Cocktail and drink trends come and go, but what we can always count on is an ever evolving scene that gets more creative with every passing year. Whether it’s variations on the classic cocktails or a completely new concoction, the drink trend is headed for another overhaul this season.
From the farm-to-shaker movement to cocktails on tap drinks are changing in the way they are served, consumed and well…judged. Bars, restaurants and venues have all taken notice to the shift and the endless quest to progress behind the bar. Whether you’re organizing a corporate event, a gathering at a restaurant or having a low-key meeting, keep these spirit trends in mind to take your function to the next level.
COCKTAILS & WINE ON TAP
It may seem sacrilege and even odd to some, but cocktails and wine on tap are changing the way drinks are served. This mass-produced method cuts out the stirring and the shaking of cocktails, and yes, it sounds run of the mill, but cocktails and wine on tap are anything but ordinary.
Draft cocktails can be exciting and unexpected, while assuring freshness in a controlled and oxygen-free environment. This innovation takes away the wait time and guarantees perfect consistency with every single drink. “Getting someone their beverage in a timely fashion is a critical first step of service in any restaurant,” says David Robinson, captain at Volver, a popular restaurant and bar in Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center. “I have seen firsthand the use of batched cocktails to alleviate some of that time pressure on bartenders. It’s a great way to cut down on the amount of time needed to prepare a round of drinks. Just add ice, stir and go. In my experiences there was no letdown in terms of quality or flavor.”
While the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, cocktails on tap do take away the performance of making a cocktail, which sometimes is just as exciting as actually drinking the cocktail. And although taps speed up the wait time, bars and restaurants must do their homework before they take on this trend. They need to know exactly how the flavor of the cocktail changes over time and under pressure. They must also make a very important decision on when they choose to dilute the cocktail. You can either add water to the keg or distribute a set measurement of water once the drink is poured into the glass.
Following suit, wine experts are tapping in on the trend as well. Ehsan Wahdat, owner of Saige, with multiple locations in Philadelphia and New Jersey, is opening a location this winter on 22nd and Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Wahdat explains, “Kegged wine makes it environmentally sustainable and it really makes the most economical sense. The flexibility of allowing us to serve alternate sizes is extremely beneficial, plus you’re guaranteed a better caliber of wine with every pour.” Maintaining the honor and integrity of the wine is one of the most important aspects: “The dynamic of the wine is altered as soon as it hits the bottle, but a keg is consistent,” Wahdat says. “The first glass and the last glass are exactly the same.”
THE FARM-TO-SHAKER MOVEMENT
While chefs have farm-to-table, bartenders have farm-to-shaker, a cocktail trend that makes use of sourced ingredients that are local, authentic and seasonal, to intensify the flavor of the spirit. “It’s a natural offshoot of the farm-to-table movement,” Robinson explains. “Currently at Volver, we are featuring a gin gimlet scented with rosemary and basil [called Chefs Garden]. We have another cocktail [Sacred Words, credit to Alison Hangen, bar manager] that includes gin, mezcal, cynar (an Italian amaro made from artichokes), as well as a house made tomato and bell pepper shrub.”
Bartenders are choosing products wisely and looking for more concealed cocktails that are not widely known to most. “Digging through old drink recipe books trying to find the most obscure cocktails that nobody has ever heard of,” Robinson says, “that evolved into what we have now, which is basically a hybrid of modern farm-to-table ideas and oldschool craft cocktail technique, sort of like a new fusion cuisine.”
It is not certain how long this trend will last, but farm-to-shaker tastings and parties are popular, and that’s mainly due to the fact that they provide a one-of-a-kind experience for guests and pair nicely with food. Daniel Love of In Your Service Events is excited about the movement. “Best thing to happen to bars … cocktails are now being paired with food in a smart and natural way,” he says. “In the past, most cocktails were not compatible with anything but salted nuts. Now we have a wide range of liquors blended with fruits/herbs/ vegetable purees that complement dishes and don’t require a separate glass of wine or beer to pair with your food.”
Canning and pickling are another aspect of the farm-to-shaker movement. It’s a southern tradition that adds not only charm but a distinct, flavorful taste. Take ramps, for example: They add the perfect pungency and texture to a cocktail, the same with pickled pearl onions. They are spicy, sweet and sour, all at the same time, which gives the perfect kick to your next Bloody Mary.
MEZCAL OVER TEQUILA
Tequila has always been the go-to when it comes to spirits native to Mexico. More recently though, tequila has taken a backseat to mezcal, a distilled alcohol beverage also made from agave plants. While all tequilas are mezcals, there are quite a few differences. One distinction is that mezcal can be made with over 30 different varieties of agave, while tequila is only made from blue agave.
Mezcal generally has a smoky factor to it that will carry on into the final distillate. Mezcal is also primarily known for the agave “worm” that sits at the bottom of the bottle (which is actually insect larvae) and mainly used as a marketing ploy to boost sales. Even so, mezcal has become an essential ingredient when it comes to Mexican-style cocktails. Ordering a margarita, for instance, is one of the best ways to enjoy the smoky essence of mezcal. Just sub in the mezcal for tequila, and you’ll find the unique flavors will speak for themselves.
Stephen Myers, CMO of Dynamic Beverage Consulting, sees the mezcal trend expanding. “Mezcal is one of the few categories that will continue to see year on year growth,” he says. “The breadth of flavors, ages and styles resultant from the different regions, production methodology and agave species means that there really is a mezcal for all palates.”
DRESSING UP DRINKS
Gone are the days of creating a simple signature cocktail for your event. Now event planners and decorators have upped the ante. The drink trend has extended as far as matching the entire scheme of an event. “Matching the drinks to the overall design of the event through color, shape of glasses, mini vs. maxi size, seasonality, theme,” Love says. “The industry wants to really up the game and touch all aspects of the experience with guests.”
In an industry where limits need to be tested to get noticed, even drink presentation needs to be revolutionary. From serving cocktails in abnormally shaped glasses to dry ice cocktails, dressing up drinks has really become an art form in and of itself. So what’s next?
“I see port becoming the next hit for bartenders and consumers alike,” Myers says, noting its low alcohol percentage and low ABV—another trend. “In addition to the two well-known styles of ruby and tawny port, dry white port is really capturing the imagination in regards to its flexibility and capacity to pair well with other ingredients.”
Whatever the trend may be, one thing will always remain true: Well-crafted libations will never go out of style.