As the bar for impressing guests is raised higher and higher, the quest to incorporate the next quirky ingredient or wow-worthy presentation can seem endless. Luckily, these four beverage buffs share their industry insights on the latest trends in libations and recommendations to keep planners ahead of the curve. From plant-forward potions to hand-crafted tonics, read on for fresh inspiration to excite your guests and their taste buds.
With macro trends like sustainability, alternative menu options and plant-based dining on the rise, it’s no surprise these factors are changing the way we imbibe. Health-focused diners are also embracing the benefits of a topnotch, complex cocktail without the hangover.
Nonalcoholic drinks are having a moment and The Assemblage, a wellness-focused coworking space and boutique hotel with locations in New York City’s NoMad and FiDi neighborhoods, is serving up creative combinations for the sober-curious.
“All of our cuisine is developed with Ayurveda in mind … all components are full of nutrients to support wellness in mind and body, productivity and well-being. The same goes for our nonalcoholic plant-based elixirs. They’re intentionally crafted with powerful elements to enhance your desired state of being,” says Rebecca Antsis, food and beverage manager.
From mood elevation to digestive health, The Assemblage’s colorful array of elixirs are specially prepared to tap the healing powers of botanicals, then artfully displayed in a cocktail format, complete with vibrant garnishes, giving guests a high-end craft cocktail bar experience that packs a healthful punch.
Pro tip: “Custom elixir recipes and menus are always an option for clients, but elixir flights can be a great fit for corporate gatherings,” says Antsis. “Flights create an interactive experience that exposes attendees to something fresh and unknown and sparks conversation in a low-key environment for clear-headed connections and collaborations.”
New Crowd Favorites
For the experts at Beer Maestro, a Connecticutbased collective of cicerones, it’s clear that the buzz around craft beer is here to stay.
The company, which staffs cicerones (certified hospitality professionals experienced in selecting and serving beer, also known as “beer sommeliers”) for beer education, tasting events and social celebrations, caters to a wide range of guests. In addition to guests who are increasingly better informed on beer and the brewing process, the Beer Maestro team has found that the craft beer boom has helped attract potential new beer fans.
“You used to have to go to Belgium to get good beer, but great microbreweries have popped up in just about every city across the country. These breweries are taking risks, trying new things, and with that variety there’s a beer out there for just about everyone,” says Marketing and Events Coordinator Sarah McWilliams. “Guests love discovering new beers based on our suggestions, and we’ve worked with plenty of people who swear they don’t like beer, only to find a beer they love through our services.”
As beer gains a new following, McWilliams notes craft brews have also been embraced in the fine dining and hospitality industries. “Restaurants are now employing cicerones as they would sommeliers, recommending the perfect beer to pair with your steak rather than wine.”
Pro tip: While an on-site cicerone helping guests find their new favorite brew or full beer pairings to accompany coursed meals will make for a memorable event, McWilliams recommends exploring new infused beers with hints of herbal flavors like lavender or sage to surprise and delight seasoned beer drinkers and intrigue those new to beer.
At Tipsy, a Brooklyn-based wine and spirits shop, owner Amanda Neville has brought the hospitality mindset to wine-focused events. “We have a small, tight-knit team of expert sommeliers, and the majority of our staff come from a background with wine in a hospitality or dining setting. They’re used to talking to people in the context of food and helping them to feel comfortable through that experience.”
With the comfort and ease Tipsy staff bring to interactive private events, Neville finds guests have become much more curious and open-minded when it comes to wine.
“People are way more open and willing to trying wines from regions that they’re not familiar with or grapes they haven’t heard of like grüner, groppello and picpoul,” says Neville. “They’re more willing to ask questions these days, and they don’t defer anymore as if the sommeliers are some unattainable experts. They’re curious, they want to know more and they’re excited to try new things—especially when it comes to natural, sustainable or biodynamic wines. Just like farm-to-table dining, guests want to know more about where and how the wine was made, what chemicals are being added or how the ground was tilled.”
The Tipsy team has also found that every body and every palate is different, so it’s best not to tell guests what they should be tasting, but to make recommendations based on what guests are tasting. “We want to make it okay for guests to have their own opinion and help them create that confidence.”
Pro-tip: With that in mind, Neville recommends having a sommelier on hand to help rally a crowd, increase engagement and create an intimate experience. Planners should consider exploring a natural theme at their next event, “including daring picks like sparkling orange wine or, our latest obsession, a mead.”
Keep It Simple
After years of bartending in New York City cocktail bars, Aaron Gordon moved to Philadelphia to craft a project of his own. Now with five unconventional mobile bars (including rehabbed horse trailers, vintage campers and a moped) and a full warehouse equipped with a kitchen space and tasting room, Gordon’s 13th Street Cocktail Catering brings a high-quality craft cocktail experience wherever the party may be.
13th Street not only offers catering services, but the company also rents its bars for private events, builds custom bar experiences (including a living moss wall that pours cocktails) in its wood and metal shop, and will soon wholesale its own popular cocktail mixes—a trend Gordon says is gaining momentum.
“In a lot of cases, your event staff won’t include trained bartenders, so these mixes remove that potential margin of error. There’s relatively little prep and guests can enjoy a consistent cocktail,” says Gordon. “The beauty is that clients can visit the tasting room, create a menu with us, and their drinks will taste the same at the event. They allow you to shake and go.”
13th Street also crafts a custom tonic water with a cult following of its own. The herbal, low-sugar tonic water makes for a light and refreshing gin and tonic, and also fits into a larger trend Gordon’s seeing in craft cocktails—more simple, familiar cocktails made with high-quality ingredients.
Pro tip: “It’s nice to keep things simple, both in the execution and the menu. I always like having a familiar favorite at events that guests can feel comfortable ordering but with a twist, rather than a recipe spotlighting the more odd or obscure ingredients.”