Our Writers Predict Hits & Misses for 2019: Part 1
Photo: The Gold Cup Russian imperial stout from Old Bust Head Brewing Company (Photo by: Old Bust Head Brewing Company)
Victor Ozols’ Top 10 trends include American single malts, imperial stouts on dessert menus and eco-friendly beverage packaging.
I’m a Brooklyn-based beer and spirits enthusiast, and I love it when bars and restaurants get their beverage programs just right. Here are 10 promising alcohol-related trends I’ve seen in New York that I hope continue into 2019 and beyond.
Imperial stouts will cozy up to dessert.
Cognac and amari will soon be joined on the after-dinner drinks list by imperial stouts: dark, complex, full-bodied beers with ABV levels approaching wine (seven percent to 15 percent) and retail prices that can creep well north of $20 per bottle. Once the province of only serious beer geeks, innovative brewers are making more user-friendly versions perfect for pairing with dessert, like the Gold Cup Russian imperial stout from Old Bust Head Brewing Company (pictured), a rich, velvety brew with a dark berry sweetness that practically begs for a slice of Black Forest cake.
Hazy IPAs will get weirder.
Thankfully, the hops arms race is over, with brewers finally realizing that bitterer isn’t always better-er when it comes to India Pale Ale. Today’s most innovative beermakers are using next-level hop varietals and all manner of fruits and flavorings to create IIPAs (Imperial IPAs), DIPAs (Double IPAs), Oat Cream IPAs, and other high-ABV beers that pack in fresh, eye-opening flavors while sidestepping much of the genre’s traditional bitterness. Demand for certain favorites and limited releases is through the roof. Need convincing? Show up at breweries like Brooklyn’s Other Half during a weekday “can drop” and see the line for that day’s unique one-off canning wrap around the block.
Session beers will rise with the temperature.
While high-alcohol beers are growing as a category, plenty of drinkers are expressing a renewed desire for flavorful brews that won’t make you glassy-eyed after just one or two. While session beers (clocking in at under five percent ABV) have been around for decades, innovative new releases and a handful of the classics are showing up at more and more bars and restaurants, particularly during warm-weather months. They’re perfect for pairing with food, and help you keep things cool when you have a long night ahead. Reach for an Oarsman Ale (four percent ABV) from Bell’s Brewery or a Bikini Beer (approximately three percent ABV) from Evil Twin Brewing, then reach for another, because you can.
American single malts will give Scotch some competition.
Single malt Scotch whisky is spectacular. It’s also more expensive than it’s ever been. Fortunately, several U.S. distillers are producing their own whiskies using malted barley as the only grain. While Macallan isn’t quaking from the competition yet, they might start to worry if they tasted impressive new examples like Stranahan’s Diamond Peak, a small-batch, single-malt whiskey from Colorado with a minimum age of five years and delightful apricot, butterscotch and chocolate notes.
Aged rum will find a home on the fine spirits list.
As more artisanal rums come on the market and legacy producers release some of their oldest stock, plenty of sippers are going with aged rum during situations that might normally call for whiskey or brandy. Cocktail bars are responding accordingly, making sure they have several varieties of aged rum from the Caribbean and the United States on hand. If you don’t have $5,000 for a bottle of Appleton 50-Year Jamaica Independence Reserve Rum, the incredibly smooth Ron Zacapa XO from Guatemala or Richland Single Estate rum from Georgia, USA will do nicely.
Bubbly will break free of New Year’s Eve.
Champagne, cava, prosecco and other sparkling wines are just too good to confine to holiday celebrations and brunch mimosas. Restaurants like New York’s Birds & Bubbles agree, pairing bubbly with fried chicken and other comfort foods year-round. Pop a cork and make a party anytime.
Consumers will warm to eco-friendly beverage packaging.
It’s time to start reducing our impact on the earth, and the drinks industry is doing its part by introducing smart new packaging that’s reusable, recyclable, biodegradable and just plain better. It’s taken a while, but U.S. drinkers are coming to terms that not only are plastic corks, screw tops, boxes, pouches, growlers and other innovations good for the environment, they do a great job protecting the beverage as well.
The right glass will make the drink.
There’s nothing more disappointing to a beer enthusiast than being served a rare Trappist ale in a straight-sided pint glass, which—unlike the tulip-style glass it was meant for—will do nothing to concentrate the aroma. The same holds for any number of alcoholic beverages, which, now more than ever, have glasses designed especially for their unique characteristics. Glassmaker Spiegelau scored a huge hit a few years ago with its now-iconic IPA glass and is keeping the innovation going with its newly released cider glass. Common sense will dictate just how far you should take it—pisco glasses, anyone?—but making an effort in the glassware department can elevate a cocktail as much as premium spirits and fancy garnishes.
Smaller sizes will have a big impact.
The party-hearty crowd will always have their buckets of beer and massive margaritas. Upscale patrons appreciate a more refined approach to drinking, one that emphasizes high-quality ingredients and a bit of exploration. Smaller, more carefully made cocktails actually harken back to the early days of American saloon culture, before super-sizing became the norm. Much like beer flights, cocktail flights utilizing elegant three-ounce martini glasses give guests a chance to try different drinks—upping the likelihood that they’ll discover their favorite for next time.
Operators will guide tipsy guests to sober rides.
The ultimate customer service is the one that could save a life: guiding inebriated patrons to safe transportation home. Designated pick-up spots for rideshares, a working relationship with local car services, easy-to-follow directions to public transportation, and staff training can all reduce the chances of an intoxicated customer getting behind the wheel. That’s a happy ending for everybody.