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It’s January, and that means bartenders are (hopefully) catching up on sleep, making (and breaking?) resolutions and recovering from the holidays. But it also means it’s time to look ahead at what’s up-and-coming in the world of craft cocktails.

We asked our Facebook group of hundreds of craft bartenders & cocktail enthusiasts what they are seeing in their local markets. Here’s what they said, plus a few things I’m personally seeing as well:

 

 

Nearly Unanimous: The Focus on Beautiful, Highly Visual Cocktails

The saying, “You eat with your eyes” definitely applies to bars today. In 2018 we saw bars and restaurants embracing the idea of a beautifully garnished cocktail with edible flowers, intricate fruit zest designs hanging on the glass and even using smoke as a presentation piece for the cocktail. One look through Instagram or Facebook and you’ll see this trend is still going strong and likely to continue and strengthen in the year ahead.

As you create your cocktail menu, think about ways to create a visual impact without bogging down service. Pre-batched garnishes, bright colors and creative glassware are great ways to liven up your drinks and make something eye-catching and instagrammable.

 

New and Up-And-Coming Products

Sherry.

I’ve definitely had my eye on Sherry and it seems as though it is here to stay. Sherry used to be an obscure ingredient that your grandparents drank, relegated to the back of the liquor cupboard or the occasional cooking recipe. But when high quality sherry became much more available in the last 10 years, bartenders noticed. This relatively inexpensive ingredient is incredibly fun to use in cocktails.

From sherry flips to using Sherry as a replacement for many aromatized/fortified wines, I can definitely see Sherry continuing to grow in popularity over the coming years.

 

Brandy (In all its Forms)

Brandy has been simmering in the background for most of the now-twenty-year-old craft cocktail revival, but finding a quality brandy or Cognac at an approachable price point was always a challenge. Thankfully in recent years there have been some new and old producers embracing the challenge and offering good products priced specifically for cocktail menus. Expect to see Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, American Brandies and Apple Brandies more frequently on cocktail menus in 2019.

 

Genever

Looking back on Tales of the Cocktail 2018, one of the things that caught my eye was a growing push from Genever producers to bring their products into the United States. 2019 may be the year that we see more education and interest in this classic spirit category. (Or maybe I just hope it is!)

 

Sustainability.

Sustainability has been a conversation that has been happening for years in the craft bar community. In 2018 we saw some major progress as the issue of plastic straws hit the mainstream consciousness. As a result, certain cities and states, laws have been put into place to limit the use of single use straws. That said, waste is still a huge problem in bars and hospitality as a whole and in 2019 I think we can look forward to more conversations and ideas being exchanged around environmentalism and sustainability for the industry.

 

Going Spirit-Free

I had the good fortune of chatting with Julia Momose last year about her “Spirit Free” movement, and I’m very happy to say the movement is starting to really take hold. Offering low-ABV or non-alcoholic drinks on the menu gives you the opportunity to increase check averages while improving the guest experience for folks who can’t or don’t choose to drink alcohol. I am personally excited both as a consumer and a consultant to see this taking hold!

Consider adding some creative non-alcoholic cocktails to your menu. The food cost is low and your non-drinking patrons will be thrilled to join in the experience of tasty drinks!

 

 

Too Early to Tell:

Bartenders also mentioned a few other trends they are seeing in their local markets, but which aren’t quite taking hold yet:

 

Hand-Cut Ice / Specialized Ice Programs

Is hand cut ice a staple in the industry now? There’s no question, the presentation and experience are truly memorable, but I think it’s still too early to say whether the trend will go mainstream. Many high-end craft cocktail places have instituted ice programs to produce and serve clear ice and / or hand-cut. But the labor and cost around setting up and maintaining an ice program remains prohibitive. I could definitely see specialized ice programs remaining limited to highly “craft” cocktail bars.

 

Savory Flavors: Too Weird?

Are you ready for mushroom cocktails? What about turmeric, tarragon, or garlic? If you go to mixology bars in large markets like San Francisco or London, you are likely to see a couple “Umami” cocktails on the menu. But I’m not confident the public is ready for a Mushroom Flip or Tarragon Sour. Time will tell.

 

CBD Cocktails:

There’s no doubt that cannabidiol cocktails are making headlines. It’s still the wild west out there for this now-trendy ingredient. While many argue it has positive health effects, there is very little (if any) regulation on its use in cocktails. I think this trend will continue to grow – but I think regulation is coming quickly. We’ll have to see to what degree government intervention nips this trend in the bud. (See what I did there?)

 

The Focus on the Guest

Overall, I’m very excited to see the continued dedication to innovation and creativity in craft bars. And with our industry getting more creative, customers are also becoming more willing to try new things.

The most important thing – as always – is to remember the focus on the customer and providing great experiences. If that’s our primary goal then I don’t think we can go too far wrong.

 

 

About the Author: Chris Tunstall

Chris Tunstall

Co-Founder of A Bar Above and career bartender and mixologist. I love experimenting, creating cocktails, and drinking Green Chartreuse.

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