Beverage Trends for 2016
Here To Stay Or Passing Fads?
First it was clothing. Next up cuisine. And now cocktails. Each year, a barrage of experts scramble to declare the hottest mixology trends, persuading you to sometimes abandon what’s been working well behind your bar.
And while a little change never hurts, it’s rarely a good idea to jump aboard a trend wholeheartedly. But what you should do—according to a number of experts with whom we spoke—is have fun and encourage your bar staff to experiment. That’ll not only get their creative juices flowing, but should also keep guests excited to see what you do next. But be yourself and don’t jump on a mixology trend just to be hip.
“People are not taking their drinks as seriously and going back to what they were drinking in the 1980s—but more refined,” says Lynn House, the national brand educator for Heaven Hill Brands. She’s spent 25 years in the bar and restaurant industry, and now travels the country helping establishments take their businesses to the next level. House says one trend that she’s seen appear everywhere is the return of blue-hued drinks.
Think about the gin-focused Aviation or rum-enhanced Blue Hawaii. They’re kitschy, yet eye-catching and one of the places capitalizing on them in the country is the Southern-themed Porchlight, owned by famed restaurateur Danny Meyer in New York. The contemporary Gun Metal Blue, created by Porchlight head bartender Nick Bennett, incorporates mezcal, peach brandy, cinnamon syrup and blue Curaçao.
“WE’RE EXPERIENCING TREMENDOUS GROWTH WITH HPNOTIQ THIS YEAR AS A RESULT OF THE POPULARITY OF BLUE DRINKS,” - Porchlight, New York
For its similarly themed cocktails, Heaven Hill Brands replaces blue Curaçao with Hpnotiq. “We’re experiencing tremendous growth with Hpnotiq this year as a result of the popularity of blue drinks,” says House. “It’s been a good year and some markets even have double-digit growth.”
She also credits the surge of these light-hearted, easy-to-make cocktails to the popularity of tiki-inspired elixirs. Places like Chicago’s Three Dots and a Dash and Lost Lake have aggressively led the charge in putting rum-tinged tipples like the Blue Hawaiian, Painkiller and Rum Runner in front of new audiences.
“Bartenders are having fun and going way out with crazy garnishes as a result of the tiki boom,” agrees Daniel "Gravy" Thomas, the national brand ambassador for Sailor Jerry spiced rum. While the tiki trend is at an all-time high and many times over the top, he continues, he believes it’s sustainable because the bartenders are tapping into it with their hearts.
“The presentations are great and are great memories for most of them,” he says. “And (for the bartender and guests) the cocktail name sometimes can bring you back to a time that was great in your life. Like when you were out there traveling the world.”
Unlike the average spirits brand ambassador, however, Thomas hails from a background filled with promoting live-music concerts, poetry slams, and reggae and dance hall parties. With his ear to the ground, he believes he’s developed an instinct for what consumers want when they go out to drink.
One thing they want in their cocktail is familiarity, but they’re willing to change it up, he says. With rum enjoying massive popularity right now, his job is to show bartenders how flexible it is in classic drinks.
“I show them the endless possibilities of our rum for cocktails,” he explains. “Rum is being utilized now as the base spirit for classic cocktails whether it’s an Old Fashioned, Sidecar or Manhattan. Those are trends that are going to continue to grow, especially as I see more and more mom and pop-produced rums come out of Brooklyn, South Carolina, North Carolina and New Orleans.”
What’s been hot in Europe for ages is finally catching on with imbibers in the United States, according to Adam Seger, an internationally known bartender who regularly consults for global properties. He’s pushed the Italian herbal liqueur amari for several years, introducing newcomers during tasting dinners and parties.
“Because it’s been huge (in Europe) for years and years, I don’t see it as anything that’s going away anytime soon,” says Seger.
According to Dave Karraker, who serves as vice president of engagement and advocacy for Campari America, the trend started on the coasts and can most likely be attributed to a few things: the rise of mixology, return of classic cocktails and increased consumption of coffee in places like Seattle and Portland.
“The flavor of bitter has finally started being accepted in America, alongside perennial favorites of sweet, salty and savory,” he observes. “Everyone is enjoying bitter food and drink all across the country—coffee, Brussel sprouts, kale, radicchio and IPA beer—and as both mixology and bitter spread to the middle of the United States, Italian amari are a substantial benefactor.”