On the American cocktail scene, newer, faster and cheaper is giving way to older and slower, and it's worth it.
Pre-Prohibition era cocktails — sort of the barkeep's equivalent of the horse and buggy — have begun elbowing their way onto big-city bar scenes and into cookbooks and magazines.
"There's a trend in general toward classics and I've definitely noticed more classics on menus throughout the city," said Alyssa Shepherd, a member of the Boston chapter of Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails.
"It's worth bringing these drinks back because they're about balance and flavor," she said.
Founded in Pittsburgh in 2007 — now with branches around the country — Shepherd's group describes itself as "a classic cocktail society dedicated to breeding, raising and releasing nearly extinct drinks into the wild."
It's a popular mission but a tough trend to measure.
Indicators include spikes in sales of old-time liquors, such as rye whiskey, which jumped 30 percent from 2007 to 2008.
"The entire spirits industry on average sees an increase of 6 percent per year," said Danielle Eddy of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Rye, a key ingredient in many old-fangled cocktails, hasn't been popular since the Great Depression.
"For any particular spirit to see as great of an increase as 30 percent, you know that there's a lot of interest behind that."
Much of the credit for the rise of the classic cocktail goes to David Wondrich, author of Imbibe! The book follows the adventures of one of America's pioneering men of mixology, Jerry Thomas, who wrote the nation's first bartending guide.
Written in 1862, the guide has become a lodestar for old-school cocktail fans across the country.
"Drinks back then were like Italian food," Wondrich said. "Italian food uses a few basic ingredients and a few simple preparations. But the ingredients have to be the best and then the simple preparations work."
Classics are drinks whose formulas were concocted before Prohibition or just after. Famous ones include Manhattans, Tom Collins and juleps, with lesser known ones brought out of retirement from old recipe books. Bars sticking to the original plans use only fresh ingredients as they did in the old days, some going as far as making their own bitters and grenadine.
Wondrich has become one of the scene's most prominent experts. Requests for him to speak have increased so much during the past five years he has to turn down more than he accepts.
"It's a revolution," Wondrich said recently at the Clover Club, a throwback bar in Brooklyn where the cocktail menu has paragraph-deep descriptions of drink types.
"And like most revolutions it moves in cells at first," he said.
In this case, those cells are the passionate young bartenders who turn fellow workers and customers on to the advantages of these kinds of drinks.
Back then, drinks were formulated so that imbibers actually tasted the alcohol in the beverage; during Prohibition the quality of available alcohol diminished and people found ways to hide the taste. That trend continued past Prohibition and continues in many modern bars today. A return to the classics celebrates the taste of good quality liquor.
At the Clover Club, guests pick drinks under headings such as "Sours & Daisies," "Collins & Fizzes," "Old Fashioned, Flips & Sangarees" and "Royales." For the uninitiated, flips are made with a whole egg and royales are doused with Champagne or sparkling wine.
Want to catch one of these activist bartenders promoting an old-school agenda in action? Head to Alembic in San Francisco, where bar manager Daniel Hyatt has split the cocktail menu into two camps: the Canon and the New School.
From the Canon you can get a simple bourbon old-fashioned, here described as "Nothing more than a slug of good whiskey on the rocks, with a couple of dashes of bitters, a little sugar, and a twist of lemon peel to take the edge off."
Hyatt said that most of his customers appreciate Alembic's differences.
"There's always going to be people who come in and say, 'Oh my God, it takes forever to get a drink here.' But the really exciting thing is when people pop in and don't know where they're coming, and they say, 'Wow, I've never seen anyone put so much care into a drink.' "
One way Hyatt shares the old-school playbook with his customers is a popular monthly Stomping Through the Savoy night co-hosted by blogger Erik Ellestad. Ellestad is in the midst of an almost three-year (and counting) project to make every cocktail in The Savoy Cocktail Book, which he documents on his blog, www.underhill-lounge.com.
Savoy night at Alembic consists of customers leafing through the hundreds of recipes in the book and picking one for the bar to make at their own risk.
"There are some drinks in there that call for absinthe as either a sweetener or as a bittering agent that are pretty disgusting," Hyatt said. "I'll tell you if I've made it before and it's disgusting but if you insist on it, it's yours."