The predictions came after an extensive tasting tour across the U.S. led by an expert team of national sales staff and mixologists. They visited 80 of the top mixology and restaurant bars in New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Kansas City, Missouri; and Dallas. After tasting nearly 400 cocktails across these markets, five key trends driving innovation in the cocktail category were revealed.
Toasting to Texture
Cocktails with proper texture result in drinks that feel substantial. Ice is one way to deliver the correct texture and flavor in a cocktail, in addition to providing a visual impact. Forexample, large blocks of ice minimize dilution and can also be branded or stamped. Medium sized cubes continue to be used for a variety of all-purpose cocktails and shaved or nugget ice is being used in large part to often dilute boozy, tiki-styled cocktails. Finally, blended cocktails continue to grow in popularity. Beyond ice, texture can also be modified by using egg whites to not only add a foam presentation, but also a soft texture to a variety of citrus-forward cocktails.
Drinking Your Veggies
While consumers have long embraced healthy green juicing and smoothies, vegetable flavors such as cucumber, celery, peppers, and peas are now being used to add a new twist to familiar cocktails. Bartenders are also using spirits that have vegetal characteristics, such as Green Chartreuse or its milder, slightly sweeter, lower-alcohol cousin, Yellow Chartreuse. Aquavit, a spirit often infused with caraway and dill, is also being used to add vegetal flavor. Using vegetables and vegetal spirit ingredients, such as bell peppers, beets, and snap peas, adds fresh, bright flavors and imparts unique, vibrant colors.
It’s Good to be Bitters
No longer just to enjoy after dinner, amaro and bitters are being used more and more due to their ability to tone down and balance drinks that are too tart or sweet. One example is Aperol—a bitter orange liqueur that adds astringency, bitterness, and also a wonderful color. Cynar is an artichoke based bittersweet liqueur known for its versatility and distinctive flavour; its taste is enriched by an infusion of 13 herbs and plants. The name of the drink derives from the botanical name for artichoke, as artichoke leaves lend the distinctive flavor. Angostura bitters, traditionally used as an accent ingredient, is also making its way to the forefront as a major ingredient in cocktails.
Wine Lovers Rejoice
Wines are great on their own, but they also lend themselves well to cocktail development. When used in cocktails, wines reduce the need to add excessive amounts of alcohol (that can make a drink too boozy) and can add a softer sweetness than syrups. These include fortified wines like ports and vermouths; subtle nutty or creamy sherries; crisp and clean red and white wines; and sparkling wines for bubbly texture. And red wine, traditionally just for sangria, is being used to create colorful, flavorful cocktails at some of the country’s most innovative watering holes.
Photo and caption: Consumers are buzzing with coffee-based drinks, like this cocktail that features cold brew coffee and coffee stout, along with Campari, tonic, and vanilla. (Photo: Business Wire)
The Bartender Barista
Coffee and tea as cocktail ingredients are being leveraged for their smoothness, earthiness, subtle smokiness, and other flavor tones—as well as for their strong backbone, which stands up to more assertive spirits. While cold brew primarily delivers a singular flavor profile, teas from around the world offer versatility and more nuanced flavors. These range from the subtle and delicate aromas of white tea; slight bitterness of many black teas (or subtle smokiness of Lapsang souchong); roasty notes from green teas like houjicha; soft, grassy flavors in matcha tea; or the range of flavors and aromas of oolong tea. Then there’s the incredibly diverse flavors extracted from herbal and floral teas including hibiscus or chamomile.
Brian Masilionis, a certified specialist of wine and spirits from the Society of Wine Educators, and Director of National Accounts, On-Premise, for Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, led the research effort.
“What we know is that consumers now expect more complex and layered flavors in cocktails,” commented Masilionis. “However, while they want to be surprised and delighted, they still want to stay in their comfort zone. This explains why some of the most successful on-premise programs start with a classic cocktail as a base, then use an ever-expanding range of ingredients to make the drink more interesting. The results can keep an on-premise beverage program on the leading edge, while also staying true to the retail concept.”