Hopefully, you got a chance to peruse my last post, Six Undeniable Trends That Will Re-Shape The Wine Industry in 2016. Though sommeliers spend a lot their time focused on wine, as they should be, wine isn’t the end-all-be-all of our job. As Jan Brady might have said, “All I hear all day long is how great this wine is, or how wonderful that wine is. Wine, wine, wine, that’s all anyone talks about!” And America’s one-time middle sister would have been right. There’s a lot more to helping customers understand and navigate the vast and often-complicated world of alcoholic beverages than just wine. So today I take a look at the spirits world. No, not the spirits world full of ghosts, phantasms and random apparitions. I’m talking about the world of whisky, vodka, gin and such—whether served straight up or in a cocktail. Here’s what I see as the major transformative forces that lie ahead in the coming year.
- Spirited innovation—from continued experimentation in ingredient formulations (think botanical-based vodka), to enhanced distillation and filtration techniques (such as increased distillation cycles, innovative materials use in filtration) to cutting-edge aging methods, 2016 will likely be the year of bodacious innovation. A major force driving this innovation will be “barrel-aged everything.” Distillers will continue to look “inside and outside the barrel” to age their products in search of the perfect balance of richness and smoothness. Look for spirits aged in re-used barrels of port, cognac, armagnac, sherry and other potent potables in the competitive hunt for added levels of flavor and aromatic enchantment.
- “Sipping culture”—this mainly 35+ year-old male-driven spirits segment, and pseudo competitive sport, will continue to attract new players onto its roster. I believe this is an additive trend, thus unlikely to cannibalize mixed drinks (man, those millennials like to drink), but as distiller innovation drives even greater premiumization, we’re likely to see more and more middle-aged men (and women in 2016?) turn to more frequent pours of premium whiskies, tequila, rum, gin and even vodka. Keep an eye on the growth of whiskey bars.
- Regional inspirations—as more people demand “authenticity” (I know, I hate that word too) in their food and drink, expect to see more regional spirits popping up on wine lists and cocktails menus. Alcoholic elixirs like mezcal (a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant—a form of agave—native to Mexico), pisco (a colorless or yellowish-to-amber colored brandy produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile), and cachaca (a popular distilled spirit in Brazil made from sugarcane juice) are three of my candidates for regional spirit of the year.
- Wine mixology—core cocktail consumers, i.e. 18-35 year olds, will continue to drive more experimentation and innovation in the mixed drinks category (I’m not sure if I already mentioned this, but man, those millennials like to drink). Expect to see “wine mixology” making a big splash on the scene. This ain’t “your father’s sangria,” and calls upon a mélange of fruits, spirits and herbs in inventive combinations. How about a “late harvest Campari cocktail” that blends the sweetness of late harvest wine with the bitterness of Campari? Yum.
- A classic comeback—as what often happens in periods of innovation when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, nostalgia becomes in vogue as many yearn for bygone eras, and in this case, bygone drinks. So look to see a revival of classic drinks like gin martinis, old fashioned’s and sidecars. Yes, these ARE “your father’s drinks.” Hopefully you didn’t throw out grandmother’s high ball and tom collins glasses.