From the rise in Instagrammable cocktails to a call for low-ABV tipples that keep the night going, the way we drink continues to change. Where it’s going next we can’t say for certain, but these five star players in the U.S. industry have some idea.
Here, they weigh in on how they see cocktails evolving in the coming year.
This year kept the Aperol spritz in high demand, and it left a taste for bubbles after 5 p.m. on people’s palates. “The hard seltzer boom is pushing bars to think more about how we can mimic this type of simple, easy drink but in a way that’s still quality and homemade,” says Trevor Scovel, the award-winning bar lead and general manager of the Copper Spoon in Fort Wayne.
Cubes simply won’t do for every cocktail, and more bars are taking notice. “People are starting to really understand the importance of great ice,” says Reliable Tavern’s Kapri Robinson, who was voted Cocktail Queen of D.C. in 2017 and won Luxardo’s Sour Cherry Gin competition this year. “I love that establishments are thinking about dilution and its importance to a great drink.”
Even more gin
“Gin is going to have a breakout year,” says Ben Buckley, general manager of the Laylow in Waikiki, a lauded Hawaiian mid-century modern boutique hotel. “Bartenders are using more vegetal components as ingredients in cocktails, which supports local farmers. Combine that with a bartender who makes their own syrups and shrubs, and you’ll see more gin-based drinks.”
Distillers are getting away from the traditional London dry style and having fun, focusing on single-botanical releases and using unique or local ingredients, like ocean water or sakura blossoms. It’s a trend that’s already taken hold in Australia specifically, where craft distillers like South Australia’s Kangaroo Island Spirits and Four Pillars, New South Wales’s Cape Byron Distillery, and Western Australia’s Margaret River Distilling Co. And while some U.S. distillers have cottoned on—Utah’s New World Distillery, Chicago’s Koval—we haven’t seen the full explosion just yet.
Keep it simple, stupid: The classic design principle speaks directly to cocktail menus, which have grown increasingly complex. While that may result in more batch cocktails, what we’re really looking at is paring down processes.
Leigh Lacap—the beverage director of North County San Diego’s Campfire and Jeune et Jolie, which were recognized with a Bib Gourmand in this year’s California Michelin Guide and on Esquire’s Best New Restaurants list, respectively—admits it’s not his favorite trend, but it’s a practical industry issue that’s going to affect how we drink in the coming year, particularly where labor costs are going up. “We’ll see more time- and money-saving techniques,” he says. “Less fresh citrus, less cost, less work—more science, more speed.”
The result is a welcoming environment for bar goers, who most likely already have an idea of what they like, be it a specific spirit or flavor profile. McCray sees this as an exciting opportunity to explore custom craft, wherein bars forgo cocktail menus altogether in favor of a conversation and impromptu mixing. After all, reminds Campfire’s Lacap, there should be a sense of play in this role. “I find everything entertaining,” he says. “Cheap beer is awesome. Go ahead. Put it in a cocktail. White Claw is good too. Sue me. Pumpkin Spice is delicious. Whatever. CBD is good for you. Use it.”