There are many ways to sniff out a trend, from hard facts and data to that instinctive gut feeling. In today’s world of omnipresent technology, word of mouth reaches more people faster than ever before. People instantly share their excitement for flavor-of-the-moment crazes, and social media lets us eavesdrop on global gossip.
With a worthy goal of investigating beverage innovation through social media, we launched a project called The Drink Nation Experiment. We asked friends, colleagues and the general public to post anything eye-catching, delicious or innovative in the world of beverage on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The top 25 beverage trends from those efforts were gathered and presented at the 2014 Flavor Experience event in Newport Beach, Calif. The experiment continues today, and we’re already seeing new sipping social developments.
Here, we’ve narrowed in on five top trends from The Drink Nation Experiment that can help you stay ahead of the flavor curve.
Ginger & Ginger Beer
Ginger has exploded in the beverage category—from spicy, bold and brisk to soft and bubbly to spirit-forward.
Generic ginger ale is now being challenged by full-bodied ginger beer and housemade variations. Syrup companies are helping boost housemade signature offerings with creative flavorings and blends.
Ginger beer is the “it” mixer of today, adding bubbles to creative cocktails, non-alcoholic beverages and the red-hot Mule. Sourcing a local ginger beer is an easy way to add premium value to your beverage menu. Seattle-based Rachel’s Ginger Beer, loved by area mixologists, features flavors such as blood orange and white peach.
Fresh ginger itself can certainly supply a spicy kick, especially when juiced—though its intensity can vary unpredictably. Whether you use ginger beer, ginger liqueur, ginger juice or purée, or even candied ginger for garnish, this bold taste is one to highlight on your menu.
Ginger Smash: Muddled ginger root and fresh pineapple shaken with Caña Brava Rum, Maraschino liqueur, Berentzen Apple Liqueur and fresh lime juice — Employees Only, New York
Huckleberry Mule: Absolut vodka, fresh lime, housemade ginger ale, topped with huckleberry preserves; served on tap — The Heathman Restaurant & Bar, Portland, Ore.
» Add candied ginger as a garnish to a ginger-inspired drink.
» Finely grate fresh ginger over the top of a drink as a freshness cue.
» Make a frothy ginger beer to top drinks: Combine ginger syrup, beer and fresh lime in a soda siphon; double charge with CO2.
Bloody Marys and Brunch Cocktails
Everyone wants to “brunch,” and what a great opportunity to upsell an alcoholic beverage. While lunch cocktail sales can be difficult, brunch seems to grant permission for that cocktail before noon.
Today, brunch spots are often chosen according to which place has the best signature brunch drink. And menu selections have expanded enormously in the past few years: milk punches, exotic fruit mimosas, creative takes on Ramos Fizzes and the iconic Bloody Mary.
Everybody has a Bloody Mary—what makes yours stand out? Give it an upgrade with a housemade mix, or try one of the multitudes of options on the market for easy speed-scratch variations. Choose a concentrated seasoning like Demitri’s Extra Horseradish or chipotle-habanero, or customize a classic mix like Finest Call’s Loaded Bloody Mary Mix. Recently, we discovered a Peppadew-Sriracha mix—two hot ingredients in one.
Vodka is traditional, but these days Bloody Marys are being crafted with spicy vodkas, botanical-forward gins, whiskey, tequila and even aquavit.
But the real fun is in the garnish. From charcuterie skewers and pepperoni straws to hot wings and pickled everything—the sky’s the limit. But keep it in good taste: An entire slice of pizza or a whole smoked fish may be pushing it too far. And don’t forget, an eye-catching Bloody Mary is a good social media opportunity— #BestMaryEver!
Mango Mimosita: Cava, mango, green chile — Mercadito, Chicago
Verde Maria: El Silencio Mezcal, cilantro, mint, serrano, tomatillo — Hyde Sunset Kitchen & Cocktails, Los Angeles
» Offer an upcharge add-on such as pepperoni straws, beef jerky, skewered shrimp or a mini slider garnish.
» Serve with a hot sauce caddy featuring a variety of hot sauces and spicy condiments.
» Make a signature skewer of pickled garnishes such as beets, asparagus, beans, Peppadews.
Apple and Cider Craze
A few years ago there was only a slim chance of seeing more than one cider listed on a bar menu. Now we’re seeing more and more new ciders coming into the mainstream. First, it was apple, then pear, and now ciders are even often featured on tap.
Cider fits right into the craft cocktail movement. From sweet to crisp and dry, there is a cider for every palate. Good on its own, cider can also be a great topper for cocktails or as a base for ice cream floats. Across the United States, full-fledged cider bars are opening, such as Chicago’s soon-to-open cider pub, The Northman.
Consumers’ taste for candy-like apple concoctions, like the green apple martini, has evolved with the rise in more sophisticated and dryer drinks. Cocktail guru and writer Camper English said it right: “The apple-spirits trend is once again bearing fruit—only now the drinks aren’t leaving a sickly sweet aftertaste.” Old-school spirits such as applejack and pear brandy, along with orchard liqueurs and syrups, appeal to today’s modern mixologists and their guests.
The Porkchop: Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Yardbird Dijon syrup, fresh thyme and citrus with unfiltered apple cider — Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, Miami Beach, Fla.
Coit Tower: Rittenhouse Rye, raspberry, thyme, lemon, cider — Trick Dog,
» Use a dry cider in place of Champagne in a sparkling cocktail.
» Serve dried apple chips with an orchard-inspired drink.
» Get on the boilermaker bandwagon with a cider pint and shot of applejack brandy or bourbon.
Whiskey is not just your dad’s drink anymore. From long and tall whiskey punches to moonshine to reimagined classics over ice spheres and large format cubes, whiskey has discovered its creative and friendly side. Millennials’ attraction to both innovation and authenticity, along with women’s interest in brown spirits, make whiskey drinks a hot trend.
Interest in classic cocktails has led to a cascade of twists. Old Fashioneds are getting menu placement with a variety of whiskeys, sweeteners and unique bitters. Manhattans are being crafted with infused sweet vermouths and spiked cherries, and the rediscovered Boulevardier cocktail is giving the Negroni competition.
These days whiskey is showing up paired with blackberries, peaches, honey and a whole gamut of fresh ingredients that make this spirit more approachable for first-time drinkers. It’s the “friendly-tizing” of whiskey.
Jack’s Berry Smash: Jack Daniel’s Whiskey, wild berry, sweet and sour, mint and blueberries — Applebee’s
Keep Your Head Down: Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot Liqueur, pineapple juice, falernum, Demerara syrup, Island Bitters — Alma Cocina, Atlanta
» Craft a whiskey sour with a honey-lemon sour featuring local honey.
» Create a seasonal julep by incorporating fresh summer fruits such as blackberries, raspberries or ripe peaches.
» Infuse red vermouth with cranberry, clove, allspice, orange peel and ginger to give your Manhattan a signature twist.
Now that the cocktail arena has seen a tremendous infusion of creativity, it’s time to infuse innovation into your non-alcoholic program. Housemade sodas, sparkling lemonades incorporating fresh citrus and herbs and creative coolers are top sellers.
Take a look in your kitchen and see what ingredients can be cross-utilized into new beverage offerings. It’s easy to incorporate syrups, purées and fresh citrus. Think garden-to-glass; consider combinations such as mango-basil or tangerine-rosemary for seasonal flair. Add intrigue with exotic citrus flavors such as Meyer lemon, pomelo and ruby grapefruit. Garnishing with a few fresh berries or IQF fruit can provide that fresh visual cue.
Classic lemonade with a splash of blood orange syrup, fresh basil and a spritz of soda bubbles served long and tall with a garnish of pink-hued Cara Cara orange can look and taste like a million bucks.
Fresh Strawberry Mango Cooler: Fresh strawberries, hand-shaken with Fresca and Monin South Seas, featuring natural flavors of mango, guava and ginger — California Pizza Kitchen
Perfect Prickly Pear: Prickly pear, fresh lemon and grapefruit juices — Cactus Restaurants Southwest Kitchen & Bar, Seattle and Bellevue, Wash.
» Since many operators don’t have dedicated bartenders during lunch hours, be sure to post recipes and train waitstaff to execute them properly.
» Create a house signature soda that changes seasonally, utilizing a full-flavored syrup, fresh citrus juice and soda water. Serve it with a “wow” garnish.
» Incorporate local honey and varietals to add menu intrigue.