Cocktails are back, but not the way you think. Whether you prefer yours shaken or stirred, or with a side of drama. 2017 has a cocktail for you. Bottoms up!
Remember the days when the biggest cocktail trend was the candy pink cosmo? It featured only four ingredients: Vodka, cointreau, cran, and lime. And when it came to cocktails, that was about as complicated as things got. But the days of simple are numbered. Behold the Commonwealth cocktail. It has 71 ingredients, which include devil’s claw from Botswana, saffron from Pakistan, and taro from Papua New Guinea.
How about the Rum Martinez. Described as, “poetry in motion”, the Rum Martinez’s mixologist is like a potions master straight out of Harry Potter. The cocktail’s creation is a theatrical production: the mixing process includes 23-year- old rum, fire-toasted wood chips, and a digital smoke infuser. The cherry on top? It’s presented with a lit cigar.
With drink trend reports stating that we’re about to see everything from coffee infused bourbon to Peruvian pisco on menus, restaurant owners and bar managers should be sure to take a peek at emerging fads as they contemplate their drink menus for the coming year. To make it easier for you, we’ve nailed down the hot-to-trot new cocktail trends you’ll want to feature in 2017.
NEW FLAVORS AND STYLES
In 2017, classic cocktails are getting fancy, and bartenders and mixologists aren’t shying away from exploring ingredients outside of the bar. From whimsical forest touches to coffee-infused booze, this is the year cocktails get all shook up.
Foraged ingredients: According to reports, we’re about to see cocktails that include foraged wild ingredients as both ingredients and garnishes, turning bartenders into gatherers, and cocktails into gardens. Bleeding over from the culinary movement that has chefs inspired by Noma’s Rene Redzepi and Scandinavian cooking, we’re likely to have everything from weeds, to flowers, to shrubs and edible plants in our happy hour drinks. Expect to see ingredients like chanterelle-infused rum, garnishes like dandelion, and recipes like the Next of Kin, which is an “earthy concoction made with Pu-erh tea that’s been re-fermented into kombucha and paired with aquavit, caraway, and unrefined sugar.” (Say that ten times fast!) Need some inspiration? The Wildcrafted Cocktail recipe book is due to hit shelves in early 2017.
Coffee-Infused Bourbon: With nitro-infused coffee and coffee-infused stouts, it makes sense that coffee infused bourbon would eventually make its rounds. A cold brew with a kick, coffee-infused bourbon is made by craft whiskey brewers and homebrewers alike. While some are going the extra mile to infuse their bourbon, others are getting away with combining coffee and bourbon in innovative ways. Mississippi mudslides, coffee bourbon milk shakes, and maple bourbon coffee – to name a few!
Pisco: Pisco is a brandy produced in the winemaking regions of South America. If you’ve traveled to South America, you’re likely well acquainted with the pisco sour: pisco, lime juice, syrup, ice, egg white, and Angostura bitters. It is a South American classic. But that’s not the only way to drink pisco. In Peru, pisco is served in different ways depending on where you drink it. In Ica, Peruvians like their pisco neat. In Cusco, you’ll find a ‘coca lead macerado’, which is pisco infused with strawberry, coconut or passion fruit, herbs, spices, and coca leafs. While Cusco is the original home of the pisco sour, for those wanting a friendlier way to enjoy pisco, it’s also home to the Chilcano – an easy-drinking pisco cocktail with ginger ale and lime juice.
Western mixologists are finding other creative ways to play with pisco: pisco and tonic, for example adds a new twist to an old standard. The historic California milk punch recipe takes pisco on a walk on the wild side, infusing pisco with spices and citrus for two days. Add milk and green tea syrup to it, age that mixture for three days, then strain it through cheesecloth to remove all the curdled bits. An interesting mix, to say the least.
Sherry: Not just something your grandparents serve at Thanksgiving, sherry is low alcohol, versatile and flavorful and, according to interviews conducted by Vogue, it’s the perfect balance of fruity and earth to bridge the taste gap in creative cocktails. Drew Hart, the house mixologist for The Restaurant Group, says: “Sherry has a lot of complexity, so it ends up acting as an ingredient that bridges other ingredients together. Sherry has both fruity notes up front and a long finish where you will taste more of the wood, toffee, and spice notes.” Try the Alpha Omega, an easy drinking sherry-based cocktail which can fit onto any cocktail list. Other ingredients include orange juice, Cointreau and all-spice liqueur. Hot Mulled Sherried Apple Cider is also a great option for your cold weather cocktail list.
Tea Infused Cocktails: They’re healthy! Well… more healthy than a coffee bourbon milkshake, that’s for sure. Boozy teas are coming to a cocktail menu near you. Some examples? The Carrot Bloody Maria is a tea-infused take on the Bloody Mary and is made with a carrot curry tea bag that’s soaked in tequila. The Earl Grey Tea Cocktail combines earl grey tea, gin, honey, simple syrup, and lime juice for a healthy take on your standard gin and juice.
Mezcal Mixed Drinks and Agave Spirits: Is your margarita and fish taco deal getting stale? Ditch the tequila and try out another agave spirit. Mezcal, bacanora and sotol are three such alternatives. Mezcal took the cocktail menu by storm in 2016 and it’s picking up steam. Tequila is often touted as the gateway to mezcal, which is distinguished by its smoky, sweet flavor. On bacanora, reviewers say it’s easy to drink neat, and that it’s raising in popularity because, “it’s the missing link between tequila and mezcal. It tastes better than tequila, but it’s way friendlier than mezcal.” Sotol, on the other hand, is similar to tequila in a cocktail. And yet, on its own “sotol is more grassy, with gentle layers of nuanced floral notes in lieu of tequila’s spicy bang.”
Vermouth: Is it a wine, is it a spirit, or is it that special something best reserved for martinis and Manhattans? While the vermouth trend has been warming up for the last couple years, in 2017 it may finally come into its own. Adam Seger, a mixologist for IPIC Entertainment, explains the state of vermouth in an article on travelandleisure.com: “With the renaissance of classic and pre-
prohibition cocktails, Vermouth takes a staring role. Manhattans and Negronis have never been hotter and places like the cutting edge Tavernita in Chicago even have sweet and dry vermouth on tap. I see bars coast to coast upgrading their house Vermouths as well as bringing in the best of the best like Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Dolin Blanc and Carpano Antica. The mixologists who matter are behind this and this is a trend that is not going away anytime soon.”
Beer Cocktails: The radler, the shanti, the beer cocktail. The line is oh-so-thin. Beer as an ingredient isn’t a new trend, but what’s novel is the demand for beer infused cocktails on regular cocktail menus. In this Thrillist article, Dale DeGroff of KingCocktail.com was quoted as saying, “Artisan brewers are the new darlings of the beverage industry, so expect to see beer showing up in cocktails. InBev just hired a top mixologist, the former international cocktail ambassador for Diageo, to explore beer as an ingredient.”
LABELS AND PACKAGING
The days of walking into a bar and asking for your signature drink are numbered. And speaking of numbers, that might just be the cocktail you’re looking for. Confused yet? Well, you will be. The name of the game is the unexpected, so keep an open mind this year.
Creative Cocktail Names: No longer is a caesar just a caesar, or a vodka soda just a vodka soda. As finedininglovers.com said, “Bars are increasingly using scent, color and even astrological signs to identify cocktails. We’ll have the fuchsia Capricorn that smells of freshly cut grass please.” Some are even choosing to keep their cocktails untitled. Nameless cocktails are the newest drink menu trend hitting the streets. Others are using Pantone colors to describe their creative mixes. Even more are choosing scenarios or characters in lieu of a title. Customers might find themselves asking for a “Nameless Lover at the Strip Club” or a “Blame it on the Aperol.” The more creative, the better.
Cocktails on Tap: A haut and fraught topic in mixology at the moment is the idea of the cocktail on tap. While some argue that having Manhattans or Negronis on tap degrades the spectacle and connection customers enjoy when a bartender shakes, rattles, and rolls their drink into existence, others are looking at the business benefits. As liquor.com reported, the benefits include, “faster service, more consistent cocktails and bigger profits. Pre-batching cocktails allows bartenders to serve multiple drinks in a fraction of the time it would take to shake and garnish an individual glass.” Popular tonics and tiki-drinks are also positioned to take over taps. Basically, if you’re selling a lot of them, put ‘em on tap! Just make sure the service compensates in other ways.
Repurposed Glassware: From teacups to china bowls, mixologists are experimenting not just with the ingredients but with the glassware cocktails come in. Of course, as we know with wine and standalone spirits, the vessel does actually affect the way a drink tastes. As Joaquín Simó, from Pouring Ribbons says, “We use beautiful grappa glasses for our Chartreuse servings, as well as for certain sipping spirits and sherries. These glasses concentrate the nose in wonderfully expressive ways, allowing the nuances to emerge. That they’re stunningly elegant serving pieces doesn’t hurt the visual appeal of what would otherwise simply be some brown or green liquid in a glass.” Bartenders are now challenged to get creative with their glassware while considering the shape that will do a justice to the flavors in their mix.
It’s not simply a drink anymore. It’s an instrument to experience a shift in perspective, enjoy entertainment, and make new friends. That feeling you’re feeling? It’s not just the effect of what’s in the glass.
Mood Dining: Alcohol enhances your mood, so it seems natural to name cocktails after them. The equivalent of a mixologist’s mood ring, there is a growing movement of mood-based dining in urban centres, and cocktails have not been left behind. Seymour’s Parlour in London uses scents such as cut grass and smoked pine to evoke nostalgia in their guests. Some bars are using the power of a drink’s smell to evoke emotion, similar to aromatherapy. Others are, “doing away with the traditional menu and listing drinks by mood – red to stimulate confidence, yellow for friendship, and black for discipline.” Fake it till you make it.
Education and Storytelling: Like wine and the third wave of coffee, education is becoming central to the consumer experience. The more complex and storied cocktails get, the more the bartender’s role evolves. Naturally, as a result of this, customers find their curiosity spiked. “Drinkers increasingly want a story behind their cocktails, and mixologists are responding by utilizing local spirits brewed to ancient recipes, such as Chinese Baijiu, or creating bespoke cocktails to match the drinker’s own recent experiences, such as holidays or special occasions.” says Tom Jenkins of finedininglovers.com.
A classic case of, “what came first?”, the consumer demand for storied beverages is inevitably pushing innovation in the restaurant industry. Or perhaps it was innovation which first drove the demand for storytelling. Either way, the two are working together to educate drinkers and spark creativity in mixologists.
The Thespian Bartender: Today’s bartender is at once an educator, confidant, therapist, sommelier, and performer. The combination of trends like foraged ingredients, various infusions, education, and storytelling has all led to a new kind of bartender. Since the cocktails themselves are becoming more theatrical, so are the bartenders, flaring bottles and taking on a character, with the best mixologists attributing theatre classes to their success.
Fast Friends & Familiarity: In addition to this theatrical evolution, bartenders are now required to take their relationships with short-term customers a step further. Introducing the ‘micro-friend,’ where bartenders now focus on making deeper connections with their customers over the course of their drink or meal, usually between 30 and 45 minutes. Former World Class Bartender of the Year, Tim Philips explains,”Making a micro-friend is all about getting that emotional connection with someone quickly and definitely has an effect on how much people like your bar.”
The Upgraded Bartender: From theatrics to genuine connection, the bartender’s role is not just a job anymore, increasingly it’s becoming a career. There’s been a transcendence of the bartender from a beer slinger to a sommelier of wines, craft beers, and of course, cocktails. Their job is to educate, innovate and perform. The cocktail is becoming both a craft and a calling, like wine, beer and spirits before it.
INSIGHTS FROM INDUSTRY EXPERTS
We asked mixologists and cocktail connoisseurs from around the world to weigh in on what trends they foresee for 2017. Here’s what they had to say:
Author of The Modern Mixologist: Contemporary
Classic Cocktails | @MdrnMixologist
I see the cocktail trends moving in the direction of “less is more” and getting back to what almost all classic cocktails are based on and that’s simplicity.
When we look at the classics that have survived the test of time, most are 3-4 ingredient drinks fashioned from a base spirit, a modifier and one or two accents. Together the combining of these limited ingredients prove to be much more than the sum of their parts while always celebrating the base spirit.
We have really pushed the envelope on creativity over the past few years, which has been great, but I do feel a slightly more straightforward, down-to-earth approach to crafting new original cocktails as well as twists on classics will be the focus for 2017.
That said we will also see continued importance placed on the details; premium spirits, fresh, seasonal ingredients, beautiful glassware, ice, proper technique, and the fine art of hospitality! It should be an amazing year behind the stick!
Co-founder of The 86 Co | @simonJford
Keg and tap cocktails have been lurking around on and off for the past two to three years without really going anywhere, but I think that draft and tap cocktails will hit the mainstream in 2017 bringing good quality drinks to a wider audience in places such as music festivals.
I also think that bartenders will have more confidence to charge a little more for a cocktail that contains expensive ingredients because consumers are becoming more savvy about the spirits and ingredients that go into making great cocktails.
Having a better budget to be creative with has the potential to unleash a whole new dimension of bartender creativity making 2017 a year that I am looking forward to seeing what great things happen.
Jeremy & Jennifer Shearer
Owners at PRESS Bistro | @PRESS_bistro
For our restaurant, we are anticipating a growth in high end, more expensive craft cocktails. As our consumers continue to drink less alcohol, they are willing to spend more on very high quality cocktails.
I think that spins on the classics is an upcoming trend in cocktails. You see many mixologists putting their own fun additions to perk up old favorites. For instance, we rim and garnish our Boulevardier with burnt orange peel. We also muddle blueberries or raspberries in our old fashioneds. Customers love the whimsy additions to old cocktails.
Co-Founder of A Bar Above | @abarabove
The biggest cocktail trends that I see happening in 2017 will have 3 main areas of focus: First, increased speed of service while maintaining high quality. Second, a renewed focus on mixers. And third, bartenders looking to advance their careers.
Over the last few years many successful operators have moved away from the idea of “high touch” cocktails (cocktails that take more than 5 steps to prepare) and have looked to deliver a high quality drink with less production time. Cocktails on draft, large format drinks and batched cocktails allow craft cocktail bars to accomplish all of those goals. As a result it allows the operators to increase their revenue, decrease wait times for the guests and offer consistent cocktails.
Craft sodas have become a major focus in 2016 and will gain even more traction in 2017. With companies like Q Drinks, Pearl Soda Company, and Alameda Point offering great options, look for craft sodas to explode the same way that craft beer and spirits have over the last few years. As a result of this movement, Highballs have also gained in popularity.
In 2017 we can see more bartenders looking at cocktail competitions like Diageo World Class, Bacardi Legacy, and Bols Around the World as a way of advancing their careers. For bartenders with a more entrepreneurial focus, we can imagine more small businesses cropping up with a craft cocktail focus. Companies like Reclamation Etchworks, Small Hand Foods, and Mavenhal, are all great examples of this entrepreneurial drive.
Chef Paul Menta
Owner of The Stoned Crab | @chefdistilled
We are seeing a huge trend in making our own mixers, no red dye #5 – grenadine made from pomegranate! Tiki drinks have jumped back alive, with zombies and more making it seem like you’re on vacation….anytime.
Though the cocktail is getting remade and reworked in all manner possible, the vibe is getting downplayed. No need to don a cocktail dress or jacket, bevvies are now acceptably enjoyed just as you are.
The Democratization of the Cocktail Bar: No longer are cocktail bars reserved for the financial district elite or James Bond types. To enjoy a Manhattan means to do so without coattails or sequins. In fact, neo-speakeasies are shedding the formality and taking cues from Cheers.
The New Speakeasy: Michael Martenson, co-owner of The Cedars Social said in this firstwefeast.com article, “Speakeasies — stylistically speaking, a small, intimate experience with low-lit tables — are great, and played a huge part of drinking history in the U.S. [But] not everyone is looking for that every night. Sometimes you really just want to go to your neighbourhood joint and see your ‘bar friends’, a.k.a. all the other bar regulars. So why not give them a quality product in that environment? That was our approach.”
Cocktails and Converse: Fitting with Millennials’ more relaxed attitude, bar owners are fitting their concepts in order to jive with the denim-loving, sneaker-wearing generation from the very conception of their bars: “Approachability is manifesting itself in concept development, where the birth of the “cocktail dive bar” has given us hope that we can all show up to a great watering hole in jeans and flip flops and enjoy a Negroni and some Johnny Cash. There is a growing segment of the craft cocktail world that is finally realizing we are not curing cancer, and to stop taking everything so seriously.” Sit back. Relax. Wear ripped jeans and sip a Manhattan. Informal is in.
Cocktails now run the gamut: from the dive cocktail bar for the average Joe, to the elite speakeasy where million dollar deals occur and drinks are served with cigars and unicorn tears, there’s no limit to the creativity in the cocktail industry.
And there’s no ceiling on innovation.
If you can pick it from the ground, it can be a garnish. If you can infuse it, why wouldn’t you?While it’s yet to been seen if these trends will stand the test of time, one thing is for sure: the cocktail industry is in constant motion and there’s no way to list every emerging trend because there’s just so many creative mixes in the shaker.
As cocktails and consumers continue to evolve and expand, the only thing certain
is creativity. We can’t wait to see what mixes come out next, but for now, update
your cocktails as you see fit. The more creative, the better.