Beverage Trends for 2016: Cocktails & Spirits

It’s an exciting time to drink in America. In most cities, you can head in any direction and find a bar to saddle up to that will serve you an inventive and original house cocktail. The current cocktail and spirit renaissance has brought on a new golden age of imbibing. With a refocus on ingredients, technique, and integrity, bartenders have helped drinkers shake off the hangover from the days of over-sweetened drinks made with premixes of unearthly colors. Bar patrons only seem more curious and open to trying new things, so there doesn’t look to be any signs of the renaissance slowing.

What will the beverage trends for 2016 be?

Shrubs and the Tart Cocktail

When it comes to flavor, tastes are changing for the American palate. Fermented foods have been a hit with diners in 2015. From kimchi to the at-home pickling phenomenon, tart flavors achieved through fermentation and pickling have found fans in adventurous and health-conscious eaters. As culinary cocktails become more prevalent, look for this food trend to extend to cocktails in the form of shrubs in 2016. What’s a shrub? It’s a colonial American method of using vinegar to preserve fruit. If you take the fruit-infused vinegar and add sugar to sweeten it, you can reduce it down to a make a syrup. This culinary method will be applied to cocktails as a new way to mix tart drinks. You can also consume a shrub on its own. They’re called drinking vinegars. If that sounds too much like taking medicine, mix it with a tonic or soda water. Shrubs fit all the criteria for a trend-worthy concoction: bold flavor, house-made, and reflects the desire for our vices to become a bit healthier.

Tap Takeover in Restaurants

Bars are the torchbearers of the cocktail and spirit resurgence. But restaurants are becoming more innovative and focused on their beverage programs as a whole, including cocktails. As popularity and familiarity with pre-batch cocktails grows, look for these batches to leap from the bottle to the tap. Restaurants will begin to offer more cocktails on tap to better suit their service demands. On tap cocktails will be especially efficient for restaurants as they begin to sell more complex drinks because timing is so important in a restaurant. A patron can’t be expected to wait 10 minutes for a fancy cocktail if their appetizers are about to hit the table. Tap-based cocktails will make restaurant bar programs more efficient in 2016.

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Rum Cocktails and Sipping Rums will Grow

Tiki bars have brought rum back to the mainstream. They’ve helped elevate rum cocktails from the purgatory of vacation indulgence or captain-and-coke puerility. Rum is a diverse spirit with different styles produced in nearly 50 countries. 2016 will see rums versatility showcased outside of the tiki drink.  Rum-cocktails like the corn n’ oil show just how varied cocktails made with the sugar cane spirit can be. Compare that to a daiquiri, and you wouldn’t know you were drinking the same spirit. As taste for regional flavors grows, look to see rum on the rise. Rum should undergo a similar arc as whiskey did during its (continuing) boom. Bourbon’s growth was catapulted by the popularity of cocktails like the old fashion, and then bar patrons began ordering the spirit neat. Rum’s popularity should hope to undergo a similar transition from tiki concoctions to dark sipping rums served without affectation.

Whiskey Growth will Continue

Whiskey is predicted to continue its growth and uphold its status as the driving force for overall growth in spirit’s categories. This has been a trend for some time now, but the unique note for 2016 is whiskey’s duel growth of super-premium and flavored whiskey. As super-premium and international whiskey gain market traction, look for more restaurants and bars to fill empty shelf space with new bottles of high end whiskey. 2015 saw the continued growth of flavored whiskey with the success of Crown Royal Regal Apple. Whiskey’s appeal is broadening. That may be to the chagrin of whiskey purists who like their liquor brown, bonded, and poured straight to the glass, but it’s a good thing for distillers looking to gain wider market share. From Fireball’s cinnamon spice notes to Crown’s apple flavor, what will be the next big flavored whiskey of 2016? Maybe they’ll go the lemon drop route and bottle a whiskey sour?

More Beverage Trends to come

This was the first article to highlight Uncorkd’s Beverage Trend Forecast for 2016. Look for our next segment on wine trends for 2016.

Kyle Thacker