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Experts predict top cocktail trends in 2017

With many consumers looking to ease back on their alcohol consumption in favour of a healthier serve, we round up the trends that will be hitting the drinks industry – but not livers – over the coming 12 months.

These are the cocktail trends experts predict will be big in 2017

Constantly changing and ever-evolving – the cocktail scene globally is a diverse, complicated and multifaceted sector. Driven by a hunger for genuine innovation and a passion for meeting the exacting whims of each guest, bartenders are at a fascinating apex of the drinks industry, and have a vital role in the creation of the trends and nuances that affect the spirits sector far and wide.

While notoriously tricky to forecast and unpredictable in their formation and longevity, it is imperative that brands and operators of all sizes tune in to the trends of the sector in order to thrive. In our socially connected sphere, consumers in New York can see and experience digitally what like-minded imbibers are drinking in Singapore – and as such these leanings are borderless and have the potential to spread through the trade like wildfire.

So what will the on-trade and beyond be embracing in 2017? For UK distributor Cellar Trends, some compelling themes that emerged this year will continue to drive the drinking sector: health and wellbeing, authenticity, sustainability and an elevated serving experience. Premium-spirits sales are growing at 19% year-on-year, according to CGA data, compared with just 2% for mainstream spirits.

In addition, the continued rise of casual dining (61% of 19- to 34-year-olds surveyed for CGA Peach’s BrandTrack Report 2016 said they eat out once a week) has seen more cocktail occasions open up. Research behind this piece confirms that these themes are not only shaping the sector now, but they are here to stay for the long-term.

Newness, however, will emerge, too. Read on for SB’s top trends to watch in 2017 – make sure these are top of the agenda when planning bar programmes for the year ahead.

Click through the following pages to discover the cocktail trends to watch 2017. Think our experts have missed one? Have your own predictions? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

The rise of the super tonics

Forget gin – 2017 is set to be the year of the tonic. While an increasing number of quirky brands have entered the market in the past 12 months, the sector is set to feel the benefit as other categories embrace the pairing. It will be the traditionally less accessible spirits that will see the biggest uptick, reckons Dawn Davies, head buyer at London-based retailer Speciality Drinks. “Pairing tonic with categories consumers are nervous about to make them into long drinks will get people into those categories,” she says, adding that Tequila, mezcal and peated whisky will ascend thanks to tonics. And, as a bonus, “it’s something people can drink easily at home”.

Know your sugar?

The villain of the soft drinks world, sugar has been much-marginalised by government policy makers the world over as a scapegoat for soaring obesity rates. However, the biggest debate around sugar and cocktails next year will not be about avoiding it, but whether natural or artificial solutions will best suit serves.

“Because we’re a natural business and all we use is 100% natural, we are now looking at opportunities to use some of the natural sweeteners that are now available – plant-based ones such as stevia,”explains Andrew King, CEO of cocktail mixer brand, Funkin.

For others, indulgence is too big an overriding cocktail-purchasing driver to abandon: the sugar rush is just too compelling. “What is really important is taste,” Eline Madrona, international category development manager, spirits, at Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits (MBWS) is emphatic. “I want a strawberry liqueur with a very nice flavour – if we can make it with less sugar that’s perfect. If we can’t, never mind; our priority is taste.”

Drink your greens

Another interesting evolution of the growing interest in health could be a full-on emergence of vegetables and vegetable juices as cocktail ingredients. And this is an emerging trend with global traction – according to analyst Mintel, 17% of Brazilian adults feel there is a lack of vegetable-based alternatives to animal- based ingredients, such as cream, while 24% of Polish adults prefer to consume vegetables in liquid form.

It’s a development Funkin’s King has been keenly following – and responding to. “We are just launching a beetroot shrub into the on-trade,” he discloses. “We’re seeing a bit more of the savoury coming through.” MBWS’s Madrona also confirms this is an area she is looking at, even for the brand’s non-alcoholic syrups line.

A return to natural flavour

Something Davies is convinced of is a continuation of the move away from “weird and wonderful” flavour expressions for individual spirits and cocktails into something more natural.

“There’s a lot of alternative flavours, maybe birch flavours,” she predicts. “People are looking for different flavours, but it’s more like salt and pepper to add to the drink.” One recent example includes Freya, a spirit claiming to be the world’s first to be distilled from birch sap, from new drinks group Pure Wild Spirits.

Green fingered

This return to ‘natural’ spirits goes hand-in-hand with a trend for unrefined cocktails. Joint UK winner of Auchentoshan’s New Malt Order competition, Georgia Billing, predicts a “continued emphasis on foraging for fresh, seasonal produce that promote a oneness with nature and greenery”.

“The world of edible plants is still largely unexplored, which is exciting for bartenders, gardeners, foodies and consumers alike,” Billing asserts. “The importance of nature is also linked to sustainability, and venues advertising cocktails created by those who are mindful of minimising waste.”

Mikey Pendergast, brand ambassador, East London Liquor Company, agrees: “Health conscious cocktails will continue to be a big trend in 2017 with a focus on natural ingredients like cold pressed juices, coconut water and aloe.”

Getting tech-y

In a digital age of Uber and Apple Watch, meditation apps and voice-controlled tech, Pendergast predicts a industrial science will be big behind the back bar in 2017.

“The demand for technology in bars is increasing with technological alternatives to menus and ordering becoming more and more popular,” he says. “This will lead to an increased pressure for bartenders to adapt behind the bar as well.” Take rapid infusion cocktails – a technique that captures the top notes of flavour in seconds using nitrous oxide.

However, this tech boom is likely to have some fallout, adds Pendergast. “Having said that, I believe this movement will create a backlash in the industry pushing bartenders to get back to basics with more of a focus on creating engaging and personal consumer experiences.”

Low- and no-alcohol

A continuance of the heightened health awareness among consumers, lower-alcohol serves will come into their own over the coming months. While decent alcohol-free serves have become a regular bar menu fixture in the haute cocktail scene, expect more mainstream, high-volume accounts to wake up to the sales opportunities inherent in no- and low-alcohol serves.

For Davies, the secret to not only a great low- or no-alcohol drink is the base ‘spirit’. “It’s the brands that base the [no-alcohol solution] on an actual product that have been clever,” she says. Seedlip, the Distill Ventures-backed alcohol-free spirit which aligns itself with gin, “is the ruler of the category at the moment”.

Time vs theatre

Timely service with a wow factor will be a key focus for the on-trade this year, according to New Malt Order member, Billing. “Although moderated, bartenders therefore still must think creatively to maintain flavour and innovate tradition in order to deliver a recreational experience,“ she asserts. “Customers still expect an aspect of theatre and wish to feel special or unique, often demanding drinks that are personally tailored. It is comforting to see that establishing a personal connection still plays a central role in the bartender-guest relationship.“ One such example is Singapore’s Tippling Club, which in September launched an olfactory drinking experience that placed emphasis on scent over spirit, aiming to invoke memories and emotions.

Having said that, Billing acknowledges that “time is of the essence“, predicting that pre-mixed and ready bottled cocktails are here to stay.

In-house infusions

The trend for home-made, in-house and shrub-style ingredients is set to play on in 2017 – watch out for more blank bottles lining back bars across the globe. “We’re starting to see more bartenders creating their own batches and infusions in bars and restaurants across London,“ says Luis-Rene Orozco, bar manager, McQueen.

“Artisan crafted cocktails are becoming more prominent, with bartenders going back to traditional methods by infusing bacon, cheese, vinegars and bitters in their cocktails. All our classic cocktails are made with house-infused ingredients – we infuse our flavoured vodkas with our own ingredients, for instance citrus and wild spicy berries.“

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