Simpler drinks in fancy glassware. Lower-proof concoctions that lure drinkers to linger. And tiki, tiki everywhere.
Those were among the trends spotted at the recent Tales of the Cocktail industry convention in New Orleans — trends that are likely to pop up at your neighborhood cocktail lounge soon, if they haven’t already. Here are six of the most ubiquitous.
1. Simple and spontaneous: Again and again, presenters extolled the virtues of pared-down cocktails, a response to years of precious, overwrought drinks made from a laundry list of hard-to-find ingredients.
At a brunch sponsored by Grey Goose, Tom Swift, vice president of Grey Goose North America, explained his company’s shift toward simple, elegant drinks.
“We’re trying to demystify the cocktail,” Swift said. It was a concept echoed at one of the week’s most popular events, the Diageo Backyard BBQ Party, whose theme and pop-up bars accentuated casual, accessible cocktails and the democratic idea that with just a few ingredients, anyone can make a delicious drink.
2. Glassware: We’ve gone beyond the mason jar. Bars are using clever, eyecatching alternative vessels. While tiki bars have been serving rum punches in coconuts and Polynesian-inspired mugs for decades, industry leaders also noted the emergence of unconventional and fun vessels for a wide variety of drinks.
Additionally, bars are now commissioning custom glassware for specific inhouse cocktails.
One example: Absolut House of Elyx featured beautiful pineapple vessels whose sleek, molded surfaces promise not to prick any fingers.
3. Low-proof cocktails: Tasting rooms were full of cocktails featuring aperitifs, vermouths and fortified wines, as well as those featuring regular wine and beer. T. Cole Newton, owner of the Mid-City bar Twelve Mile Limit, notes that these kinds of drinks benefit both bar proprietors and patrons.
“I’d rather have someone drink a low-proof cocktail at my bar all day than have three ounces of whiskey and be done,” he said.
Newton took second place in this year’s Ste. Michelle Wine Estates “Shake the Vine” contest, which required contestants to use wine in a cocktail. Newton also pointed out that, while this year’s Tales saw a plethora of new low-proof recipes, the idea is as old as the Pimm’s Cup, Campari and soda, and wine spritzers.
4. Garden to glass: Following in the furrows of the farm to table movement, increasingly, cocktails are being viewed as an extension of the menu.
When Tales of the Cocktail debuted its Spirited Dinner series in 2002, pairing cocktails with a meal was an anomaly. Once considered the exclusive domain of wine, course pairings with spirits have grown increasingly popular. Now, few gastronomes would bat an eye at an elaborate meal in which each dish is paired with a spirit or cocktail instead of wine or beer.
Case in point: Tales 2015’s lineup featured dozens of spirited dinners, including such august venues as Restaurant Revolution and Emeril’s.
Even when it comes to a first drink at a casual get-together, industry insiders are encouraging home hosts to reconsider the longstanding attitude of “help yourself” to more considered pairings meant to anticipate the meal to come.
5. Island fever: New Orleanians have seen the emergence of the tiki trend on our own front with the recent openings of Tiki Tolteca, Cane and Table and Latitude 29, whose owner, Jeff Berry, observed that “a happy side effect of the mainstream cocktail renaissance is that tropical drinks are now also getting respect — a case of a rising tide lifting all booze.”
He also spoke of tiki drinks in terms of larger drinking trends, noting that the original tiki recipes were “farm to glass, craft cocktails before these terms existed.”
6. Everything old is new again: Tales attendees couldn’t stumble without falling into a prop designed to evoke the past. While the spirits industry has long tapped into the public’s desire for tradition and authenticity, this year’s Tales was chockfull of references to bygone eras: vintage Airstreams and campers, Rube Goldbergesque contraptions, tintypes, windmills, sleeve garters and a whole lot of mustache wax.
The exception that proves the rule: William Grant & Sons’ futuristically themed blowout at the World War II Museum, “Yonderland” referenced more pioneers and antiquity than spaceships and robots.
In an oversaturated market, brands may be searching for narratives grounded in the kind of iconic histories and character that consumers yearn for.