trade or someone on a first date, the point is to get you excited about drinking things you otherwise wouldn’t.”

Shooters in small airplane bottles.Analogue also offers The Autopilot, a generally vermouth and amaro-laced shot served in an airplane-approved bottle size that rotates every couple of months, with the dram du jour entailing Angostura Amaro, vermouth, and Cynar. Photo by Shelby Allison.
The team at Chicago’s Analogue also turned to a classic cocktail to inspire the first craft shooter they decided to offer, which has been on their menu since day one. Between a shot of bourbon, a shaker of sugar, and an Angostura-soaked orange wedge, the Old Fashioned shot might read like spring break in Mexico, but it comes together more truly as a deconstructed riff on the beloved whiskey drink. “It’s a fun way to experience the flavors of the sacred cow of classic cocktails,” says co-owner Henry Prendergast.

For the past year the bar has also offered The Autopilot, a generally vermouth and amaro-laced shot served in an airplane-approved bottle size that rotates every couple of months, with the dram du jour entailing Angostura Amaro, vermouth, and Cynar. “It’s great because we get to play around with whatever bitters and amaro we have on hand,” says Prendergast. It’s that easy going angle that led him and the team to offer the shots to begin with, along with their quickly received appreciation within a group atmosphere.

“When we first opened, we focused on stripping down drinks, and playing with the cocktail in shot form is a fun way to do that,” he says. “The best part about them is their communal characteristic because it’s not just an individual interaction with a cocktail — it’s much more celebratory.”

Correction: in the original text of this article, it was reported that the terms "thoroughbred" and "ensemble" have historical roots. In fact, the terms were coined by Andrew Willett in his book, "Elemental Mixology."

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