When it comes time to order a drink, some bar-goers stick with their tried and true favorite cocktails, while others are more interested in following the trends and expanding their horizons when they walk into the bar. These trendsetters seek out the latest and greatest in hopes of informing others of the most recent concoctions or getting that perfect Instagram picture to share with their friends. In the interest of luring these trendsetters into your bar and staying relevant in a competitive industry, we take a look at the trends rising to the forefront of the cocktail industry.
1. Vodka is Back-Vodka Cocktails
For a while, Vodka was frowned upon but is now making its way back into serious cocktails on bar menus this year. Bartenders are embracing this drink as a flexible and approachable ingredient choice. Vodka goes with more than tonic and bartenders are using their creativity to create a wider selection of Vodka based drinks.
Part of this resurgence can be credited to more interesting vodkas being produced. Vodka with complexity is making its way into the market and mixologists are responding. Brands such as Belvedere Unfiltered, St. George Green Chile and Citrus, and Absolut Elyx challenge the idea that vodka is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless liqueur.
2. Banana is the New Black-Banana Cocktails
Since 2016, Banana has been making its way into cocktails menus across the country in many forms. Whether it is as a liqueur, spirit, or actual fruit puree, don’t be surprised to see it in your drink. Bananas are available year-round and lend themselves well to being used in cocktails. In light of the recent tiki renaissance that has been happening over the past few years bananas have been gaining ground in bars everywhere including Chicago’s Lost Lake.
3. A Fresh Buzz-Coffee Cocktails
You may already be seeing this morning favorite making its way into the craft beer industry, and cocktails are not far behind. Soon you will see vodkas and whiskeys being bottled with cold-brew coffee as part of the mix. This is not the first time coffee and alcohol have been paired together. Who can forget classics like Irish coffee, or Kahlua and coffee but modern coffee cocktails go beyond adding a bit of booze to a cup of coffee and calling it a drink.
This combination of coffee shop and bar makes perfect sense. In many restaurants, bartenders are also in charge of making espresso drinks, and it is a good use for coffee that isn’t served during the day. Both the coffee and bar businesses are high-profit, but they’re only high profit for a short period of the day. So expect to see more and more of these dual purpose drinks being served from behind the same doors.
4. Tequila Mockingbird-The Tequila Resurgence
Americans are consuming more tequila than ever before. In fact, tequila ranks right behind whiskey as the most popular distilled spirit in the United States. The trend is being driven by the production of higher-end tequilas such as Fortaleza, Casa Noble, and Astral. As a result, more cocktails that are tequila-based are making their way onto bar menus around the country.
The prevalence in tequila will leave its mark on the cocktail industry with a new resurgence of other agave based drinks such as Mezcal, a drink made from the Espadin agave plant that produces a unique smoky flavor that differentiates it from tequila.
5. Farm to Shaker-Fresh Ingredients
Over the past few years the country has turned its focus towards fresher and healthier ingredients in their meals, a trend which is beginning to catch on with cocktails as well. The days of sweet and sour mix being used for speed, efficiency, and flavor control are on their way out. Today’s bartenders and bar managers are embracing the idea of fresh, healthy ingredients being used to take their cocktails to the next level.
In certain areas of the country where it is summer year round, expect to see cocktails with local flavors highlighting the citrus, fruit, veggies, and herbs, readily available and indigenous to the area.
More and more drinkers are focusing on the experience of drinking and less on just getting a buzz. Consumers increasingly want a story behind their cocktails and bartenders are responding by using regional spirits brewed using ancient recipes, or by creating cocktails to match the drinker’s own recent experiences.
People are fascinated by drinks and the bartenders who serve them. In 2014 Jack Daniels released a series of videos on Youtube highlighting the craziest tales bartenders around the country had to share. By doing this they were giving consumers the stories and history they wanted while making them synonymous with their whiskey.
7. Interpretive Drinking-Performance Cocktails
The best bartenders have always understood the usefulness of theater, without going over the top (we’re looking at you Tom Cruise). So in 2017 be prepared to see more and more theater in the glass, as mixologists seek out more unique and interesting ingredients. Ingredients like the Butterfly Pea flower, a flower that is ph sensitive and will change the color of a drink when mixed with citrus. Another flower to be on the lookout for is the Szechuan Button, an edible flower that delivers an electric hit to the consumer when chewed on. The flower is electrifying and hits you on a molecular level causing you to experience mouth tingling.
8. Have You Seen This Cocktail-Nameless Cocktails
One of the strangest yet most intriguing trends of 2017 is cocktails being based on emotions. Some bars, like Trick Dog in San Francisco, are forgoing names for their cocktails in favor of moods, scents, color, and even astrological signs. Order a red drink to stimulate confidence or black for discipline. Bars that are using scents such as smoked pine or cut grass, are doing so to evoke nostalgic feelings of certain times of the year or places with fond memories to keep them customers coming back for more. It might not be a trend for all bars but expect to see it popping up more and more throughout the year.
9. The Up and Comers- New Centers for Creativity
Sure, Manhattan will always be one of leaders in cocktail trends. But don’t count out emerging cities like Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Charleston, San Diego, and Houston. These cities have cheaper rents and thirsty young people are flocking to them. With the influx of young adults, be looking for new bars and new cocktails to make their way to the forefront of the industry.
10. Frosé All Day-Frozen Drinks Will Go High End
Frozen drinks have always been a fun way of changing up drinks but recently bartenders have been upping the frozen drinks game, translating into expertly prepared frozen cocktails. It started with frosé, which is exactly what it sounds like, a frozen Rosé drink. But now the frozen drink industry has taken off in a way it never has before. Upscale drinks are being turned into refreshing frozen libations with the use of tools like liquid nitrogen, turbo icemakers, and the always dependable slushy machine.
11. Guilty Pleasure Drinks
For a time, 70s, 80s, and 90s style cocktails were not an option in craft cocktail bars. They were frowned upon for their use of artificial ingredients and thought to be too sweet and unsophisticated. Bartenders are now revisiting these guilty pleasure drinks and re-imagining them with fresh, quality ingredients and transforming these decade old cocktails into delicious, yet well-executed drinks. Craft cocktail bars around the country are now showcasing adaptations on these retro drinks and you’ll probably be seeing a lot more of them in the coming year.
While a nameless cocktail might not be the right fit for your bar, you might want to consider adding a few of these trends to your bar’s menu. Staying relevant in this industry can mean the difference between a great year and being forced to close your doors. Experiment with adding a few vodka based cocktails to your lineup or maybe even a color changing mixture to gather a few ooh’s and ahh’s. If you are willing to do so you will have a better chance staying at the industry forefront in 2017.